Thinking Global

How NATO can revitalize its role

May 16, 2012 19:52 UTC

White House reporters can be forgiven their collective shrug when they received the readout from President Obama’s meeting last week with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in advance of the alliance’s Chicago summit this weekend. Laced with the usual, mind-numbing NATO-speak, the dry listing of the summit’s three areas of focus – Afghanistan, defense capabilities, and partnerships – didn’t sound like the stuff of history.

However, beneath the third agenda item – partnerships – lies a potential revolution in how the world’s most important security alliance may operate globally in the future beside other regional organizations – and at the request of the United Nations. At a time of euro zone crisis, U.S. political polarization and global uncertainty, it provides a possible road map for “enlarging the West” and its community of common values and purpose. “NATO is now a hub for a global network of security partners which have served alongside NATO forces in Afghanistan, Libya and Kosovo,” Obama and Rasmussen agreed.

As America’s willingness and capability to act unilaterally declines, any U.S. president will find himself increasingly drawn to NATO as an even more vital tool for foreign and defense policy – against a host of global threats ranging from Syrian upheavals and North Korean nuclear weapons to cyber attacks and piracy. The problem, however, is that NATO members more often than not won’t be located where they are most needed. Or due to lack of political will or inadequate military muscle, many NATO members may not have the capability to intervene. That means regional partners will be increasingly necessary to provide both the credibility and resources for the most likely future operations.

Although many experts, including then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, opposed NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, the operation’s ultimate success provides something of a model for this sort of future. NATO operated alongside key regional and European non-alliance partners within NATO structures – with the blessing of the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council. The alliance – and by extension the United States – achieved its objectives with no allied casualties, minor collateral damage and limited U.S. engagement. The war lasted seven months and cost the alliance just $1.2 billion, the equivalent of one week of operations in Afghanistan.

Such situations never repeat themselves precisely. Should NATO ultimately be involved in Syria, for example, regional engagement would likely be far greater. In a North Korean scenario, it is hard to imagine any response that wouldn’t be coordinated with America’s Asia-Pacific allies and China. Regarding maritime security, the NATO countries involved and local partners would shift given the threat, whether off the Gulf of Guinea or the Straits of Hormuz. What’s clear is that for the model of NATO at the hub of a global security network, the alliance will need to become more flexible and adaptable – and to build a broader and deeper array of global partnerships.

China’s political intrigue ventures west

May 2, 2012 16:20 UTC

Imagine that an American intelligence agency organizes an “exercise,” as one occasionally does, on how to manage an unwanted but inescapable Washington role in a Chinese leadership struggle. Throw in the following scene-setting facts:

    With the Chinese Communist Party confronting a decisive leadership transition, a provincial police chief takes refuge in a U.S. consulate and spills the beans on a corruption and murder story swirling around Bo Xilai, whose populist, Maoist campaign threatens the establishment. Just a week before the visit to Washington of Vice-President Xi Jianping, who is in line to become paramount leader this autumn, President Obama takes sides. Although Bo’s forces are circling the consulate, the U.S. releases the police chief to Beijing’s leaders. With that crisis solved and Chinese leaders indebted to Obama, a blind human rights activist dramatically escapes house arrest and takes refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. With Secretary Hillary Clinton arriving for a high-level Sino-U.S. summit, both sides enter crisis management mode.

It’s no wonder that the intellectual salons of Washington have grown a bit bored with the ongoing U.S. election campaign and have shifted their interest instead to Chinese domestic politics. The reasons are obvious: The details are juicier, the drama is more immediate and the historic stakes are considerably more significant.

That’s because any U.S. president, whether named Obama or Romney, will operate within a well-established constitutional framework and democratic habits. While the U.S. has managed 43 peaceful transitions of power over the past 223 years, Communist-led China has managed a smooth handoff only once since its 1949 revolution, and that was in 2002, when Deng Xiaoping engineered the rise of the current premier, Hu Jintao.

Does America still want to lead the world?

Apr 18, 2012 18:02 UTC

For all their bitter differences, President Obama and Governor Romney share one overwhelming challenge. Whoever is elected will face the growing reality that the greatest risk to global stability over the next 20 years may be the nature of America itself.

Nothing – not Iranian or North Korean nuclear weapons, not violent extremists or Mideast instability, not climate change or economic imbalances – will shape the world as profoundly as the ability of the United States to remain an effective and confident world player advocating its traditional global purpose of individual rights and open societies.

That was the conclusion of the Global Agenda Council on the United States, a group of experts that was brought together by the World Economic Forum and that I have chaired. Even more intriguing, our group tested our views on, among others, a set of Chinese officials and experts, who worried that we would face a world overwhelmed by chaos if the U.S. – facing resource restraints, leadership fatigue and domestic political dysfunction – disengaged from its global responsibilities.