NATO reform plans: prescriptions against brain death


In recent years, NATO has repeatedly attracted attention through controversy and disagreement. This went so far that French President Macron certified “brain death”. Now a group of experts has presented reform proposals.

The military alliance NATO likes to describe itself as the guarantor of a more peaceful world – but it has recently provided numerous examples of political discord among the alliance partners: U.S. President Trump raised doubts about his loyalty to NATO and announced – without warning – the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Germany. Turkey invaded northern Syria and is militarily active in Libya. So furious was French President Macron that he certified the alliance as “brain dead” about a year ago.

“That was a provocation. But it was salutary because it set this process in motion,” says Thomas de Maizière, who is co-chair of a group of experts set up in response to Macron’s diagnosis and has now presented its recommendations. In an interview with the ARD capital city studio, former German Interior and Defense Minister de Maizière attests that NATO does indeed have “internal encrustations”. And since the external threat situation has also changed, it is high time to push ahead with the renewal of the alliance.

More unity, faster decisions
The paper entitled “NATO 2030: United for a New Era” lists almost 140 pieces of advice. In order to strengthen internal unity, or to restore it at all, the group of experts recommends, for example, that decisions be made more quickly. For example, by watering down the principle of unanimity, which has been in force for decades and which NATO has protected almost like a sanctuary.

“The consensus principle cannot mean: I remain sitting in my armchair and always say no. Then there is standstill,” warns de Maizière. He emphasizes that it is by no means the intention to completely undermine the principle of unanimity. We only want to make it more difficult to blockades by only allowing veto rights at ministerial level.

But even Foreign Minister Heiko Maas does not consider a departure from unanimity to be likely, as he said in the ARD/ZDF morning show: “NATO is about war or peace.

De Maizière for more debate culture
The 67-page paper wisely does not mention concrete examples of decisions that caused discord within the alliance – such as the purchase of a Russian missile defense system by Turkey. But so that the NATO states do not constantly surprise each other, the experts recommend a “voluntary commitment” to inform each other before making important decisions. What one could solemnly promise one another at a summit.

Moreover, De Maizière would like to see a more lively discussion within the alliance at all: “This incomprehensible communiqué language after decisions, this stiffness – this has to be changed into a proper debate culture.

More focus on China
But the alliance was once founded to deal less with internal and more with external threats. And these have changed radically since NATO’s last “Strategic Concept” in 2010: At that time, terrorism or cyber attacks were treated only marginally, the word China did not even appear.

And so one urgent recommendation is to focus more on China: “Some are concerned that NATO will then change from a transatlantic to an Indo-Pacific alliance. That we should give a security guarantee for Taiwan or others. That is definitely not part of our recommendation,” says de Maizière. At the same time, he says, it is important to work with partners such as New Zealand, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

Dialogue and deterrence towards Russia
As for Russia, the paper contains few surprises: The well-known two-track approach, a mixture of dialogue and deterrence, is the most effective way to counter Moscow. Sharp criticism of the proposals comes from the Left Party: The recommendations directed against Russia and China would “intensify the global confrontation even more and make détente policy much more difficult,” warns Left Party member Heike Hänsel.

The co-chair of the de Maizière group of experts can hardly resist ideas that the EU should become militarily more independent or even found its own “European Army”. The CDU politician does not consider “strategic autonomy” outside of NATO to make sense. Instead, the EU would have to strengthen its capabilities within NATO: “A little less grand slogans and a little more action would be good for European security policy and also for the alliance,” de Maizière emphasizes.

“Strategic autonomy of Europe” is, by the way, a term coined by French President Macron as well as NATO’s “brain death”. In the end, this led NATO to start thinking about itself.

The Federal Foreign Ministry, which was the driving force behind the “reflection process”, seems to be quite satisfied with the results. However, nobody expects the recommendations to be implemented 1:1. But the ideas are likely to be incorporated into NATO’s future orientation – both internally and externally.


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