Australia: A global member for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation

Melissa Houston attended the 2012 Nato Leaders Summit in Chicago where she represented the Department of Defence. Melissa is an airborne Tactical Coordinator in the Royal Australian Air Force and she is currently studying a Masters of Science, focusing on Operations Research and Statistics.


Over the last decade, Australia has strengthened its relationship with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). At the last two NATO summits, the Australian Prime Minister has been in attendance and this practice will continue at the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago this month. NATO was initially formed as an instrument for safeguarding North Atlantic security and values. The Alliance achieves this through a strong membership of 28 European and North American nations and an extensive partner network including the Mediterranean Dialogue, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Istanbul Cooperation and Partners across the Globe, including Australia.   

This paper will address NATO’s development and evolving security roles. It will demonstrate the growing need for an adaptive organisation, one which includes global members. Firstly, the paper will discuss a shift in geographic reach and developing military and peacekeeping roles. The importance of collective defence will then be considered with respect to NATO’s latest Strategic Concept.  The concept reflects an ‘indirect approach’ to Asia Pacific security. The paper will then discuss Australian relationships with NATO nations and commitment to NATO led operations. Next, the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty’s relevance is addressed with a view to global stability and security in the 21st century. The paper will conclude with member nations’ views on Asian additions to the Alliance.  

The role of NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was initially formed ‘in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union’.1 The Organisation’s foundation was based on three primary agendas; ‘deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration’.2 In the beginning it was understood that only a transatlantic security agreement could meet these three aims. This section of the paper will address the changing roles of NATO and how its security agenda and political integration has developed through the years.   

Fundamentally, NATO has been a security alliance capable of meeting new and emerging threats. Between 1952 and 1955 new allies began to join the Alliance and political integration and stability resulted in Western Europe. In response, The Warsaw Pact was established in 1955. From NATO doctrine of ‘massive retaliation’ meaning absolute dichotomy of peace or total nuclear war to JFK’s strategy of ‘flexible response’ to maintaining the status quo, to the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s; a new phenomenon emerged, a relaxation in tension between the East and West.3 In 1979 the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and this relaxation of tension was suspended. The allies attempted to negotiate with the Soviet Union, though they deployed nuclear-capable and ground launched cruise missiles to Western Europe at the same time.4 The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1987, marking the beginning of the end of the Cold War.5 The break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the fall of the Berlin Wall resulted in two steps forward for the Alliance. The first one being the addition of previous Warsaw Pact members and the second, a re-evaluation of NATO’s purpose, nature and roles.  

NATO continued to operate even though the Soviet Union had fallen, proving the validity of its the other two aims, ‘to deter the rise of militant nationalism and to provide the foundation of collective security that would encourage democratisation and political integration in Europe’.6 In 1991 NATO began to look beyond Western Europe and into Central and Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, forming the now called Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Many of the nations involved saw their relationship with NATO as imperative for ‘stability, democracy and European Integration’.7 In 1994, this co-operation extended to the Mediterranean for the purpose of security and stability in that region through the establishment of the Mediterranean Dialogue.  

This new co-operation was soon tested when the collapse of communism led to a rise in nationalism in Eastern Europe. NATO intervened when ethnic violence in former Yugoslavia moved beyond a civil war to a war of aggression. NATO carried out a 9-day air campaign in 1995 and after the conflict was seemingly resolved, deployed 60,000 soldiers to help ‘implement the Dayton Peace Agreement to create the conditions for a self-sustaining peace’8 in association with the UN. These developing relationships led to a new program, the Partnership for Peace. This allowed non-NATO members to share information with NATO and to participate in military acquisition programs and align with democratic standards of operation. This co-operation led to political and military reforms resulting in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joining the Alliance. In 1998, NATO intervened once again, in Kosovo, with a purpose to cease ethnic cleansing and remove the Serbian Army to which allowed peacekeeping operations to be conducted. By 2000, NATO had shifted from a strategic alliance to one of responsive military action and humanitarian efforts. At this point, the Alliance developed a new Strategic Concept. The new roles of the Alliance were; security, consultation, deterrence and defence. In order to achieve this, plans emerged for crisis management and response and to develop wider-ranging partnerships.9    

