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NATO and the challenge of sustainable peacebuilding.

This piece introduces the concept of sustainable peacebuilding and briefly examines the growing involvement of NATO in peacebuilding operations. It also previews the empirical articles in this special section, explaining how they advance our understanding of the challenges faced by NATO in its peacebuilding efforts. KEYWORDS: NATO, peacebuilding, sustainability.

THESE ARE DIFFICULT DAYS FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION (NATO). The alliance has been seeking to reinvent itself since the end of the Cold War, including by deploying forces outside of the North Atlantic area--most notably, to the Balkans in the 1990s and Afghanistan in the 2000s. The recent Afghan operation, in particular, has strained relations among alliance members, revealing and exacerbating differences in their respective perceptions of NATO's role in stabilization and peacebuilding missions. As one observer writes, "Cracks are beginning to show in the alliance's commitment and long-term health." (1)

The purpose of this special focus is to explore the question of why the alliance has faced such difficulties in carving out a role in out-of-area peacebuilding operations, and to evaluate NATO's potential and limitations in this field. Part of the challenge stems from the changing character and profound complexity of peacebuilding itself. When former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali first articulated the idea of peacebuilding in 1992, he presented it as an international effort to create conditions for peace in countries that were emerging from civil wars. (2) In the ensuing years, however, the complexities and demands of peacebuilding became painfully apparent. In cases where peace was fragile and incomplete, outside agencies were sometimes required to perform peacemaking and peace enforcement functions. This translated into doctrinal confusion and a multiplication of international actors involved in peacebuilding, sometimes at cross-purposes. It also resulted in a growing role for international military forces, including NATO, not only in practices aimed at securing local civilians and international governmental and nongovernmental bodies operating in war-torn territories, but also in the direct provision of assistance to the civilian population (e.g., delivering aid in dangerous environments, rebuilding schools and roads, and promoting security sector reform) and the enforcement of peace settlements. Furthermore, in some cases when peacebuilding missions were terminated, violence resumed after the departure of international agencies, which raised further questions about the effectiveness and durability of their results.

These difficulties have led many scholars and practitioners to focus on the issue of sustainability in peacebuilding. Sustainability, in this context, refers to the need for peacebuilding approaches that are capable of reconciling the multiple, simultaneous, and sometimes contradictory demands of peacebuilding, peacemaking, and peace enforcement, and that are oriented toward the longer-term requirements for durable peace rather than just short-term stabilization. (3) Sustainability has emerged as a principal theme within the UN in recent years, evidenced by the creation of the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 2005, which is intended to promote more coherent and integrated peacebuilding strategies among the major international agencies involved in these missions, and to provide a means of focusing international attention on postconflict countries for more extended periods. The UN has also introduced new approaches to integrated missions that seek to clarify the roles and responsibilities of key international actors in the field. It remains to be seen if these institutional innovations will improve the effectiveness of peacebuilding missions over time, but their creation at least reflects a growing awareness of the need for more sustainable peacebuilding approaches within the world body.

At a deeper level, however, addressing these problems involves more than institutional reforms and technical fixes. The idea of sustainability raises contentious questions about the appropriate means, ends, and rules of the game for peacebuilding, including debates on the acceptable boundaries of international involvement in reconstruction. (4) For this reason, recent years have witnessed the rapid growth of scholarly literature that challenges prevailing conceptions of peacebuilding, and that calls for, among other things, a greater emphasis on national and local "ownership" of peacebuilding processes and objectives, (5) or more attention to the local sources of conflict in war-prone and war-torn countries. (6) Indeed, practitioners and scholars alike are still struggling to find adequate answers to the question, What does it take to achieve sustainable peacebuilding?

For NATO, the emergence and transformation of peacebuilding occurred at a particularly interesting time--a time when, having just emerged from the Cold War as "the most successful alliance in human history," the organization suddenly found itself faced with difficult existential questions regarding its purpose and relevance. (7) In the face of rapid and radical transformations in the security environment, NATO embarked upon a process of identity redefinition. The aim of that process was to turn what had been the Cold War security alliance into a much more complex institution, able to perform--and to secure recognition for its ability to perform--not just conventional defense functions, but also diverse nonconventional tasks. (8) One of the key areas in which NATO has sought to play a new role, and secure recognition as expert player, is peacebuilding: NATO earned out its first (humanitarian) war in Kosovo, and became deeply involved in postconflict stabilization and reconstruction missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and later Afghanistan. Thus, NATO's role in this area reflects transformations in the international security environment in general and in the domain of peacebuilding in particular, including, in the case of Afghanistan, an apparent blending of peacebuilding and counter-insurgency methods. (9) It also represents an effort on the part of the alliance to adapt to, and demonstrate its persisting relevance in, the face of a changing field of security.

Contributors to this special focus address different aspects of NATO's ability to carry out sustainable peacebuilding. In "Understanding NATO's Sustainability," Anand Menon and Jennifer Welsh start from the assumption that sustainable peace operations require the involvement of organizations that are themselves sustainable. They begin by presenting a set of propositions regarding the sustainability of international institutions in which the capacity for adaptation and incremental change are centrally important. They then examine these propositions in relation to NATO, paying particular attention to the ways in which the alliance has taken on both new roles and new members. A central concern of the article is the way in which NATO member states' different definitions of national interest affect the sustainability of the alliance, and limit the ability of its member states to generate the longer-term commitment needed for peace support operations.

The next article, "Divided Partners," by Alexandra Gheciu, seeks to explain the problems of cooperation between NATO and nongovernmental organizations engaged in peacebuilding operations. Official NATO statements might lead us to think that the alliance and NGOs are systematic and effective partners in peacebuilding operations. In reality, however, this is a much more problematic and often tense relationship. Gheciu suggests that the problematic interaction between NATO and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) needs to be understood as part of a broader process of normative contestation and competition over the redefinition of the "rules of the game" in the changing domain of peacebuilding. That process, she argues, can significantly undermine the prospects for sustainable peace in war-torn countries.

