Muddassar Ahmed is founding Chief Executive of Unitas Communications Ltd. He is also founding Chairman of The Concordia Forum, a global think tank for transatlantic relations which runs an annual leaders’ retreat.
In the week of the largest ever gathering in Britain of international leaders, President Obama and David Cameron will urge NATO allies to increase defence spending in an effort to protect the continent from the growing threats of regional instability, home-grown terrorism and dwindling numbers of military personnel across Europe.
The Prime Minister and the US leader are worried that NATO members aren’t devoting enough money to their own defence budgets, and are instead relying on the largesse and military might of other nations.
This joint effort to persuade world leaders to up their defence spending comes at a pivotal point as tensions in Syria, Ukraine, and Iraq escalate.
But the Americans and the British have got their work cut out. Since the creation of NATO in 1949, Europe has enjoyed the longest spell of peace and stability in its history. Powered by the United States and welcomed by a European elite which was thoroughly exhausted after centuries of conflict on the European continent, NATO was forged on shared values of pluralism, democracy and promotion of the rule of law. It has since blossomed into the most successful military alliance in history. But new challenges to the security of NATO countries have arisen which are far more global and diffuse in nature. Simply carrying on in the framework of a pre-Cold War model to address today’s acute challenges is not just counterproductive – it could lead to decline in the security of NATO countries.
The post-Cold War era has transformed global society in a number of critical ways. Societies around the world have been rigorously pursuing a multilateral US-inspired open market approach to development and commerce. This extraordinary transition, better known as globalisation, is still in motion. We are fast transitioning from a centralised, bipolar world to a diffuse, multipolar one. Increased global migration, free markets, the emergence of mass media and significant advancements in civil society have resulted in the undermining of the status of the nation-state.
The post-Westphalian Europe of ensuring the nation-state remains unchallenged by extra-societal allegiances is being powerfully challenged. Popular assumptions which underpin the fundamental character of the nation-state, such as uniformity, sovereignty, and nationalism, are coming under increased pressure by globalist conceptions of diversity, religion, plurality, and multiculturalism.
This has resulted in a process of “internationalisation” of all social spaces and allowed for unprecedented freedoms in movement, expression and mobility around the world. In effect, it has internationalised problems, societies and political decision-making, making them characteristically ‘global’. Terrorism and security threats are therefore fundamentally global, much like financial crises, political instability and drug cartels.
This creates a huge security dilemma and necessitates a shift in security policy which is in step with this change, rather than a reaction to it. Trying to solve modern globalised security challenges individually, as they arise, is to deny the full scope of these challenges; it is also far more costly and often dangerous. For example, we’ve witnessed an endemic culture in our governments of ignoring (or sometimes over-indulging) various security challenges around the world in order to satisfy short-term geopolitical and socio-economic interests.
The 2003 Iraq war has directly or indirectly resulted in the startling rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, which is now threatening not just the Middle East but almost every European country. Our close relations with certain Middle Eastern states that actively promote extremist ideology have led to a worrying rise in radicalisation throughout the world. Our domestic policies for combating radicalisation are futile until we approach the problem with a security policy that is holistic and in tune with global changes.
Recently, NATO’s inability to satisfy Ukraine’s security demands, the decision not to intervene in Syria, and a lack of political will to see through peace settlement in Israel/Palestine are decisions that, while they satisfy immediate needs and challenges, may prove detrimental to our security in the long run.
Our rush to participate in the 2003 Iraq War and our approach to the War on Terror are symptomatic of this short-term approach. In both cases, much like our silence over Gaza, we defied our principles and sought short-term gains and resolutions without any knowledge of the root nature of the challenge. As a consequence of these mistakes, Iraq has descended into chaos, and radicalisation has gathered pace. Counterproductive policies in the fight against terror include poor intelligence work, a decline in human rights in our fight against extremists, Islamophobic rhetoric, and the marginalisation of moderate Muslims (the majority), among many others. These policies continue unabated and have been damaging; extremists are now employing the language of the West’s War on Terror to increase their radicalisation activities, leading to a surge in young radicals across Europe.
The lack of coherency in our security approach is in turn leading to acute complications in our security challenges. It is making NATO inactive and ineffective when it should be being proactive.
This week’s NATO summit will have the crisis in Syria, the recent rise of ISIS, and a surge in radicalism in Western countries on the agenda. Our leaders should not ignore the fundamental realities of our challenges in the pursuit of immediate political gratification.
It is only by remaining strong to our principles and values that we can continue to ensure that institutions such as NATO remain relevant for our citizens. Being committed to human rights, being proactive in the face of humanitarian disasters, demonstrating our will to aspiring nations, and showing that we understand challenges from the roots rather than slapping away at the branches are our fundamental values but, more importantly, they are also within our national interests. Fusing them with our “principles” allows us to embrace these changes and influence their direction.
A national interest that lacks scope and foresight is not a national interest at all. We must place our values at the heart of our national will; not doing so is hypocritical and leads to complete disenfranchisement from the population. It is fidelity to values and consistency in will that inspires loyalty.