On September 11 2001, terrorists proved that instability across the globe can lead to serious consequences and devastation in peaceful civilian populations. These attacks were followed by others perpetrated by Al Qaeda and other violent extremists across the globe. A military intervention resulted in 2001 in Afghanistan. This was the first time Article 5 of the NATO treaty was realistically employed with the objective to deny a terrorist safe-haven in Afghanistan and to detain Al Qaeda leaders. Following the end of the Taliban regime, the UN Security Council Resolution 183610 authorised an International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) deployment in an attempt to stabilise the country and create favourable conditions for a stable Afghan Government to take over in the future. In 2003, NATO took over the command and control of ISAF and the mission continues.11  

Further changes to the Alliance since then have been the development of the NATO-Russia Council in 2002 and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative in 2004 in order to facilitate discussion of mutual security interests.12 The first real change to strategic focus was a shift to peacekeeping and consequent geographic reach. This extended to humanitarian assistance to the Boxing Day Tsunami in Indonesia in 200413 and the earthquake in Kashmir in 2005.14 In 2012, for NATO the definition of security has radically expanded to include the individual’s freedom from the violent extremism bred by instability and nation-state failure. This defines NATO’s assistance in helping to protect civilians under attack from the Libyan Government, with support from the Arab League.  

Global NATO

Since the founding of NATO in 1949, the Alliance has remained operationally flexible and developed new roles to meet ever changing global security requirements. At its foundation, only a transatlantic agreement could meet the initial three aims of the Alliance. ‘If the point of the alliance is no longer territorial defense but bringing together countries with similar values and interests to combat global problems, then NATO no longer needs to have an exclusively transatlantic character’.15 Today, with NATO’s global security aims for the 21st century and beyond; it should invest in the membership of global partners. In a way, NATO has already begun to expand by working more flexibly with partner countries to address security challenges around the globe. This practice should be continued into the future.  

Those who would view a Global NATO to undermine the UN or European Union need to consider that neither organisation has the military power and capacity of NATO16: ‘Because NATO essentially is a military alliance—albeit one with a democratic political foundation—even an enlarged alliance would not become another UN. Rather NATO would become a more capable and legitimate adjunct to the UN by helping to implement and enforce its decisions’.17 Effective examples of this execution were observed in former Yugoslavia and Kosovo, of which NATO’s involvement was discussed earlier.  

Broadening NATO’s networks and deepening relations with the Asia- Pacific Region, the Mediterranean Dialogue, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative has become a security necessity, rather than the luxury it was previously considered.18 At the 2012 NATO Summit there will be a strong focus on ‘ensuring the Alliance has the capabilities it needs to defend its population and territory and to deal with new challenges in the 21st century, and strengthening NATO’s network of partners across the globe’.19 This focus should endeavour to include the possibility of global membership and consequently, an extension of NATO’s population and territory. Only a truly global security agreement can promise global security in the future.  

Collective Defence

One of the true benefits of NATO has been the development of collective defence. Since 2009, the Alliance has seen successful military acquisition of the C-17 heavy lift aircraft through the C-17 Global Defence Network in order to create a Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC). This network has allowed members and partners acquisition of the airframe, parts and maintenance support across the globe, interoperability and synergy for upgrades. NATO itself owns 3 of the C-17 Sustainment Partnership aircraft, which are maintained in Germany.20The project has provided the Alliance with global reach. ‘Robust strategic air- and sealift capabilities are vital to ensure that NATO countries are able to deploy their forces and equipment rapidly to wherever they are needed.’21 The purpose of the Sustainment Partnership is ‘total aircraft sustainment support under a single contract, in order to achieve improvements in mission readiness, while reducing operating and support costs.’22 The C-17 Global Defence Network now extends to 10 NATO members and 2 partners.23 The Alliance’s strategic air and sealift capabilities are supported by NAMSO- NATO Maintenance and Supply Organisation, which also supports global partners.24

