Center for Strategic Decision Research


Crisis Management, NATO, the EU, and the United Nations

General Klaus Naumann
Former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee

The topic "Crisis Management, NATO, the EU, and the United Nations" gives us the opportunity to discuss why those three organizations can and should play a role in crisis management, and how they can bring to bear their different abilities and capabilities. I will not limit my remarks to NATO, the organization I know best. And I will not discuss the OSCE, although it has some real crisis-management potential, at least in the very early phases. I will try to discuss the following three points: first, the nature of crises that may require international efforts; second, the requirements an organization should meet if it wants to play a role in crisis management; third, the degree to which the three organizations--NATO, the EU, and the United Nations--meet the requirements.


Crisis management changed when the Cold War came to an end. Until that time, crisis management had been focused primarily on preventing conflict between the two superpowers. The local conflicts we saw during the Cold War were in many cases offsprings of the bigger game, and the best way to get those conflicts under control was through dialogue between the "big two." Cold War crises, in most cases, were interstate conflicts or civil wars, with some third-party involvement. Today, the situation is no longer as simple.

Today's crises are increasingly intrastate conflicts, which do not easily lend themselves to outside involvement-the principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention stand in the way. Moreover, non-state actors have entered the stage, some of whom are terrorists who want to be seen as freedom fighters, and some of whom are mercenaries, acting on behalf of the parties in conflict or for a third party. In addition, technology now seems to make war limitless, and the barely limited access to weaponry of all kinds and its availability on the market allow everyone to act far beyond their own region against increasingly vulnerable modern societies.

Just as the kinds of crises have changed, so have the reasons for conflict, and they continue to change. During communism's rule, many causes of conflict, such as a nation's desire for independence, were suppressed in half the world. Communism, for ideological reasons, also deprived many nations of information regarding the wealth and high standards of living in industrialized Western countries. It also manipulated many nations through the distribution of biased information by state-controlled media.

Now, with countries no longer suppressed and with the advent of the Internet, comprehensive information is available to everyone around the globe. We are in a totally different ball game. But, as a result of this, nationalism is on the rise. People are also increasingly aware of the rapidly growing gap between the very small number of very rich but aging societies and the big number of very poor but young nations. There is also the increasing possibility that we will see crises and conflicts because of sparse resources. The changing nature of crisis and conflict, and the growing complexity of crisis management that comes with it, require a much wider range of crisis-management measures and demands to prevent them, including addressing the reasons for the problems. This means that non-military crisis-management methods will theoretically gain in importance, that preventing crises will increasingly be seen as the best solution, and that crisis management will comprise a wider array of steps, from soft, preventive measures to targeted sanctions to intervention, including military intervention, to nation building or restoration.


In all forms of crisis management, the number one requirement is the authority to act. If a nation or an alliance can show its action to be in self-defense, however broadly that word is defined, then there is a legitimate legal basis for the act. If an act is not in self-defense, then the other obvious legal option is that it is mandated by the United Nations Security Council. But what if the United Nations Security Council is as incapable of acting as the Security Council has been so often in the past? We do not have an answer that is accepted by the majority of nations.

The second requirement for crisis management is that the nation, or group of nations, that wishes to act makes use of all crisis-management measures. These range from pursuing a political solution to following through on all crisis-management operations to employing all necessary political, economic, and military instruments.

Requirement number three is the resolve to stay involved until the reasons that led to the crisis are eliminated and self-sustaining stability is achieved. I would go so far as to say that a nation, or a group of nations, that has neither the ability nor the political will to meet this third requirement should stay out of crisis management and avoid intervention.

A fourth requirement is that the intervening side should be capable of taking military action if no other option is left. The intervening side must be aware of the situation as well as have the will to employ military forces in a way that promises success. This means that the intervening side must not confuse the undisputed need for tight political control with micro-managing military operations, particularly while under pressure from the media, which are always convinced they have the best generals and admirals in their ranks. It also means the intervening side must be prepared to escalate as necessary, and thus keep the opponent off balance.

Doing so is truly difficult, and can result in clashes between the military and the politicians. Many military leaders argue against gradually increasing military operations, and blame the politicians for not understanding that using overwhelming military power can be the most promising way to end a conflict relatively quickly and at an acceptable cost. Such military leaders are, in theory, right-but not under the conditions that currently prevail in our interconnected world, which allow for instantaneous television coverage of every incident on every spot on our globe. Hence these leaders are wrong if they insist on following the theory that we all learned in war academy. The public will simply not tolerate the massive use of military power; hence, some gradual increasing of force is unavoidable. The military must learn to live with that, but politicians will have to accept two conditions as well. First, as soon as they agree to use military power, they must be prepared to see it through until they prevail; they must, in public, never exclude any option, which otherwise might give assurances to the opponent. Second, they must agree that no military option excludes casualties: "La guerre de zero morts" is and will remain an illusion.


The United Nations is undoubtedly the only organization that has the right to authorize the use of force, including military force, but it does not have the means to act on its own. The United Nations is no better than its member-nations allow it to be. In theory, it could be a superb instrument for crisis management, but the realities that prevail in the Security Council and the General Assembly do not permit an optimistic outlook. The watering down of the Brahimi Report, to which I had the privilege to contribute, and the watering down of its recommendations underline my somewhat gloomy outlook for the United Nations. NATO enjoys the unique advantage of still having a functioning military machine-I stress the word "still"-and of having the world's most powerful nation as its leading member. But NATO does not really have all the arrows it needs to prevent a crisis from becoming a conflict, nor does it have the legal authority to mandate intervention unless the action is regarded as self-defense. NATO also has some weaknesses in the post-intervention arena. Decisions were made to correct these deficiencies, but so far the impressive words have not been matched by deeds, although some progress has been made over the last two years. I remain skeptical, personally, that the EU will meet the 2003 deadline, since I do not see the political will to make it happen. Unfortunately, the example set by my own country in this respect is a particularly bad one. Furthermore, the European Union is weakening its own capacity since its approach to foreign and security policy is by no means coordinated. The Commission possesses many of the instruments that are needed for the preventive and post-intervention phases of crisis management, but foreign and security policy as such remain an intergovernmental issue.


I believe we are faced with the likelihood of many future crises. We are also faced with the absence of properly functioning crisis-management machinery, since neither NATO, the EU, nor the UN can really shoulder the burden and be thought of as the crisis-management manager. My conclusion, therefore, is that all nations should do all they can to strengthen the United Nations. The nations concerned should also make every effort to improve the crisis-management capabilities of NATO and the European Union, and both these organizations must understand that they really must cooperate much more closely than they have before. Both organizations have the key in their hands; NATO-EU cooperation seems to be the only promising answer, at least for the transatlantic area and its periphery, for coping with the period of uncertainty and instability ahead of us.


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