Islam Yusuf is born in Macedonia, in 1975. He studied International Relations to the University of Ankara (Turkey) and currently is post-masters student at the Amsterdam School of International Relations. In 1998 became NATO Research Fellow ("PfP and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"). (e-mail:

The Security Risks and Challenges:

The Raison dêtre of NATOs Existence

Submitted by Islam Yusuf

European security has undergone profound changes since 1989. The collapse of communism and the demise of the Soviet Union (SU) completed a process of change which led to a new European order. In this new European order, the former communist countries have been trying to carve out a place for themselves and to find a security umbrella in the European Union (EU) and the NATO. In this new era, in which the Warsaw Pact (WP), the former Soviet Union (USSR) and Yugoslavia, communist regimes, and the threat of a major war have all disappeared.

This paper is about the developments that led to the continuation of existence of NATO after the demise of its enemy. The paper is descriptive work and it is based mainly on secondary sources, with the exception of some basic documents.

For a brief time there was speculation in the United States (US) and Western Europe that the collapse of the SUs East European empire, followed by the disintegration of the SU itself, might signal NATOs ultimate demise as well. It was difficult to envision an alliance that had been created to contain the expansionist ambitions of a totalitarian superpower playing a meaningful role in the absence of such a threat. But NATOs defenders have worked hard to ensure that the alliance is even more important in the post-Cold War era than it was during the Cold War.

It has been within the context of existing institutions like the CSCE, now the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), since January 1995, the Western European Union (WEU), and NATO that new security arrangements have been considered. Since each of these institutions has contributed in their own ways to European security and stability and the ending of the Cold War, and each comes with its own sets of strengths in dealing with the post-Cold War problems, member states have found it valuable to enhance rather than diminish the role of these institutions in the post-Cold War era.

It is possible to identify four specific reasons why NATO has continued to be relevant in the new environment. Firstly, there is its long-standing role of providing insurance against the future security risks and challenges as well as uncertainty and instability in and around Euro-Atlantic area, which may lead to local and regional crises. Secondly, the Alliance provides by its very existence a framework of stability at a time of great uncertainty and potential instability. CEE leaders have been prominent in arguing that, as the only functioning security organisation, NATO remains essential to European security. Thirdly, the Alliance is the mechanism that associates North America, and especially the US, most directly with the security of Europe. A fourth reason why the Atlantic Alliance has survived is simply that the nineteen member countries continue to see NATO as providing a convenient and effective framework within which they can meet, consult an! d, wherever necessary, coordinate policies. For these reasons it is generally acknowledged that NATO has continued to play a role in preserving stability and security in Europe.

A new political agenda developed in the former communist states. Nationalism, ethnic conflict, intra-state conflict and separatism have become important features of politics in parts of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Pre-communist politics were reasserted in the new setting of the post-communist era. Nationalism and ethnic conflict challenged the integrity of states and led in some instances to inter-state conflict. The demise of the SU also complicated the process of nuclear arms control and raised the question of weapon proliferation.

The threat of a simultaneous, full-scale attack on all of NATO's European fronts has effectively been removed and thus no longer provides the focus for Allied strategy in the new European order. However, the new order is not entirely free of security tensions, challenges and risks. Challenges and risks to Allied security are likely to result from the adverse consequences of instabilities that may arise from the serious economic, social and political difficulties, including ethnic rivalries and territorial disputes, which are faced by many CEEC.

There are several aspects that are generally regarded as security challenges and risks the Europe is facing or might face in future:

    1. Uncertainty and instability in and around the Euro-Atlantic area and the possibility of regional crises at the periphery of the Alliance, which could evolve rapidly. Some countries in and around the Euro-Atlantic area face serious economic, social and political difficulties. Ethnic and religious rivalries, territorial disputes, inadequate or failed efforts at reform, the abuse of human rights, and the dissolution of states can lead to local and even regional instability. The resulting tensions could lead to crises affecting Euro-Atlantic stability, to human suffering, and to armed conflicts. Such conflicts could affect the security of the Alliance by spilling over into neighbouring countries.
    2. Proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, trafficking of fissile material and the nuclear burden;
    3. Migration: The attractiveness of the EU for illegal immigration is linked to the economic disequilibrium between Europe and its neighbouring regions. As the war in former Yugoslavia has shown, an armed conflict can lead to a large scale displacement of persons. Through migration, conflicts between opposing political, religious or ethnic groups can be imported into the host country. And, the host country has not only to consider the financial implications of migration, but also indirect social costs, caused through hostile or violent reactions by its own population;
    4. Environmental damage: Large scale environmental damage surrounding Europe can be observed to the east, eg. in the Baltic Sea region and the south, eg. the Mediterranean Sea, caused by emissions from industry, nuclear installations, dumping of hazardous waste, etc.
    5. Trade routes and energy supply: At present no indications can be found that Europes energy supply eg. from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) or its trade routes in the Mediterranean are threatened by third countries. Nevertheless, the dependence of Europe on an external energy supply and raw materials or simply due to its high rate of export trade make it necessary to be certain that possible conflicts do not harm these areas.
    6. The other risk is the increasing "underground organisations" (Mafia), which control already a great part of the society in the new democracies. This could undermine the stability of the Central and East European Countries (CEECs).


