Center for Strategic Decision Research


Strategic Concepts for the Iraq War, Conflict in the Middle East, and the Global Struggle Against Terrorism

General Klaus Naumann
Former Chairman of the NATO Military Committee
Former Chief of Defense of Germany

General Klaus Naumann
"We must combat preventively the reasons for terrorism; in fact, nowhere is a fundamental shift in Western strategy more necessary than in [the Greater Middle East]...Such a shift requires ending the double standard that has led both Europeans and Americans to downplay...the pursuit of democracy and human rights in the region for the sake of so-called stability, which was often nothing more than the preservation of economic interests."

Since I am a speaker who no longer holds any office, I have to be frank. I am going to leave aside the Iraq War, which the coalition forces conducted militarily in a truly superb manner and in which the U.S. armed forces participated in network-centric operations and demonstrated to the world what information dominance coupled with effective engagement can achieve. I am going to leave aside the crisis-management phase that preceded the war, in which we saw more political mismanagement on both sides of the Atlantic than ever before, damaging NATO more than anything else in its 55-year history. I am also going to leave aside the fact that planning for the post-war period was poor, to say the least, and I will refrain from providing an outsider’s advice on how to handle the situation in Iraq, as so many retired people do these days, including some in this country. My point of departure is going to be that all of us have a common interest in stability in Iraq, and hence we have a common responsibility to prevent civil war and the danger of Iraq becoming a failing state. I will concentrate on the mid term, that is, the period that will follow the elections that are foreseen. However, I want to note that the next few months may be the most difficult yet, since there will be no Iraqi government that can claim to represent the people of Iraq and there will be a security arrangement in place that many Iraqis will see as a continuation of the occupation regime. 


What I am going to do is offer some ideas on a comprehensive approach to the three aspects of this panel’s topic: Iraq, the Middle East, and global terrorism. 

Let me begin with three preliminary remarks: 

1. The terrorism the world is now confronted with was neither triggered by the U.S.-led war nor by any other political or military action of the US Government. Its roots are deeply seeded in rejection of our Western way of life, respect for human rights, the rule of law, and religious freedom, which the terrorist leaders see spreading in a world that is interconnected by modern communication. They see their islands of ideology, their systemic and self-produced inability to reform, under attack, since communication no longer allows them to manipulate their followers. 

2. None of this session’s three issues can be looked at in isolation, and none can be solved without progress in the other two. 

3. The strategic issue is to defeat terrorism and to stabilize the Greater Middle East. Iraq and the Middle East are operational issues within this framework. 

Therefore the task Americans and Europeans have to take on is a highly complex one that may require the efforts of a generation or so. To this end one will need a clear and convincing vision to win the lasting support of the nations involved. 

Anyone who wishes to develop a strategic concept should first have a clear perception of the terrorism that confronts Americans and Europeans alike. 

It is a new form of terrorism that is the number-one danger for all of us. It is brutally destructive and aims at our most vulnerable spot: our civil societies and our highly vulnerable infrastructure. It is a form of terrorism that pays no respect to any rules or laws and that is determined to use limitless, extreme violence to achieve its aim: to force us to surrender. I am therefore convinced that we have not yet seen the climax of terrorism and that we will see further escalation of violence. 

No country should believe that it is safe from terrorist attacks, but as we defend our societies we have to strike a balance between protection and the preservation of citizens’ individual liberties. The objective of our opponents is to enforce the end of the so-called globalization, of free societies and the rule of human rights, which they see as a deadly threat to their islands of ideology and religious zeal. They see themselves as under attack by the free flow of information that characterizes post-modern societies, and they know that they cannot protect their islands of ideologies in an increasingly interconnected world. They therefore embarked on an existential fight, which means that there is but one answer for us: we must never surrender. Any concession to these enemies will be seen by them as an invitation to escalate and to continue. They know what some in our countries have failed so far to understand: that this is a global conflict in which they have but one chance to win, and that is by separating the U.S. from Europe and the few other countries that share our values and convictions. 

Our response, therefore, must be unity; we must be resolved to resist while simultaneously prepared to extend a helping hand to address the political, economic, and societal roots of terrorism. This means that we need more than just military means in our toolbox. We also need to have a strategy that is tailored to the region from which terrorism is most likely to spread—the Greater Middle East, a region of incredible diversity that is closer to Europe than to the U.S. and which is of vital interest to both entities. 

The transformation of the Greater Middle East is the central challenge of our times. There we must combat preventively the reasons for terrorism; in fact, nowhere is a fundamental shift in Western strategy more necessary than in this region if we are to confront the forces that create the dangerous nexus between terrorism, failed states, rogue regimes, and weapons of mass destruction. Such a shift requires ending the double standard that has led both Europeans and Americans to downplay or ignore the pursuit of democracy and human rights in the region for the sake of so-called stability, which was often nothing more than the preservation of economic interests.

