The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has expanded since the end of the Cold War, both in membership and geographic scope. The alliance and its individual countries have headed south and east: their presence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has deepened, as regional states joined the Atlantic alliance’s multilateral security efforts following elevation by NATO in 2004 of its Mediterranean Dialog to a working partnership. Bilaterally, various MENA states link up with the United States as Major Non-NATO Allies (MNNAs) to work with Washington. Additionally, there are bilateral steps by some individual European countries keen on consolidating strategic positions in the region: examples of this include France’s Mediterranean Union idea, which emerged last year, and the agreement in January between Paris and the United Arab Emirates to set up a French military base in that Gulf state.Parallel to these security moves, the West has since the end of the Cold War been expanding into MENA with increasing economic force. Particularly since the mid-
1990s, the Europeans and America intensified commercial diplomacy with the region through agreements to liberalize trade. In this respect, Jordan has an advanced status vis-
à-vis the West, being the only MENA state simultaneously having US Free Trade and Qualifying Industrial Zone agreements, as well as an EU Partnership accord along with membership in the parallel Agadir process. Jordan’s strategic position has also helped the kingdom obtain MNNA status, as well as develop links with NATO. As part of the process of strengthening the latter, in December 2007 NATO launched the first Mediterranean Dialog Trust Fund, to assist Jordan with elimination of explosive remnants of war. Involving contributions from NATO states Norway, Spain, Italy, and Belgium, as well as non-members Switzerland and Finland, this first ever Trust Fund project with a Mediterranean Dialog partner marks the start of a new kind of use of the Alliance’s expertise to achieve both security and economic goals, the latter including improved land use.
Just as a security dimension is important in US and EU economic partnerships with MENA countries, this step by NATO in Jordan demonstrates that the reverse is also true, with a Western military alliance willing to work on non-
security issues in the region. As NATO’s role evolves further, and with the overall situation in MENA in a state of flux, this mixture of economic and strategic elements could become more common.
Another interesting aspect of the Mediterranean Dialog project in Jordan is that the finance comes from European states, mainly EU members, but still in the framework of an alliance the spans both sides of the Atlantic. With Europe providing the funding, can it also be in charge? Finance through a trust fund means that Europe literally entrusts NATO with managing its money, which means an American element is also part of the process. However, if, as it now looks, Europe is going to be paying for more such NATO activities, the purely “European” face of NATO could become more apparent, further emphasizing schisms that already exist in the alliance.
An alternative is for European countries to project force and look for co-operation in MENA on a bilateral basis, thus discarding the excess baggage that a link with the US sometimes brings. However, that in turn might exacerbate strains inside Europe – and within the EU in particular. For example, there is already muttering from Germany about France’s Mediterranean Union idea not sufficiently involving northern European Union countries.
Members of the Atlantic partnership will continue to be involved in competition in the region: what role could NATO play in this complex process? Apart from greater geographical scope, the alliance should also continue to broaden its horizons towards development and application of non-military means to achieve security.
In the MENA powder keg in particular, NATO should try to prevent conflicts by eliminating the reasons for them through applying primarily non-military means in a proactive flexible manner. This will inevitably mean integrating NATO activities with the capabilities of different international alliances or countries. That in turn underlines the importance of improved cooperation between NATO and the EU, which of course is already a key player in MENA — but also an economic rival to the US in the region.
This brings us right back to the recent strains in the Atlantic alliance, and Western powers’ competition in MENA. In that respect, regional states’ relations will continue to evolve multilaterally with NATO and with the EU on the one hand as well as bilaterally with the US on the other. This means that Jordan and other MENA countries need to continue maneuvering diplomatically to gain the most out of Western powers’ interest in the region.
Riad al Khouri is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, and Senior Fellow of the William Davidson Institute, University of Michigan.