Another example of the use of collective defence is the Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence System. The program was established in 2005 and the focus on the upgrade, test and integration of NATO’s command and control (C2) systems which interface NATO and national missile defence systems. An example of shared defence in which Australia is actively involved is the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) Force. NATO itself operates a fleet which provides the Alliance with ‘an immediately available C2, air and maritime surveillance and battle management capability’25. Although Australia is not a member of the NATO AEW&C Programme Management Organisation (NAPMO), it is heavily involved in training, exercises and upgrades with the NATO members.26  

With a great majority of the NATO nations reducing their defence spending in the last three years it makes sense to shift the focus to collective defence rather than individual security. Quoted from a speech made by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the Brussels Forum earlier this year, ‘the long-term trend is that the price, that the cost of advanced military equipment rises more rapidly than inflation and GDP’.27 At the Chicago Summit, ‘smart defence- greater prioritisation, specialisation and co-operation will be turned into a long term capability strategy’.28 ‘In Chicago, we will adopt a series of measures in the fields of education and training, exercises and technology, to make sure that our forces maintain the strong connections they have developed during our operations. We call it the Connected Forces Initiative.’29 In 2012, for the first time, Asian Defence Spending will ‘outstrip that of NATO’s European Allies’.30 With global security the primary agenda and a strong focus on Collective Defence in the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept,31 introduction of Asian nations including Australia to full membership with NATO will promote global reach capability improvement for the purpose peace-keeping and security sustainment operations.  

Australian Relationships

Australia continues to develop strong political, military and economic relationships. Australia’s two most important strategic relationships are with China and the USA. Australia and China maintain a very strong economic relationship whereas Australia’s relationship with the US is one of the longest serving military relationships.  China is a founding member of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, an organisation perceived by many to be Eurasia’s response to NATO.32 Whilst Australia’s strategic interests remain in the Asia-Pacific region,33 it continues to support the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), in Afghanistan and the Combined Maritime Forces Command in the Arabian Sea. This enables Australia to hold a unique position for bridging between NATO and the SCO.34 Australia not only recognises China’s economic power but also its strategic geographic importance for maintaining security in Asia.  

Australia continues to engage in other lateral military agreements with NATO countries including Five Eyes (ASCANNZUKUS) with the UK and US and the Five Power Defence Arrangement (FPDA) with the UK. Australia’s status as a ‘Partner across the globe’ enables co-operation with NATO, but not to the level of co-ordination seen with its other alliances through combined military exercises and training. ‘Partners across the globe’ enables non-NATO members to interact with the Alliance about mutual security interests. With NATO’s increase in focus to global security, these Asian partners including Australia become strategic interests.  

When considering Australia’s relationship with NATO it is hard to overlook Australia’s commitment to NATO led operations. In 1995, Australia supported the intervention of NATO in former Yugoslavia. Today, Australian personnel form a Mentoring Task Force in Afghanistan, working with NATO and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers to establish Afghan Military Control over the region. The Australian Special Operations Task Group continues to operate in direct support of ISAF elements in Uruzgan Province. Australian AP-3C Maritime Patrol Aircraft have been in the region for over nine years contributing to the valuable Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance picture and to Anti- Piracy operations. The Australian Navy is also participating in Operation Ocean Shield as part of NATO’s Counter-Piracy Task Force. AusAID continue to provide valuable support through concurrent peacekeeping activities in the region.35 In Afghanistan, military alignment of forces has led to an establishment of known tactics, techniques and procedures. From the beginning of the war, Australia has remained committed to stabilising Afghanistan. This participation has led to an intensified political and military co-operation for Australia with NATO and enabled a structural role in shaping strategy. Besides the US, Australia is also the leading contributor to the Afghan National Army Trust Fund, pledging 150 million Euro in 2009.36  

