Oslo — The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was born in 1949 as a military alliance to defend the territorial integrity of Western nations against the Soviet threat. It fused together the military and intelligence capabilities of its member states under a common political mandate that assured that the use of force, when necessary, would be by consultation and consensus. That mandate served the world well to maintain stability and deterrence during the Cold War and greatly eased the transition from a bipolar world to one dominated by U.S. power. NATO boasts 26 member states today.
But the world has changed, and so has America’s effectiveness in wielding its power. Osama bin Laden has successfully interrupted Islam’s march toward modernity by hijacking a peaceful religion of normal people to propound victimization and a misbegotten promise of paradise to Islam’s next generation of followers — all with deadly results. Commercial U.S. airliners were turned into flying missiles; commuter trains, buses, and subways are constantly threatened by undetectable bomb-filled knapsacks; liquid crystal chemical bombs packed into Kool-Aid containers were prepared to blow up jumbo jets in flight — there seems no end to the creativity of today’s terrorists. And yet, increasingly, there isn’t much good policymaking to combat the threat.
A new blueprint to counter modern day threats is urgently needed — one that effectively addresses this void in near-term policymaking and longer-term strategic planning. NATO can play an important role in its development. The plan needs to recognize that our enemies’ strategies are multi-layered, replete with bait and switch tactics, and, importantly, it must reflect a deep understanding of the prevailing weaknesses in open, democratic societies. Consider that jihadists are engaging in nuisance terrorist acts (the type we see in Iraq on a daily basis) to keep Western militaries fully engaged on the ground while their terror masters might be planning larger and more lethal attacks on Western economic infrastructure (attacks against cyber-systems or energy infrastructure, for example).
How can we counter such strategies to create a more nimble, less confrontational, and necessarily counterintuitive 21st century plan to combat terrorism? As leaders from NATO member-states prepare to gather in Riga later today, they might consider some of the following ideas:
‐ Developing a Global Intelligence Center (GIC). In a world faced with asymmetric threats, good human-source intelligence is vital to countering enemies successfully who rely on low-tech means to advance their hideous causes. China’s failure to adequately assess Kim Jong Il’s determination to conduct nuclear tests, or the loyalties of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence to aid and abet the Taliban’s resurgence, or the collective Western intelligence failure on Saddam Hussein’s WMD program, all point to a need for gathering and sharing good intelligence more transparently — particularly from human sources. GIC would effectively be a global library of data from sources with unique language skills, cultural affiliations, and knowledge of remote regions. Its processors and analysts would be independent teams of respected individuals who would rotate periodically to prevent politicization of intelligence. GIC would boost intelligence capabilities in weaker countries where extremists breed and operate and, in doing so, would strengthen the value of the intelligence weak countries gather through their limited capacities.
‐ NAPTO — Expanding the NATO partnership globally to Pacific Rim countries. North Korea’s nuclear tests now raise the possibility that a cash-starved nation will seek to sell its only commodity of value — nuclear bombs — to terrorists on the high seas. Documentary evidence suggests that al Qaeda maintains a fleet of container vessels. Similarly, evidence is widespread of North Korea’s high-seas transfers of missile parts to rogue governments in the southeast Pacific. One countermeasure could be to replicate the success of NATO’s operation Active Endeavor in the Mediterranean, begun in response to the attacks of 9/11, by extending it to the Pacific Rim. NATO could invite, initially on a mission of limited scope, the participation of Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and even China to patrol sea lanes in an effort to prevent nuclear transfers by Pyongyang. Sanctions policies will do nothing to deter criminals and governments who need so badly what the other has.
‐Developing Global Nuclear Processing Centers. Illicit nuclear material in the hands of terrorists remains the largest-scale structural threat to civilization. The entry of less stable countries, like Pakistan and North Korea today, or dangerous regimes in Tehran and Damascus tomorrow, to the nuclear club spells the end of traditional non-proliferation treaties as the way to manage nuclear threats. That is why work must begin now to develop a new non-proliferation strategy that motivates countries like India and France now, and perhaps Japan and South Korea in the future, to become peaceful processors of nuclear fuels. Such a strategy would benefit less stable countries around them whose energy demands require urgent solutions but whose volatile political leaders cannot be permitted to develop or possess nuclear weapons. NATO could develop a joint partnership with the International Atomic Energy Agency to fuse together its military/intelligence capabilities in managing the construction and security of nuclear processing centers while IAEA experts, together with in-country teams, could operate the facilities under common global paradigms. Host countries would essentially donate land in the same way the United States today hosts the United Nations in New York.
‐Creating Forums for Muslim Integration and Assimilation. The rise of extremism from parts of the largely peaceful Muslim world requires that Western governments which are targets of Islamist wrath take proactive measures to better understand the threats they face at home. More nuanced policies which respect Islam while tackling its rogue elements from within are badly needed. Enabling the majority of law-abiding Muslims to police their own ranks should become a strategic national security paradigm. Governments need to bring as many qualified Muslim citizens into policymaking positions as possible at the highest levels. These should include ministers and secretaries of defense, interior, education, and foreign affairs, as well as directors of intelligence and senior military officers, so that distrust and misplaced fears of government are diffused.
Secondly, governments need to follow Germany’s example in holding forums where Muslim leaders are brought together with government leaders to debate how integration and assimilation can best be achieved in society. Such efforts will minimize risks of sleeper cells hiding in communities until it’s too late, and prevent the inevitable ostracizing of law-abiding Muslims by non-Muslims if terror does strike.
Finally, given the cunning, determination, and creativity of our enemies, we need to hold forums, perhaps under strictly regimented NATO guidance and sponsorship, that openly debate and assess the most unlikely of threats and scenarios, so that governments may better prepare their populations to react if an asymmetric attack materializes. The terror masters count on our lack of imagination to counter their designs. It’s high time we became as imaginative as they are.
Military strategies alone cannot defeat terrorism. NATO’s historically neutral and balanced fusion of political and military leadership, time-tested frameworks for conflict management, and measurable results make it a natural candidate to guide, and perhaps even lead, in fighting the enemies of freedom and liberty. Citizens who seek only to conduct peaceful lives, work hard, and build their families urgently need a new type of leadership to eradicate the scourge of those who seek only to tear civilization down.
– Kristin Krohn Devold was Norway’s defense minister from 2001 until 2005. Mansoor Ijaz, a New York financier, negotiated Sudan’s offer of counterterrorism assistance to the Clinton administration in 1997 and the militant ceasefire in Kashmir in 2000.