Giampaolo Di Paola's analysis of NATO's continuing relevance to European security is a timely reminder of the uncertainties that we all now face. The international system is highly disordered in the present era. While 'general war'— still less a world war — is very hard to imagine in the foreseeable future, the fact remains that a great deal of conflict and organised violence with small and vicious wars that could affect the security of European nations, is all too likely. Italy’s defence minister is therefore right to point out that NATO's relevance to the continent’s security is every bit as great as when the Cold War ended in 1989. In some ways de Paola understates the case, for there is reason to believe that the security challenges for Europe are more immediate and difficult than he seems willing to acknowledge.
From the initial results of research projects we at the Royal United Services Institute in London are presently conducting, it is evident that Europe is facing some immediate prospects of insecurity within the NATO area, more immediately than it may have to face some of the uncertainties on the outside. A dangerous internal dynamic has arisen within Europe since 2008 as a result of the financial crisis and recession, particularly because of the eurozone crisis that shows no sign of letting up. Whether or not the euro remains as the single currency, the last four years have created a significant North-South split in Europe. Southern European countries, particularly Greece, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, and to a lesser extent Bulgaria and Romania, are facing years of severe austerity no matter what befalls the euro, while the northern Europeans, particularly Germany, France, Britain, the Benelux countries and some of the Scandinavians will remain prosperous even in recession, but acrimonious and introverted in their economic and political ambitions. There are many ways in which this North-South dynamic in Europe could play out, but in virtually every scenario our research has tested, there has been a notable increase in the insecurity of Europe.
This insecurity includes pressures of uncontrolled migration from south to north, exacerbated by the tumultuous events in the Levant, which in turn stresses relations between Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Linked to this is the near certainty of an increase in serious organised crime like human trafficking, smuggling, extortion and protection, while terrorist organisations will seek to recruit among alienated youth in countries under stress. Greece and Spain are already experiencing crises of governance.
The importance of NATO in all this is not that it will have to exercise 'collective security' to prevent conflict among its members; there is no sense that Europe is being plunged back into a 1930s scenario. But the public will turn to their military establishments for some answers as this North-South dynamic works its way into the political fabric. Helping national authorities deal with immigration pressure points, using scarce intelligence assets to combat organised crime and terrorism, perhaps dealing with riots and disorder if they become impossible for police or gendarmarie to contain, will all be expected by European publics if they become frightened. In such situations it will be vital that NATO should act on its core principles in providing a framework for democratic discussion among Europe’s armed forces, keeping levels of military professionalism in Europe relatively high, helping to provide multinational support for national purposes and acting to reassure the nations and publics of Europe that security will not slip out of control.
This is not a role NATO has explicitly performed before, though it might be argued that it has implicitly performed this role for many years. But it is one that only NATO can do now. The European Union is effectively out of the security equation whilst in the midst of the euro crisis and more than ever lacks credibility in military terms. Although some analysts have argued that NATO steadily lost relevance after the Cold War, Europe’s looming internal political crisis - the crisis of human security -raises complex political challenges that only NATO can meet.
Michael Clarke is Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London. Michael.Clarke@rusi.org