Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Reformer in the NATO Henhouse

…what a surprise the ambassadors were dealt two months ago when the new secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, entered the alliance headquarters
writes Judy Dempsey.
Mr. Rasmussen, who gave up his job as prime minister of Denmark — the first time that a politician of such rank has taken over NATO — lost little time before he tried to change the internal workings of NATO.

There are fewer meetings. Agendas are shorter. Discussions are to the point. And Mr. Rasmussen, with pen in hand, ticks off what has to be done, by whom and when.

To the U.S.-led military alliance, whose structures and procedures have barely changed since it was founded 60 years ago by only twelve member states, these developments amount to a revolution.

And they come at a time when NATO, fighting its biggest war yet, in Afghanistan, urgently needs more efficiency in its deliberations.

“I am here as a reformer,” Mr. Rasmussen, 56, said in an interview. “I want to modernize, transform and reform so that NATO adapts to the security environment for the 21st century.” That means, he said: “In a rapidly changing security environment, we have to make sure that NATO is able to make rapid moves. Otherwise NATO will not maintain its relevance in the future.”

Previous secretary generals have attempted reforms. But they quickly came up against an unshakable lethargy.

… NATO is still agonizing over a new strategic doctrine to reflect its changing role. This is made more urgent by the war in Afghanistan. NATO also is involved in counterpiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and is still heavily committed to Kosovo in the Balkans. And even though Mr. Rasmussen wants NATO to reach out to China and India, can it really do so if it lacks a new doctrine to explain its role in the 21st century?

That is why Mr. Rasmussen broke with tradition in yet another matter: He appointed an outsider, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright of the United States, to lead a group of 12 experts, independent of the ambassadors, to work out a new strategic concept for NATO. Mr. Rasmussen did so to break down the wall of exclusiveness and secrecy that is often associated with the alliance. The panel will be answerable to him, not to the ambassadors.

“I want discussions over NATO’s future to be the most open, the most inclusive consultation process in NATO’s history,” he said. “We have to address properly the new threats such as proliferation, cyber security and climate change, and move away from Cold War thinking.”

…Mr. Rasmussen wants to tackle other internal workings of the organization: What to do, for example, with the plethora of committees, “300 at least,” he said. All require decisions by consensus.

Then there is the sheer size of the military command structure, which has 13,000 personnel scattered across Western Europe at NATO’s many military bases. When France rejoined the integrated military structure in April, it was hard pressed to send 900 top-notch military staff to the various NATO commands. It needed them at home. Mr. Rasmussen said slimming down the military staff and all the NATO military headquarters “was included in my plans for transformation.”

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