The above mentioned risks and challenges cannot exclusively be seen as risks to the security of the west European countries. These are risks that are faced also by CEEC. These risks and challenges have led the NATO leaders to pursue the continuance the existence of NATO after the end of the Cold War and to redefine its role in the new era. Regarding risks and challenges, several of the CEEC are concerned about the accountability and predictability of Russias foreign policy. The Baltic countries would be especially vulnerable to the "near abroad" policy of Russia. Inter-ethnic or minority problems are possible sources for instability throughout the CEE area. Internal aspects of security are more often perceived as a danger to the respective countrys stability than external challenges. The CEEC are even more vulnerable to such risks than western countries because the transformation processes of their economies and political systems have not yet! been completed, or have not yet proved to be stable against increasing risks. No matter how different the security situation is perceived in the CEEC, the establishment of a dialogue and different forms of cooperation with western organisations are evaluated as important steps for shaping ones own foreign and security political profiles. This is a natural response to the conditions of a conceptual and material vacuum in which these countries perceived their security. Czech President, Vaclav Havel, commented upon this to a NATO audience in 1991, saying that their countries "are dangerously sliding into a certain political, economic and security vacuum. The old, imposed political, economic and security ties have collapsed, yet new ones are developing slowly and with difficulty, if at all." The withdrawal of the SU has left, according to Vaclav Havel, a security vacuum, which requires filling.

After 1989, CEECs faced a number of theoretical security policy options. They chose the option of pursuing integration with the Euro-Atlantic security system. This option was and is the most advantageous as it not only provides a credible security guarantee, but also assures them accelerated military and political development.

On 14 December 1989 the Secretary General of NATO, Manfred Wörner, gave a speech in which he argued that NATO would have to fulfil three new roles:

    1. To promote the success of political reform in CEE;
    2. To secure the implementation of CFE agreement;
    3. To consider a new architecture for the post-Cold War era.

For his part, then American Secretary of State, James Baker, wanted NATO to offer "a vision of cooperation not coercion, of open borders not iron curtains." NATOs new missions have evolved through planning and practice since 1990. Throughout this time NATO has developed capabilities to coordinate and implement collective security missions. It has developed a framework of military cooperation with the WEU as its support to the development of a European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI), the most significant aspect of which has been the development of the Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTF) capability.

At the NATO summit in London in July 1990 the leaders of the Alliance affirmed their determination to adapt the Alliance to the new political and strategic realities. They announced that they would enhance the political component of the Alliance, extend the hand of friendship to former adversaries and strengthen the OSCE process. They also declared that NATO would profoundly alter its thinking about defence, and in so doing "prepare a new allied military strategy, moving away from forward defence where appropriate, towards a reduced forward presence and modifying flexible response to reflect a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons."

Russia was undergoing the change from communism to capitalism. It is in a transitional phase. And that transitional phase is called alcoholism, a word used by Nicholas Williams. In a way, NATO has been in this alcoholic phase, a transitional phase for a number of years. We can see two elements to the changes that NATO has been going through. First of all, NATO has become more political than military in the past few years. It spends more time consulting, debating, exchanging diplomatic information. The second change is that NATO has become more concerned with stability. NATO wants to carry out major military restructuring. NATO does not own military forces. It coordinates so as to create a collective capacity which could be used in the collective interest. Collectively they have created a much more flexible military system which allows NATO forces to engage in missions beyond NATO territory, such as in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1994-95 and in Kosovo in 199! 9.

By November 1991, NATO had adopted a New Strategic Concept, replacing the 1967 concept of Flexible Response which had focused on the Soviet threat. This new Strategic Concept noted that there were still risks and uncertainties associated with the fact that Russian conventional forces remained significantly larger than those of any other European state and that the Russian nuclear arsenal was comparable only to that of the US. However, the New Strategic Concept also noted that the " risks to Allied security  are multifaceted in nature and  are less likely to result from calculated aggression against the territory of the Allies, but rather from the adverse consequences of instabilities that may arise from the serious economic, social and political difficulties, including ethnic rivalries and territorial disputes, which are faced by many CEEC."

The New Concept of 1991 survived until 1999, when NATO leaders at the Washington Summit on 23-25 April 1999, taking into consideration that almost all of CEEC have adopted the policy of integration to NATO, approved a New Strategic Concept, that would respond to the new needs and would adapt the Alliance more effectively to the changed environment. The updated concept reaffirms NATOs commitment to collective defence and the transatlantic link, but at the same time gives the Alliance a key role to play in crisis situations beyond its borders.