Last night as we were going over the agenda for the next day we were reminded that we had to check our camera phones at NATO prior to entering the compound. Corrina Hoerst, the Deputy Director of MMF in Brussels shared a story of some phones being lost through this process in the past and discouraged us from bringing ours. It was only one out of many visits so the odds were low and I decided to take mine in case I could get a great shot of a random soldier, sign or flag that proved I was there.
Let me continue chronologically. This morning we took a charter bus to the NATO headquarters, an Eastern block-looking former military hospital. We arrived, checked our items, grabbed some coffee and huddled in our cinder block meeting room. The NATO staff asked that we withhold their names so that they could speak freely under Chatham House Rule. What struck me after four hours of presentation and conversation is how little I hear about NATO in the U.S. I admit I am ignorant in the first place, but I'm having a hard time recalling the last time I heard Congress or President Obama talk about the alliance. This seems a misstep to me given that we're acting in an orchestrated fashion with so many other countries. On some days you'd think we were in Afghanistan alone. Currently, including NATO partners, there are 42 countries on the security mission to Afghanistan. Engagement has been methodical. The country has been divided into four sectors and it is only recently that forces have been moving into the last one explaining the recent surge in deployment and the consequent surge in troop deaths. We were told mission will be deemed over and successful when extremism and terrorism are no longer a threat to social stability, Afghan forces are self-sufficient, and their is a stable government leading all regions. We are in this for the long haul.
Here's what else I didn't know about NATO. It's made up of 28 nations. It's an all-for-one and one-for-all treaty meaning that a single contrary vote is a veto to action; an attack on one member is an attack on all. When a decision is made it's unanimous. (This is why it strikes me as odd that we tend to portray ourselves as loners rather than a member of an alliance. Do we consider this weakness in America?) Member countries commit to having 40% of their troops available for missions with 8% available for long term deployment. I'm sure all of this is somewhere on the Internet but I missed it.
Solidarity was much easier when there were only a few countries involved during the Cold War and as more countries join it gets increasingly difficult. And there is not a single agreement on the enemy of security. It's no longer limited to a country like Russia, per se. Cyber attacks, climate change, and energy crises have all been named as primary concerns by different members. There's even disagreement on how to define the European region. What also seems to be complicating things is the increased requests of the U.N. for NATO to take action such as defense of the World Food Program ships off the coasts of Africa. The changing needs of the world are requiring NATO to transform itself — a word I heard a lot. One refreshing near term action I heard was the inclusion of public voices to help guide the change. As I mentioned above I think a significant problem is due to the lack of public engagement with the institution. Lack of dialogue perpetuates bureaucratic churn.
On our way out we stopped at the gate to retrieve our checked items from the wood boxes. One by one each member of the group picked up their phone, purse, etc. Then the moment of panic. No iPhone. I asked the guard to check another box and he just shrugged his shoulders and said this was it! He and I repeated this dance three times then one of the MMF staff joined me prompting him to invite us into the guard station to look for it ourselves. After searching several bins Christina located it, a resounding cheer erupted from the Fellows and the guard just went on apathetically. Sorry, no photos.