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Romanian army soldiers hold NATO membership countries flags in Bucharest in a 2004 file photo.
Romanian army soldiers hold NATO membership countries flags in Bucharest in a 2004 file photo.

NATO must change radically, groups warn Add to ...

NATO must shed its Cold War shackles and reinvent itself as a 21st-century alliance, capable of wide-ranging nation-building if it is to be effective at combatting the threats of terrorism and failed states, say two major Canadian military lobby groups.

Support for NATO among Canadians - currently high - will wane unless the alliance changes radically, warns the study, published today by the Conference of Defence Associations Institute and the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

"The enormous military assets tied to the territorial defence of Europe need to be redirected to face global threats," said Paul Chapin, a former senior Canadian diplomat with experience at NATO, in Moscow and in Washington and the study's principal author.

Afghanistan, where Canada has paid disproportionately in blood, exposes the failings in an alliance that was created to deter Soviet aggression in Europe, concludes the study, which was prepared to advance a Canadian perspective to NATO as it drafts a new strategy to be unveiled at a summit this fall in Lisbon.

But with the Harper government committed to pulling Canadian troops out of Afghanistan in the summer of 2011, the study also attempts to justify a continuing Canadian role in a military alliance that is largely portrayed as a U.S.-European Union partnership.

By the end of next year, Canada's military efforts overseas will have reached a nadir, with fewer soldiers peacekeeping for the UN or war-fighting with NATO than at any time in half a century.

"This is not the time to settle for modest adjustments," the study says. "It is time to renew the alliance, to transform NATO into a 21st-century organization with the vision and the means to protect and advance the security interests of democratic states." The study includes recommendations to make the financial burden of the alliance more equitable. It also calls for civilian forces to deploy with combat troops if NATO is to continue to conduct far-flung nation-building in places such as Afghanistan.

The study also warns that NATO risks being continually paralyzed by two strictures that have long been central to its decision-making. "NATO decision-making is unnecessarily ponderous and afflicted by a 'UN syndrome' according to which governments often authorize action without committing all the resources required for success," the study says.

It also points out that NATO's requirement for consensus - meaning all 28 nations from the United States to France to Greece and Latvia must approve alliance operations at every level - is cumbersome and unnecessary. It proposes retaining consensus for major decisions - going to war in Afghanistan, for instance - while excluding those nations that opt out of an operation from being able to veto or thwart operational decisions. For instance, during the Kosovo air war in 1999, some NATO governments were insisting on being included in target approval even if they didn't have warplanes involved.

NATO has asked a group of experts, headed by former U.S. secretary of state Madeleine Albright, to review various national submissions and propose recommendations for a new strategic concept.

However, NATO remains a fundamentally transatlantic alliance, which seems at odds with its global activities, including waging a decade-long counterinsurgency with no evident end in Afghanistan or chasing pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Although the study calls vaguely for NATO to "enhance its special relationships with key democratic states outside" the alliance, the inherent imbalance remains. Of NATO's 28 members, all but Canada and the United States are in Europe and all of the expansion focus is also in Europe.

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