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Revitalizing the NAC on the Middle East 20/05/2012

One cannot cherry-pick conflicts, crisis to tackle in the Middle East. NATO needs to have a grand strategy on the Greater Middle East.

The historical changes in the Arab world have redefined security challenges in the Middle East for the Transatlantic Alliance. The region became a focal point of NATO ever since 9/11, with the Alliance engaging in the region through various operations and partnerships in the aftermath. But security challenges in that Middle East brought not only new missions, new task, a new “rasion d’etre”, but friction and crisis to the Alliance, as with the Iraq debate. NATO remained on the sidelines in the decade following 9/11 on the most burning issues and far reaching decisions concerning the region: the Iraq war, Iran, the Israeli – Palestinian peace process.

With authoritarian, but relatively stable and predictable regimes in the regions, many of them friendly to the West and dependent on US military protection, and continuing unquestionable American military superiority, it seemed the nations of the Euro-Atlantic community could afford not to have a common, coherent strategy on the region. Of course, NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue from the 1990’s and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, launched in 2004, were both valuable and crucial efforts to engage the region. These frameworks not only enhance relations between NATO and the individual countries in the region, but foster security cooperation between countries in the region, an equally important objective.

The legacy of the last decade, relative declining US influence, growing strategic rivalry in the region and the recent new developments in the Arab world however requires a new approach by the Trans-Atlantic community. Foremost, the North Atlantic Council has to be a crucial platform for debating policies on the region. The Libyan operations or the experience of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown the limits of American involvement in the region and the relative weakness of European allies. Only the Atlantic Community as a whole can have an influence that matters.

Of course the member states have diverging interests and stakes in the region, but neither of them are immune from the strategic developments of the region, which is still a crucial energy producer, is experiencing a regional arms race with the threat of nuclear proliferation, unresolved conflicts and a region - wide political transformation of historic significance all at the same time. Whatever policies individual NATO member states choose in the region, it could have an impact on other members’ security as well. The Alliance cannot allow to be only following the events as prior...

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Gergely Varga
Europe's World