Another NATO


Op-Ed by Giles Merritt


The collapse of the Ghaddafi regime is focusing international attention on the need for peacekeeping in post-conflict Libya. But policymakers should be looking further afield than Libya and considering a new collective security framework for the Maghreb region as a whole. In short another NATO, but this time called the North Africa Treaty Organisation.
From Morocco through Algeria and Tunisia and across to Egypt, the unrest and instability created by the Arab spring – a term, incidentally, that many Arab political activists reject in favour of revolution or uprising – is far from over. The best way to calm tempers and move towards democratic governments and much more vibrant economic development is to create a regional approach to security.
Few would disagree that the Arab League has by and large failed to play an adequate role as the popular uprisings against dictatorships have gathered momentum. But it is also clear that NATO’s role in North Africa is coming to an end. The alliance has neither the political appetite nor the financial resources to remain involved in Libya. With Washington having already signaled that the U.S. will not be part of any “boots on the ground” peacekeeping force, it seems unlikely that other NATO countries will be committing troops for more than a few weeks.
The way ahead in Libya, then, where tensions between the western and eastern parts of the country are likely to remain, is possibly a force of UN peacekeepers, perhaps drawn from Asia and/or Africa, together with a distinctly Arab international security mechanism. Hence the idea of NATO II.
Rather than be in any way linked to NATO, however, it might well be preferable to create this new North African security umbrella under the aegis of the EU. European governments already know they must address the economic reconstruction of the Arab world’s failing economies, and it would make sense to introduce a strong security element to their development partnerships with the new governments that will be emerging.
So far, Europe’s security and defence policy has been dogged by EU countries’ waning military capabilities and a general lack of cohesion. Helping to calm the turmoil by bringing security and political stability to the Arab world would be a major achievement, and after all few if any organizations can match the EU’s expertise on voluntary political integration.