The Search for a New NATO Strategy 'Military Power Can't Cure Everything'

NATO's new strategic concept will be unveiled at a summit in Lisbon later this week. In an interview with SPIEGEL, distinguished German diplomat Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz, who helped draft the new plan, spoke about the alliance's new humility, its evolving relationship with Russia and why the US might lose interest.

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SPIEGEL: Mr. von Ploetz, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently said that the alliance needs to become "more effective, more engaged and more efficient." Why? Does it even make sense to revamp the old Cold War-era pact? Isn't 61 years of NATO enough?

Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz: That would certainly be correct if there weren't any more strategic consensus within the alliance.

SPIEGEL: Is there such a consensus within NATO's 28 member states?

Ploetz: After working together for almost a year as part of our group of experts, all 12 members have said that, yes, under all circumstances, a common security policy carries more benefits than national approaches. During our visits to Moscow, we also discussed the question of what Europe and the world would look like without NATO. If NATO didn't exist, we asked ourselves, is it possible that Europe would quickly turn into a zone of instability or even proliferation? In other words, would weapons of mass destruction become more widespread?

SPIEGEL: Which European country would try to get its hands on the bomb?

Ploetz: I'm not at all worried about Germany, but I wouldn't be so sure when it comes to some of the others. After thinking the question over a bit, the people we were meeting with in Moscow also looked completely horrified. The world has become more dangerous and unpredictable. But, despite all the individual criticisms you might have, NATO still serves as a pillar of stability and predictability. That's obviously why so many countries and organizations try to partner with it. For example, almost 20 non-NATO countries are involved in operations in Afghanistan.

SPIEGEL: The result, though, has been a debacle. Is the mission in Afghanistan really supposed to serve as a model for future operations?

Ploetz: Yes, as long as we learn the right lessons from it. I would never have made it my goal to transform Afghanistan into a stable constitutional state and a Western-style democracy. Military means can't deal with the new dangers and risks there.

SPIEGEL: What lesson should we draw?

Ploetz: That, in the future, timely crisis management will be an even more important factor in preventing war. To that end, in addition to military capabilities, we also need political and economic instruments, such as developmental aid and the opening-up of markets. It's an issue of coming up with the right mix for a given situation -- or, in other words, devising a "networked security policy," which is a key concept in the new strategy.

SPIEGEL: Does this mean that NATO will also outfit itself with civilian intervention forces?

Ploetz: NATO has many civilian capabilities -- but, by a long shot, not all of them. For this reason, the new "strategic concept" emphasizes partnerships with the appropriate countries and organizations, particularly the United Nations and the EU. Already today, based on its expenditures in this area, the European Union is the world's largest "soft power" -- which makes it an ideal partner for the alliance. As far as the development of the EU's military capabilities goes, the Americans used to just dismiss it and point to NATO. But, today, Washington is saying: "Do it! Do it fast! And do it right!"

SPIEGEL: Isn't this just another version of the "coalition of the willing," with Washington calling the shots and Europeans being allowed to play along?

Ploetz: No. In the future, we intend to reach joint decisions on what can be done in terms of security policy and on who does what.

SPIEGEL: Still, a lot of people aren't confident things will pan out that way.

Ploetz: After a period of arrogance, humility has surprisingly returned to NATO. Even if the alliance is more militarily powerful than anyone else, we don't want to be the world's policeman. Though military power is indispensible, it can't cure everything. For that reason, we're developing a new security concept and implementing it with suitable partners. Madeleine Albright…

SPIEGEL: … the former US secretary of state and chair of your group of experts…

Ploetz: …used to say: "Obama's middle name is partnership." She was referring to his middle name "Hussein," which alone creates trust in certain parts of the world. What she meant was that we are more willing to cooperate than we ever have been. And because military power remains indispensible -- but doesn't guarantee absolute security -- NATO must now usher in a renaissance in terms of confidence-building measures, disarmament and arms control.

SPIEGEL: Including the issue of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Still, none of this sounds particularly surprising. That's the extent of NATO's new goals?

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