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Defining NATO partnerships: why the 'Stability' critique is flawed

Stability is a desirable outcome for all parties in the Mediterranean Dialogue. This does not mean returning to the failed policies of the past; our Atlantic Memo is rather a roadmap for maintaining a commitment to the burgeoning democratic institutions of the region.

Josiah Surface
17 May 2012

In his rebuttal to the memo Partners in Democracy, Partners in Security: NATO and the Arab Spring, Andrea Teti crafts his argument around the presupposition that instability, while undesirable, is worth enduring so long as the broader ideals of democracy can be achieved in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Teti puts forward this argument because he concludes that the policy recommendations presented in Partners in Democracy are based on "myopic short-term stability".

Teti is averse to such policies because he assumes that they stem from a solely western view of stability. He posits that achieving stability, from a NATO perspective, will only result in "clientelism" and the backing of authoritarian leaders. Therefore, he characterizes the policies laid out in Partners for Democracy as part of the failed polices of the past, which resulted in the mess that NATO finds itself in today.

While clientelism and the backing of authoritarian leaders are most assuredly part and parcel of the failed policies of the past, partnering with new budding democracies in MENA region is certainly not. So in order to avoid any confusion regarding the term "partners", as defined in Partners in Democracy, it means that NATO must be committed to working with and alongside nations in the MENA area for the foreseeable future and beyond, in order to promote their stability as well as the stability of NATO’s member states.

Defending policies

To that end, certain changes must be made. For example, the Mediterranean Dialogue should be restructured to allow for a more incentivized and effective partnership and consultation. While such a transformation of the Dialogue may usher in an increased number of political issues, this does not mean that the Dialogue will inherently become a new Union for the Mediterranean and thus lose all influence and credibility. Such alarmism is overdone; the Mediterranean Dialogue has been in existence for nearly 20 years and throughout that time has managed to work with members who often have widely opposing views e.g. Israel and the Arab states.

Secondly, positive conditionality is necessary for a state such as Libya; it is hardly wise to permit a state to join the Mediterranean Dialogue while it is still undergoing the complicated and critical process of governmental transition. Though positive conditionality may involve a proverbial carrot, it is assuredly a far cry from "normative imperialism". Proof of this can be found in the fact that six of the seven current members of the Dialogue were able to join in 1995, long before any current uprisings or reforms began.

Thirdly, with regard to reaching out to "king-makers", whether one is backing authoritarian leaders or attempting to partner with the influential men and women in a new democracy, one is reaching out to "king-makers". While these two processes may look and be described in similar ways, they should not be conflated, for they result in intrinsically different outcomes.

Fourthly, Teti notes that Security Sector Reform will not work because militaries such as the Egyptian military may rely on businesses that they control to fund their operations. Such an objection is in fact a strong argument for including  Security Sector Reform in the Mediterranean Dialogueand not avoiding tackling it. It is true that such initiatives for reform may not produce immediate results, but that is simply another reason why NATO must be willing to develop strong, long-term partnerships with the MENA states, and is justified in doing so.

Fifthly, establishing a Bureaucratic Development Program (BDP) to foster a competent and trustworthy civil service is necessary if NATO desires to truly assist budding democracies in the MENA region. While it is true that NATO does not have an excellent reputation in said region due to failed policies of the past, it cannot improve its image by declining to interact with and assist these states. Through offering training to civil servants in the MENA states, NATO may be able to redeem itself in the eyes of the citizens of the MENA area to some extent. Also, NATO is quite capable of training civil servants; while it is first and foremost a security alliance, it has trained civil servants before through the Partnership for Peace Programme.

If these policies are implemented then NATO and its allies can feel confident that they are not simply settling for "myopic stability" or reenacting the failed policies of the past. For the policies as presented in Partners in Democracy do just what the titles implies. They ensure that NATO is willing to work alongside the new democracies in the MENA region to ensure their success and security both now and in the future.

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