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Solving the Security Paradox: NRF and Counter-terrorism

Solving the Security Paradox: NRF and Counter-terrorism

By Ramin Karbasi

Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

Last week, I had written a piece on Syria’s lack of compliance to surrender their stockpiles of chemical weapons. A lot has happened since then.

For starters, according to the OPCW, Syria has reportedly surrendered its remaining declared chemical weapons. In the World Cup news, renowned Spanish footballer David Villa bid farewell to his loving nation with a goal that was pure art in every sense of the word. And, more personally, in my research for this week’s article I was able to expand my knowledge on a facet of NATO that I was, admittedly, oblivious to.

Since the advent of ‘politics’, there has virtually never been a lack of security threats. The Greeks feared the Persians, while, centuries later, the English feared King Philip II’s Spanish Armada. Nearly four centuries later, the world collectively cringed as Nazism took its short, yet horrid place in world history. And no later than half a decade afterwards, the world yet again bowed its head, sighed a heavy and disheartened sigh, and endured a near half-century Cold War.

But what is to be made of contemporary politics? Our generation knows no ‘Great War’, nor does it shiver at the thought of a ‘Cold War’. It has never experienced the constant threat of virtual annihilation at the hands of a seemingly god-like empire, nor has it witnessed the sheer power of another nation literally at its shores. Contemporary politics are, in the formal sense, quite tame – a privilege that is taken for granted.

The turn of the millennium ushered into existence an era of interdependence and connectivity the world had never known. From SMS messages for the every day consumer to a slew of real-time intelligence gathering technology, the world has evolved and politics have followed suit. In return, the empires and armadas have evolved (or devolved, depending on one’s respective outlook) into non-state actors and highly organized regional movements. That is, though the look has changed considerably, the security threat is far more disconcerting than ever before.

Al-Qaeda Pre-9/11

In 1988, Al-Qaeda, arguably the most infamous terror organization to date, was formed in a meeting comprising of Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif. With its creation came an exceptional amount of Saudi wealth, a highly organized militant arm, and an extremely romanticized philosophical foundation for jihad.

Following its inception, the organization continued to enjoy its efficiency, wealth, and appeal. From this stemmed a series of attacks – most notably those of the late 1990s – that would bolster the organization’s spheres of influence and help it transcend from a regional movement to a global cause. Of course, the romanticized element of the jihad compounded by the popular appeal of the Islamic faith facilitated the global spread of the movement.

However, it was not until September 11th, 2001 that the organization executed its most successful and atrocious ‘mission’ in its 13-year history. On that day 2,974 people were killed as planes were hijacked and flown into buildings in America. Only a month later the ‘War on Terror’ officially began.

Al-Qaeda Post-9/11

There is an inherent subjectivity associated with the ‘success’ of the ‘War on Terror’. If one solely considered its impact upon ‘vintage Al-Qaeda’ (Pre-9/11 Al-Qaeda), the success is immensely apparent. Currently, it is estimated that there are fewer than 100 ‘vintage Al-Qaeda’operatives active. Moreover, the movement has found it quite difficult to recreate 9/11’s ‘success’. Though these are just a few examples of the US’ success in the ‘War on Terror’, they are momentous and should never be discounted.

When one considers the war’s impact upon post-9/11 Al-Qaeda, the success is, unsurprisingly, far less apparent. AQAM, or Al-Qaeda and Associated Movements, is a large and ever-increasing global movement. Though it is true that its massive spread may diminish the profundity of the Al-Qaeda jihad doctrine, it is also true that the US and its allies have failed to contain the security threat and fully eliminate its spheres of influence. In fact, most research suggests that the US’ efforts have directly contributed to this inevitable evolution of Al-Qaeda into a global movement – the destruction of local towns and livelihoods only facilitates the movement’s recruitment of locals to their cause.

NRF as a Solution

Comprised of 14 articles, NATO Article 5 established a basis for a collective defense obligation that each member had (and still theoretically has) to each other. Calling for the support of other members while another is under attack, Article 5 has historically been the Treaty’s core function. Effective in repelling the Soviet threat for 42 years, Article 5 was never enacted until the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, when facing terrorism (identified as early as 1999 by the Strategic Concept as the new and emerging security threat), Article 5 posed an interesting case for global security moving forward.

During its inception, it was assumed that any NATO-affiliated military support needed would be in Europe – an assumption not entirely far-fetched considering recent developments in Ukraine. The consequential ambiguity of the Treaty’s military commitments, however, proves to be problematic because it diverts adequate attention and resources from greater security concerns such as the rise of terrorism.

NATO’s attempt to resolve this vagueness and appropriately address the terror problem came in the form of the NATO Response Force (NRF) program, which is a pivotal component of its counter-terrorism strategy. This is significant to security policy because it fundamentally redefines the very premise of Article 5’s obligations by making it contemporarily relevant. The NRF allows NATO to stop defining itself within the parameters of a responsive action, and instead reinterpret its obligation to be one that prevents terrorist attacks upon members. In such a case, the intentionally vague nature of Article 5 may be advantageous to policy interests.

It is also important to note that because virtually any terrorist attack qualifies as an “armed attack” and that UN Resolution 1373 specifically sanctions the necessity to preserve and promote international peace and security by combating terrorists, the program is further legitimized.

Moving Forward

The policy implications of the NRF program are immensely important for the US’ and world’s respective security interests. To truly win the ‘War on Terror’ the world must recognize this emerging new world order, and work collectively towards fulfilling global security obligations. Through creative interpretation of the text and innovative action, it would be quite reasonable to assume that the NRF program may both strengthen and encourage alliances and serve as a paradigm for similar programs in the future.

Ramin is currently a Senior Honors student at Southern Methodist University, where he majors in Political Science and Sociology. An avid student of comparative politics and economics, Ramin hopes to one day pursue post-graduate International Development studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. As such, and acknowledging the works of Mr. Nayef Al-Rodhan, he best describes himself as a symbiotic realist. A self-ascribed Francophile, Ramin also enjoys reading works of French existential literature in his spare time.

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