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NATO HAS LITTLE TO OFFER TO GCC
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
December 27, 2006

By the end of this month all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) were supposed to announce the number of troops they would be prepared to contribute to the alliance's force in Afghanistan.

The expected announcements were spun as the surest sign that the 57-year old alliance was determined to win its first nation-building mission.

Instead, what happened was a disappointment.

France announced that, far from contributing more troops, it was withdrawing its 200 Special Forces fighters who were engaged in anti-Al Qaida operations in southeastern Afghanistan alongside US Marines.

France's Defence Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie described the seven deaths that the French contingent has suffered in the past three years as "too high", insisting that French troops would now focus only on policing operations in and around Kabul.

Turkey, for its part, appeared to have reneged on its promise of providing 300 more men and there were persistent reports that the Dutch also plan to cut their small contingent within the next few months.

Signs that Nato may be losing in Afghanistan confirm its decline as an alliance when it reneged on its promise of helping train the new Iraqi army and police.

Many now wonder whether the alliance will exist, except on paper, five or 10 years from now. And, yet, Nato salesmen are touring the Middle East looking for new partners.

They are right; the region is a market for stability and desperate need of long-term security structures.

Major portion

Called by some observers as "the Arc of Crisis", the region, spanning from North Africa to the Indian Subcontinent, is the only major portion of the globe still threatened with long-term instability and war.

The United States is not the only power with major national interests in the Middle East. The European Union, China, Japan and India also depend on the region for the bulk of their energy needs. Instability and war in the Middle East will also affect neighbouring nations in the Subcontinent, Central Asia, Russia, the Mediterranean basin and the Horn of Africa.

It is against that background that Nato is launching its quest for regional partners for a long-term security relationship. Nato, which has one full member, Turkey, in the region, has already forged partnership ties with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Azerbaijan.

As already mentioned, it is present in Afghanistan with which it hopes to establish durable ties. The alliance also maintains some level of cooperation with Pakistan, continuing a tradition established in the 1950s when Islamabad joined the Baghdad Pact and its successor the Central Treaty Organisation (Cento).

At the other end of the spectrum, hopes of closer Nato ties with the Central Asian republics and Armenia have been put on hold, largely because of Russian and Iranian pressure.

That leaves the Arabian peninsula as the most promising chunk of the region where Nato hopes to fish for partners. The alliance already has an informal dialogue with Yemen, one of the region's most vulnerable nations targeted by Islamist groups.

However, it is unlikely to formalise ties with the alliance anytime soon. In recent months, the alliance has directed its attention towards the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). At first glance, the six GCC members might look like a homogenous bloc.

Despite that apparent unity, however, GCC members have developed different, at times contradictory, defence doctrines. This is why Nato planners have realised that seeking a relationship with the GCC, as a bloc, might not produce results.

In that context, Nato's current efforts to forge closer ties with Kuwait and Bahrain may point to a new strategy by the alliance. Last month Kuwait hosted a joint conference with Nato to highlight similarities in the way both sides read the situation in the region.

Kuwait has despatched a high-level parliamentary delegation to meet Nato officials in Brussels and put one of its most senior diplomats in charge of relations with the alliance.

New partners

Nevertheless, chances of Nato securing new partners in the region must be rated as dim. The reason can be summed up in one word: Iraq.

Having refused to support the US-led war that toppled Saddam Hussain in 2003, the alliance has reneged on its promise of helping train the new Iraqi army and police force.

In a sense, the Iraq experience spelled the end of Nato as an alliance. Its prestige has suffered further blows in Afghanistan where several member states have engaged in Byzantine tactics to ensure their symbolic presence without obliging them to do much fighting.

Nato, originally created to face the Soviet challenge in Europe, has not succeeded in developing a new doctrine in the post-Cold War world. Its members no longer agree on the source of threats to them. Worse still, some members are prepared to sabotage the efforts of other allies to deal with perceived threats.

As far as the GCC states are concerned, association with Nato may be of interest on diplomatic grounds. Having an agreement with Nato may look like a certificate of good conduct from a bloc of Western democracies.

In terms of offering the GCC anything resembling genuine security, however, Nato has little to offer. A divided alliance cannot secure its own flanks, let alone offer outsiders effective protection against predatory powers in a chronically unstable region.

Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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