The final article in this section, "(Un)Sustainable Peacebuilding," by Michael J. Williams, provides an analysis of the problems generated by interactions between NATO and other international organizations involved in peacebuilding. The starting point to his article is the observation that a military organization such as NATO is incapable of providing the full range of tasks necessary for sustainable peacebuilding. Although a debate rages in Brussels as to what tasks NATO should undertake, the ever more obvious truth is that the alliance must work more with international organizations such as the UN, European Union, and World Bank as well as with a variety of international NGOs. In fact, the idea that NATO will increasingly need to cooperate with other international organizations in its missions is at the heart of the report entitled NATO 2020: Assured Security, Dynamic Engagement, issued in May 2010 by the Group of Experts on a New Strategic Concept for NATO chaired by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright. (10) Under these circumstances, it is important to understand the challenges and problems likely to occur in missions that bring together various international actors. Williams's article examines the dynamics and consequences of NATO's problematic relationships with other intergovernmental organizations engaged in present-day peacebuilding enterprises, drawing primarily on the case of Afghanistan.

In essence, the articles argue that NATO faces serious challenges in its effort to assert itself as an actor capable of contributing to sustainable peacebuilding. This is particularly problematic in a situation in which the alliance has explicitly linked its new raison d'etre to the effective performance of non-conventional missions, including peacebuilding. NATO's senior officials argue that its successful missions in war-torn countries clearly demonstrate that the alliance is as strong and as relevant as ever. (11) But if the ability to carry out sustainable peacebuilding is seen as so central to NATO's redefined purpose, then any failure in that area is likely to be regarded--both in member states and in partner countries--as far more than a mere instance of failure in one of the alliance's multiple activities. Thus, there is a very real danger that any (real or perceived) failure of NATO to carry out sustainable peacebuilding would generate much deeper questions about, and scepticism concerning, the alliance's relevance in the post--Cold War era. Ironically, then, it would seem that the statements of confident optimism issued by NATO in the context of its peacebuilding operations could one day come back to haunt the allies. In light of the persisting problems faced by NATO in the domain of peacebuilding--as shown in the contributions to this special section--it would seem that this is an increasingly plausible scenario.


Alexandra Gheciu is associate professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and associate director of the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa. Roland Paris is associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and director of the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa.

Preliminary drafts of the articles contained in this special section were presented at the workshop on "NATO and the Challenge of Sustainable Peacebuilding," jointly sponsored by the Centre for International Policy Studies (University of Ottawa) and the Royal United Services Institute (UK), held in London on 2 July 2009. We would like to thank RUSI for hosting the event. We would also like to express our gratitude to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Security and Defence Forum of the Canadian Department of National Defence, and the Centre for International Policy Studies for their financial support of this project.

(1.) Mark Thompson, "NATO Future in Question as Afghanistan Role Dwindles," Time, 2 March 2010,

(2.) Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace, UN Doc. A/47/277-S/2411 (17 June 1992).

(3.) Roland Paris and Timothy D. Sisk, eds., The Dilemmas of Statebuilding: Confronting the Contradictions of Postwar Peace Operations (London: Routledge, 2009). See also Daniel Philpott and Gerard F. Powers, eds., Strategies of Peace: Transforming Conflict in a Violent World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(4.) For an analysis of some of those debates and disagreements, see the special section, "Postwar Justice and the Responsibility to Rebuild," Ethics and International Affairs 23, no. 2 (2009).

(5.) See, for example, Timothy Donais, "Empowerment or Imposition? Dilemmas of Local Ownership in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding Processes," Peace and Change 34, no. 1 (2009): 3-26; and Katia Papagianni, "Political Transitions After Peace Agreements: The Importance of Consultative and Inclusive Political Processes," Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding 3, no. 1 (2009): 47-63.

(6.) See, for example, Severine Autesserre, The Trouble With the Congo: Local Violence and the Failure of International Peacebuilding (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Alex de Waal, "Mission Without End? Peacekeeping in the African Political Marketplace," International Affairs 85, no, 1 (2009): 99-113.

(7.) President Barack Obama, "Europe and America, Aligned for the Future," New York Times, 18 November, 2010,

(8.) See, for instance, Michael J. Williams, NATO, Security and Risk-Management: From Kosovo to Kandahar (London: Routledge, 2009). See also Michael C. Williams and Iver Neumann, "From Alliance to Security Community: NATO, Russia and the Power of Identity," Millennium: Journal of International Studies 29, no. 2 (2000): 357-387; and Alexandra Gheciu, NATO in the "New Europe" (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2005).

(9.) Karsten Friis, "Peacekeeping and Counter-insurgency: Two of a Kind?" International Peacekeeping 17, no. 1 (2010): 49-66.

(10.) At their summit in April 2009, allied leaders directed NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen to convene a group of independent experts, led by Madeleine Albright, to prepare the ground for a new NATO Strategic Concept. The Albright team presented an interim report to the North Atlantic Council in November 2009, and published its full report, NATO 2020: Assured Security, Dynamic Engagement, May 2010,

(11.) See, for example, NATO secretary-general Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, speech delivered at the Albanian parliament, Tirana, 6 July 2006, Also relevant is the speech by then NATO secretary-general George Robertson, "Defence and Security in an Uncertain World," keynote speech delivered at Forum Europe, Brussels, 17 May 2002,
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Author:Gheciu, Alexandra; Paris, Roland
Publication:Global Governance
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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