Special Challenges to the New NATO
Italian Undersecretary of Defense Professor Stefano Silvestri

The arguments Lieutenant General O'Neill presented on ballistic-missile defense at the Workshop are very convincing. Ballistic-missile defense is very expensive and implies a high level of cooperation among Allies over a very long period of time. Determining to use such a defense is therefore a very important political decision for a government to make and requires a sufficient degree of consensus. I would like to address this political consensus question and show how it affects the situation. In so doing, I will play devil's advocate; forgetting that I am an official of the Italian government, I will try to be outspoken and provocative to help us assess the problem.


My first observation, although it is not very provocative, is that the disappearance of a political threat from the East, together with its concomitant drastic decline in potential military threats and the opening of the Eastern borders, has considerably changed the European strategic perspective. For years, we in Europe concentrated on a defense and deterrence posture, looking first and sometimes only to the continent and to the Soviet Union. The rest of the world was optional for Europeans with very few exceptions, mainly because of the heritage of the British and French world roles. This situation allowed Europe to reap more substantial Cold War dividends than the peace dividends we are talking about today, because it allowed many European countries to buy peace and security cheaply and to escape unwanted global responsibilities.

All that has ended, and our strategic theater is enlarging daily. Now we are discussing far-ranging issues--the defense of Central and Eastern Europe, the security of the Baltic Republics, the conflicts in the Caucasus, the stability of the African governments, and peace in the Middle East. These are Europe's new frontiers, but even these frontiers will continue to change. I can foresee a time when we will be obliged to rediscover Southeast Asia and the Pacific, especially if China's foreign policy continues to develop in a more assertive way.

European security is thus reacquiring a kind of global flavor, but European governments, especially the European electorates and European parliaments, are neither fully aware of nor prepared for this global dimension. Although the problem exists, we do not have the vision to deal with it; moreover, we do not have the means to confront it.


The Alliance is slowly trying to adapt, but it is hampered by its historical identity as a defense and containment instrument. Its major problem, in my opinion, is political--the absence of a traditional, highly visible threat has increased differences in priorities among Allies. The fact is that no scenario centered on Article V missions is fully credible today, or appears to have high enough priority to reconfirm the Alliance's raison d'être. A new threat from the East in the short to medium term can be of vital importance for some countries of the former Soviet Union, for some Central Eastern European countries, or even for a Baltic country like Finland--but not for the European countries of the present NATO core, or at least not yet.

This is one of the main reasons why, I believe, the NATO enlargement process is slowing down and becoming complicated. If NATO enlarges toward the East, then Article V missions could become central again. This time, however, it would not be possible to ensure them cheaply. In order to defend Eastern Europe, NATO should either go back to massive retaliation, which is not very credible, or invest heavily, massively, in conventional forces, a highly unlikely prospect for both political and strategic reasons. In addition, it is still not clear why NATO should choose to confront Russia now, when the current name of the game is partnership with Moscow. But if we enlarge NATO without credibly enlarging its defenses, where is the remaining sense of Article V? And how could we convince our electorate that we should invest more in order to defend ourselves from a Partner?


Other scenarios are also interesting, but equally not convincing. Italy is slowly becoming a kind of "new Germany of NATO." It has many airbases filled with Allied aircraft, four to five naval groups cruising around its seas, and is preparing to host important Allied Rapid Intervention Forces. Also, in operational terms, the Yugoslav crisis has greatly increased the importance of the Southern Command, something that could become or be made more permanent if other missions were to be found in addition to the wars in Bosnia and in Croatia. Unfortunately--or fortunately--the threat from the South is growing very slowly and is partly non-military or cannot be dealt with through military means. I am referring to problems like the Islamic revival, the demographic pressure, or the creeping crisis of consensus in many African and Arab states. The military threat per se is relatively limited and could become serious only if and when those states acquire a credible medium-range missile capability, coupled with the availability of weapons of mass destruction.

This concern is very serious but not terribly urgent, at least in the Mediterranean and for the short term. Undoubtedly, we will need better defenses, greater capabilities, and deterrence. But it seems that we have some time ahead of us and that we may be able to develop these better defenses over the next decade. So, although we should think of this Southern threat now, it does not have the kind or urgency that may reverse political perception in a country.


If we continue to think in defensive terms according to the traditional NATO way, we may find ourselves in a very tight spot. We do not live in peaceful times and are likely to have to confront a very rapid deterioration of the global stability and security scenario in a way that could threaten our economic interests, our way of life, and possibly our lives. But in order to manage and reduce these major threats, we cannot simply defend ourselves, waiting for the attack to come. On the contrary, we should precede and preempt it, perhaps according to the strategy of the Byzantine Empire, which assured its security by interfering in wars between its enemies. It is this scenario that interests us, with the added value that we are now living in a much smaller world, and that in fact we will not be obliged to act among enemies but among possible allies and even partners. In other words, we should export stability.

Strategically, this means that Europeans should consider with greater interest the very difficult and risky region that lies to the east-southeast and includes the Balkans, the Black Sea, and the Caucasus, with all its interconnections with Russia, Central Asia, and the Middle East. This is one region, I believe, where a new global war may start, the others being the China Sea and Southeast Asia areas. If this is true, then this analysis has some consequences:


NATO is an asset which is still capable of great results despite very unfavorable circumstances such as declining defense budgets, renationalization of defense and foreign policies, and incredible difficulties in working with the United Nations. Therefore, we should do everything possible to reverse the present negative outlook on Allied capabilities and readiness that have been presented. In order to do that, we have to adapt rapidly to the changing circumstances, especially in political and institutional terms. Our first need is to recover broad political consensus, both domestically and internationally, on major military missions. If we fail to do so, then our hope for new Alliance policies can only be very forlorn, and we will have to turn to other instruments that will be much less effective and will create other difficulties.

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