Australia is undoubtedly committed to NATO led operations. The partnership between Australia and NATO is evidently strong, but is it enough? As a partner, Australia is privy to discussions of mutual security interest but does not contribute to important decision making processes regarding NATO’s involvement with operations. With an increase in strategic interest in the Asian Region, the Asian partners will certainly want a voice for future security decisions. An important question needs to be considered; will a membership with political commitments and formal co-operation tax Australia’s diplomatic and military resources? The answer is, with Australia’s current partnership, the tax is already being paid, and without the strategic seat at the decision making table that membership would encompass. In comparing the NATO 2010 Strategic Concept37 and the 2009 Australian Defence White Paper,38 there are shared interests in the Asia- Pacific but also in Joint ISR and air and sealift capabilities which are fundamental to interoperability between Australia and NATO. If Australia is invited to become a member of a Global NATO in the future, it must be sure that it continues to share the interests of the Alliance. This would be achieved through the membership of additional Asian nations to ensure security and sustainment operations include the Asia-Pacific region.  

North Atlantic Article Relevance

On the 4th of April 1949 the founding members of NATO signed the North Atlantic Treaty.39 The treaty comprises 14 Articles which ‘are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation for peace and security’.40 This paper will now analyse the relevance of some of these aging articles in the concept of global security. Firstly, Article 5 states that the ‘Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered as an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence...will assist the party or parties so attacked by taking...such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.’41 The important points to consider for Article 5 are that in 63 years it has only been invoked once; in the aftermath of September 11 and also that no member nation is currently opposed by any other military force. With this in mind, as a member of NATO, would Australian people support providing aid in Europe? Would smaller less economically stable members support commitment to Global partners such as Japan or Australia? With Australia’s commitment to NATO led operations and its strong relationship with the US the issue of NATO supporting in Australia is unquestionable. The first question however, is a matter of public opinion; in which ISAF have learnt the value of in NATO’s current theatre of operations.  

Article 6 defines the Alliance’s geographic reach for the purpose of Article 5 to be ‘on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France, on the territory of or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer’ and to include ‘forces, vessels or aircraft’ of any of the member States operating within those geographic perimeters.42 Article 6 has become increasingly more for the purposes of Article 5 only. NATO has continued to extend its geographic reach in the last decade with military and peacekeeping operations stretching from the Middle East to Asia questioning the validity and purpose of Article 6.  

Article 10 states that the ‘Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in aposition to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty’.43 This treaty was written with the interests of the Alliance firmly seated in the North Atlantic. With NATO’s global reach in the 21st century, other nations, such as the Republic of Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia, should be considered membership, based on their ability to provide international peace and security in accordance with Article 1,44 for the purpose of global security. Article 12 enables the consultation between the parties for the purpose of reviewing the Treaty.45 The Alliance must address the factors effecting the peace and security of not just the North Atlantic, but also the rest of the world. The advent of terrorism has made the following explicit; instability in one area of the world effects global security and the safety of civilians that live in it. The application of Article 12 for changes to Article 5, 6 and 10 rely solely on the current NATO members’ view.  

NATO Members’ View  

President Obama announced a new focus in the US Defence Military Posture- towards the Asia- Pacific Region.46 In Secretary General Rasmussen’s speech at the Brussels forum earlier this year, he claimed ‘some are concerned this will take place at the expense of Europe and the transatlantic relationship. But I see differently. It is not just the economy that has globalised. Security has globalised too. And it is in Europe’s interest that the United States, with whom we share our most fundamental values, contributes to upholding global peace and stability by engaging the Asia-Pacific region’47. Though the Alliance approves the US shift in focus, any admission of new members into the Alliance or change to the Treaty relies on the unanimous agreement by the existing members.  

There are many views on this topic that are beyond the scope of this paper though two obvious points which will be discussed. Any NATO member for the admission of Asian members would be considering the enhanced ability of a Global NATO to respond to security issues around the world and in capability reform and improvement of collective defence. As discussed earlier, between 2008 and 2011, 20 of the 28 NATO members reduced their defence spending.48 With Asia’s defence spending on the increase49, a Global NATO would be better prepared geographically and financially to support the Alliance’s commitment to global security. ‘Other democratic countries share NATO’s values and many common interests—including Australia, Brazil, Japan, India, New Zealand, South Africa and South Korea—and all of them can greatly contribute to NATO’s efforts by providing additional military forces or logistical support to respond to global threats and needs.’50 Members for the addition of Asian members are likely to include smaller, less financially stable new members of the Alliance.  