It is time for the NATO nations to put themselves squarely on the side of building human rights, civil liberties, and market reforms, not just in so-called rogue states but also in “moderate” countries such as those on the Arabian peninsula and in Egypt and the Levant. This, however, must never mean imposing a Western-made concept on a region of incredible diversity. 


We need to understand that the central issue is the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians—we need to forge a peace that gives Israelis security and Palestinians dignity. Neither the Arabs nor the Israelis nor the NATO nations can afford to continue the fighting between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Peace must be based on a formula of land for peace, that is, on the two-states approach, and with an understanding that there will be no lasting stability in the Middle East without a settlement with Iran and stability in Iraq. 

The only country that can move the peace process forward is the United States. But the U.S. has lost credibility in the Muslim world, and recent reports of intolerable misbehavior on the part of some Americans may have ruined America’s reputation for quite some time to come. Nevertheless, another attempt must be made to prove to the Palestinians that they will live in their own state and that not everything proposed by Jerusalem will simply be accepted by the West. On the other hand there must never be the slightest doubt in anybody’s mind that the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state in the Middle East is not negotiable. 

For all of these reasons, Iraq is a concern to all NATO nations, regardless of whether or not they supported the war. European allies and the EU must therefore understand that they need to back the U.S., which likely will increase the chances for success. But to allow consensus to develop, NATO will need time, and the U.S. must understand that being backed does not mean that they can execute any step they decide on without proper consultation, and that being backed will never mean that NATO is under U.S. command.


The NATO nations, therefore, should focus on a strategic initiative focused on the Greater Middle East, and should launch it by making a genuine offer of dialogue. Such dialogue could take advantage of NATO’s extant Mediterranean Dialogue as well as take into account the lessons learned from PfP. But it must be more than a GME PfP. If it were nothing more than a remake, then it would be seen as another attempt to impose a Western-made concept on the region or as a barely veiled excuse to use the GME focus as a remedy to heal the transatlantic rift. 

Most of the nations in the Greater Middle East look at NATO as a synonym for the U.S., and they do not trust the U.S. They also tend to forget that it is their own systemic inability to reform that has produced their backwardness. Therefore the U.S. and Europe must work together and develop a concept for the region with the people from the region. 

The first step in developing such a concept could be to extend a hand of friendship to the Muslim world, inviting reformers from the region to cooperate with the NATO nations to develop and tailor concepts that take into account the heritage of the nations concerned as well as the aspirations of those who wish to see the rule of human rights. Such an effort will require dedicating more substantial resources, intellectual as well as financial, to support reform in the Greater Middle East, and it is for this reason that I believe NATO would be the right place to take on such an effort. NATO has a framework through which we can bring to bear the expertise as well as the resources of the U.S. and Europe. In NATO we might be able to combine hard and soft politics, since we will need them both, and produce security in its southern and southeastern periphery. We could eliminate the reasons for conflict and terror through a combination of aid and dialogue and orchestrated international pressure on the ruling elites to reform. 

This brings me to the second leg of a comprehensive NATO strategy. Peace settlements often need accompanying stabilization efforts, and no organization is better placed than NATO to provide these, although it means committing forces for rather time-consuming deployments. NATO should shift its main emphasis to this region and offer to be the guarantor of stability there if the nations in the region wish it to do so. 

Because of the nature of the new terror threats, prevention and reactive stabilization operations no longer suffice to maintain peace, prevent armed conflict, and defeat terrorism. NATO must therefore have the political resolve and the military capability to intervene proactively outside the NATO Treaty Area, in order to keep the risks at a distance from allied territory and fight terrorism on its home turf. In that way NATO might be able to provide deterrence to some extent and to act decisively when all other options no longer promise success. 


What I have in mind, then, is a new vision for NATO, a NATO concept for the Greater Middle East which I would not call Harmel but would be another two-track approach: conflict prevention through dialogue and cooperation and security on NATO’s periphery through, if necessary, armed intervention and post-conflict stabilization operations. This approach would be a generational effort like the generational effort that brought the confrontation in Europe to an end. But it would be of such magnitude that it could never be accomplished by a coalition of the willing. What would be needed is an alliance that would rally behind the bold vision, and which would be much more than the sum of specific initiatives, like Afghanistan. Our more inward-looking nations, however, may need to be convinced by a vision before they might be willing to commit resources and to see such an effort through. Therefore, NATO might be well advised to begin thinking now of such a comprehensive vision for the fight against terrorism and for peace in the Greater Middle East in order to be prepared for the call that may come in 2005 from an elected Iraqi government. 


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