11/16/2010 04:27 PM

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.

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?

'How Do We Keep the Americans in NATO?'

Ploetz: Not surprising, but imperative in terms of content. NATO's first secretary general, Lord Ismay, described the original idea behind the alliance in this way: "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down." But now things have changed. The Soviet Union no longer exists, Russia is 1,000 kilometers (625 miles) farther away, and Germany no longer poses a threat. This leaves us with a single goal: How do we keep the Americans in NATO?

SPIEGEL: Are you serious about that last question?

Ploetz: We have to take it very seriously. Americans are pragmatic. What the alliance is doing today -- namely, developing a new strategic concept in times of globalization or, in other words, coming to terms with unconventional, previously unimagined threats and completely new shifts in power -- is something the United States used to think through for itself. For Americans, Europe is no longer the central point of reference. In opinion polls, only 20 percent of them hold a positive view of the alliance -- a smaller figure than in any other NATO country. And most of those who do are probably older. Europe has to take this into account. The effort to restart relations with Russia is also a reaction to global challenges. It's easier to surmount those challenges with Russia as a partner than without -- or even against -- Russia. Today, Lord Ismay might have said: "We have to include the Russians in the alliance, if only to keep the Americans in."

SPIEGEL: By advancing all the way to the border with Russia, NATO has recently become very unpopular in Moscow.

Ploetz: That's true. Nevertheless, during our talks there, we also asked the Russians whether they really realized what it meant in terms of stability on their western border to no longer have countries that were strong and weak, secure and insecure and, most likely, shifting alliances. And then we asked a second, related question: In the future, shouldn't we jointly guarantee security in Europe?

SPIEGEL: So, instead of security against Russia, it's now security with Russia?

Ploetz: Exactly. At least that's what we want.

SPIEGEL: What about the NATO countries in Eastern Europe? Poland and the Baltic countries don't want to flirt with Russia; they want to be protected from it. Their fears can't be overlooked.

Ploetz: The question of what we should do about Russia actually did trigger intense discussions in our group -- and, at first, there were serious differences of opinion. But a new way of thinking about this has emerged. At the beginning of the year, I was sitting next to the head of the Polish military on a flight leaving Washington. We spent a long time discussing the best way to take into account worries in Poland and other Central European countries about security policies, for example, through confidence-building measures. Ten days later, in response to my request, he provided me with a paper on the subject that contained very concrete ideas. Soon thereafter, I was all the more shaken when I heard he had died in the plane crash near Smolensk. It was a huge loss. He was slated to become chairman of NATO's security committee.

SPIEGEL: But what about the idea of Russia becoming a NATO "ally"?

Ploetz: That word didn't prompt anyone in our group to jump out of the window, not even those representing "New Europe"…

SPIEGEL: …as former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld so nicely put it. But let's talk about the missile defense shield that's supposed to protect Europe. Will it really be jointly built with Russia?

Ploetz: Why not? (Russian Prime Minister Vladimir) Putin himself was the first one to propose it. More than 30 countries now have missile technology. What would happen if systems like these -- and ones outfitted with weapons of mass destruction -- were to fall into terrorist hands? It would be a nightmare for security policy! Even today, most conflicts do not come about as a result of countries launching traditional armed attacks but, rather, from internal conflicts. Indeed, for some time now, military capabilities have been "privatized." The threat emerging against us from Afghanistan is from forces wearing no uniforms, disappearing into the civilian population and then resurfacing -- and ones not motivated by rational strategies but often by irrational ideological convictions, instead. Neither we nor the Russians can calmly accept such developments. Anyone looking at Russia's borders on a map can see the problem zones forming a line running from the Far East to the Caspian Sea.

SPIEGEL: And what does this mean when it comes to the missile defense shield? Could Russian and NATO soldiers soon be stationed together at the launching platforms?

Ploetz: We have agreed to initially prepare a joint threat analysis. By the way, it's amazing how public opinion in Russia has changed since the beginning of the year. Resistance to NATO is declining.

SPIEGEL: Why so suddenly?

Ploetz: To them, we have become more transparent. And, what's more, they also have to acknowledge the constraints of globalization.

SPIEGEL: Can you imagine Russia as a NATO member country?

Ploetz: Not so fast! When it comes to cooperating with Russia on security policy, we should take one step at a time so as to build up trust. It all remains to be seen whether Russia will one day want to join NATO or whether we will seek some other kind of contractual framework. Under Article 10 of the NATO treaty, European democracies can become members if they are able and willing to contribute to the common security. But that would also mean that NATO would have to defend Russia on its most extreme borders. I would prefer a solution according to which we establish joint security but one that isn't tied to collective actions so far away. Nevertheless, the treaty is there, and no one wants to amend it. And what might seem unthinkable today could become a real possibility tomorrow.

SPIEGEL: Are you perhaps thinking of recent German history?

Ploetz: In 1984, (Germany's) then-Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher discussed confidence-building measures in Stockholm with his Soviet counterpart, Andrei Gromyko. "I know exactly what you want, Mr. Genscher," Gromyko said. "You want to drill a hole in our fence and spy on us." Genscher replied: "You've misunderstood me completely, Mr. Gromyko. I want to tear the fence down!"

SPIEGEL: The new "NATO 3.0," as Secretary General Rasmussen calls it, is meant to protect us not only from terrorist attacks, but also from Internet attacks and blockades of vital natural resources. Are soldiers in tanks and fighter jets really the right people for the job?

Ploetz: No, of course not. And it would also be wrong for NATO to foster the impression that it can do everything.

SPIEGEL: Wouldn't it be better if it just kept out of the whole matter?

Ploetz: Unfortunately, that just isn't possible. The alliance is crucially dependent on its communications networks to function, so it has to protect itself. In the same vein, its member states must ensure that their governments and societies at large can continue functioning.

SPIEGEL: Could you give us an example?

Ploetz: Today, our power supply is based on complex, computer-controlled networks. If "parked" Trojans -- that is, dormant viruses -- are activated at key junctions in a crisis situation and suddenly interrupted the power supply, even if it were only temporary, it could still have devastating effects. It takes at least 48 hours to reboot the system. A 48-hour blackout in a crisis situation! Can you imagine that? So, we have to devise methods for protecting ourselves. One is the ability to launch our own attacks -- which is why the United States now has a "Cyber Command" run by a four-star general.

SPIEGEL: Would one of these methods involve being able to threaten a retaliatory strike?

Ploetz: The concept is known as "conflict-preventing deterrence."

SPIEGEL: These days, NATO can plan what it wants, but hardly anyone gets excited about it anymore. Long gone are the days when young people took to the streets to protest against NATO, shouting "better red than dead." Instead, these days, a railroad station in Stuttgart is more important to people than the nuclear threat. What happened?

Ploetz: Today, many citizens take the alliance for granted. But -- just like the fire department or the police within our counties -- it's a successful tool for guaranteeing our existence and preserving our external security. And NATO's done a pretty good job, don't you think?

Interview conducted by Christian Neef and Hans-Jürgen Schlamp and translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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