NATO Members against the admission value their place in the NATO decision making processes very highly and believe new Asian members will come at the expense of Europe and to the strength of the once transatlantic Alliance. Many members believe that the addition of more nations will result in internal discord, disagreements over NATOs roles and slow the Alliance’s reaction times due to cumbersome decision making processes. ‘For example, several European states, notably the Netherlands, have struggled domestically with plans to commit their troops to NATO missions in dangerous conflict zones like Afghanistan. Others are concerned an enlarged NATO will further slow the alliance’s reaction time.’51 To conclude the member nations view, what is evident is that there are arguments for and against new global members and the requirement of a unanimous agreement makes a final solution unclear.  


The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was initially formed in 1949 as a trans-Atlantic Security agreement for the assurance of a United Europe and as a deterrent to Soviet expansionism. This paper has discussed the changing roles of NATO, from trans-Atlantic security to global security and from military intervention to peacekeeping roles in Asia and Greater Europe. The Alliance has extended its reach through the addition of Mediterranean, Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Asian partners. Where once a trans-Atlantic alliance met the roles of NATO, only a truly global security agreement can promise global security in the future. The paper then went on to discuss the prevalence of collective defence and its increasing relevance in the 21st century, during a time where Europe’s defence spending is on the decline. Examples of collective defence were discussed, including NATO’s C-17 and AEW&C aircraft, in which Australia and partners from across the globe participate.  With global security as the primary agenda and a strong focus on collective defence in the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept,52 introducing Asian nations including Australia to full membership with NATO will promote global reach capability improvement for the purpose of peace-keeping and security sustainment operations. 

Australia continues to develop strong political, military and economic relationships. With Australia’s strong military and diplomatic ties in the US (and support to NATO led operations) and strong economic relationship with China, Australia holds a unique position for bridging between NATO and the SCO53. Australia not only recognises China’s economic power but also its strategic importance for maintaining security in Asia. The NATO 2010 Strategic Concept54 and the 2009 Australian Defence White Paper55 share interests in the Asia- Pacific region and also in Joint ISR and air and sealift capabilities which are fundamental to interoperability between Australia and NATO. A future Global NATO will need to ensure it meets the agenda and security interests of new partners, including Australia.  

Article 5, 6, 10 and 12 were discussed with respect to the criteria for membership, geographic reach for peacekeeping operations, support to Europe and Asia and enabling consultation between members for the admission of global members. The Alliance must consider the validity and accuracy of the Articles in the 21st century for global security and the safety of civilians. For a Global NATO, the first Article to be rewritten would be Article 10, for the explicit inclusion of nations outside of Europe. As a result, Article 6 would need to be amended to represent the new geographic boundaries of the Alliance, for the purpose of not only Article 5, but also for peacetime strategy and security. To allow these changes, under Article 12, the current member nations’ view would be paramount. This brought the paper to its final point, the NATO members’ view of additional members. Alliance Members for the addition of Asian members consider the enhanced ability of a Global NATO to respond to security issues around the world and for the benefit of collective defence. NATO Members against the admission value their place in the NATO decision making processes and comprehend new Asian members will come at the expense of Europe and to the strength of the once trans-Atlantic Alliance.   

Despite what view is taken of a Global NATO, there are indications of NATO being much more active in Australia’s region than in the past. NATO needs to recognise that it must shift beyond its traditional role of common defence and pay closer attention to global security issues. Democracy, shared beliefs and the ability to contribute to global security should be considered with more importance than being a European state for new members. Australia’s relationships with China and NATO, commitment to NATO led operations, democracy, geographic location and overall support to NATO policy makes it a partner with much to offer a Global Alliance.   


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