NATO: Challenges of collective thinking

  • 2003-06-21
As the Baltic states' march toward NATO membership enters the final stages, new entrants are beginning to confront the complexities of joining the world's premier military alliance at a time when long-time member states are questioning their commitment. Yves Brodeur, NATO spokesman and Canadian national, met with Steven Paulikas at NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the Baltic states as they prepare to enter the pact.

Secretary General George Robertson cited corruption and potential information leaks as areas the Baltic states must work on as they prepare to enter NATO. What do you think about the fitness of these countries to join?
I think one must be careful not to generalize the situation. This is precisely why we put in place this map - the membership action plan - and this is certainly why the candidate countries have worked so hard over three years to minimize the threshold of adaptation, so that by the time they join NATO and they sit around the table that sort of concern will be much lower than it was before.
There are a number of things that have to be done to reform the armed forces to move them from a purely territorial function to part of a military alliance, and part of this is sharing military information. Part of this is to let them know how we operate and for us to find out how they can most effectively work with us.

What do you see as the practical role of the Baltic states in the alliance?
That's the wrong way to look at it. It's not the way we approach it. We have developed a very ambitious agenda for NATO to acquire the means to implement its mandate taking into account the new trends we are facing. Each NATO nation has been asked to provide an assessment of what is the state of their capabilities in line with NATO requirements. The answer is unequal among the states. Some countries have more specialization in certain sectors than others. For instance, we have determined that if NATO had to fight in an operation, we want all the states to have an adequate amount of precision-guided munitions.
We are also interested in making sure that all states have sufficient protection from biological or chemical weapons, an area where we are currently somewhat weak.

Do you see a shift in the balance of power in decision-making in NATO eastward after the candidate countries join?
No, because all decisions are made in NATO on the basis of consensus.

Nonetheless, all decisions in the future will have to be made with the consent of the new countries, will they not?
Yes, but at the end of the day, when nations are sitting around the table, the only possible outcome is all of them agreeing. On any given issue, there are shifting interests and alliances, and of course enlargement will change this dynamic.
Now, is it going to affect decision-making in some unforeseen way? I can't say. The fact is that if one country objects - even a country like tiny Luxembourg - the decision is not made. Of course, there are also different, more informal discussions.
Do you think enlargement will affect these discussions that go on behind the scenes?
The dialogue will change - that's for sure. If you're trying to state that the United States is going to have more weight on the table because it now will be able to look forward to the support of all these nations, it could be true in absolute terms. But in reality, it doesn't matter. The arguments will be different, but the countries that don't like it will still protest.
The mathematics are simple: you bring seven new countries to the table, and the dynamic will change.

Do you think the current member states are ready for this dynamic change, more than in a simply rhetorical sense?
Sure, why not? This is not going to transform NATO any more than bringing opinions around the table. Discussions will probably be longer, and you may have shifting alliances between countries. Also, when these countries join the EU, there will be times when they have to side with the EU in certain cases.

Speaking of the EU, how does the current leadership in NATO view the EU's expanding role in defense and security issues? The EU just announced the deployment of its first force to the Congo. What does NATO think about this?
The decision was welcomed. It is a humanitarian mission that had to be done, and frankly we were happy that the EU took it on. It's a very serious situation; people are being killed. We wish the EU luck and hope that they're successful.
The real issue is the question of Berlin Plus [agreement on strategic NATO-EU partnership]. The argument was made that the EU acting autonomously, without using NATO assets, might mean that the whole Berlin Plus process would be denied. But this is not true, since NATO expressed no desire to become involved in the Congo mission.

Now that NATO is expanding directly up to the Russian border, how are NATO-Russia relations?
It's not a matter of us asking the Russians if they agree with enlargement or not, because we know they don't like it, and if they don't like it, fine. What has changed is that in the old days - even just two years ago - there was a time when a dispute on an issue like that meant that everything else was paralyzed. What I see is a maturation in the relationship. I think the Russians understand that we're not a threat to them and that actually they're facing the same problems that we are. If they don't want to become a member of NATO, that's fine. There are some parts of NATO that they will never have access to because they're simply not a member.

Isn't there still an element of tension though, especially on the issue of opening bases in the Baltic states to NATO forces?
NATO is never going to say "we'll never do this or that." We do things on the basis of necessity. Second, what we do is on the basis of collective thinking. If at some time we have to sit down and look at the distribution of our forces, then any decision will have to be made collectively, taking into account all sorts of factors. I can't see that issue coming up in the near future, though. We've got other problems right now.

What about further enlargement of NATO? What do you think are the prospects for other countries of the Vilnius 10 group?
NATO has an open-door policy: we never said "no" to any country, and I think people generally accept the possibility of another wave of enlargement. We don't invite nations; they apply for membership. Some countries, like Ukraine, have expressed a long-term desire for membership, and we are working with them to achieve this goal, but they will join when they reach the appropriate standard, which may take two, four, or even 10 years.