Dec 15,2012

A. Chizh, N. Dunets, I. Korostik, A. Yurkevich, 5th year students, Faculty of International Relations, Belarusian State Universit

Security issues in international relations have remained topical since the time when the first states emerged. Today international security environment is complicated by the increased number of actors and threats. This fact implies that countries should exert more efforts to cooperate with each other in order to provide security on different levels (national, regional or global). The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) gives the best example of how common values and interests facilitate political and military collaboration aimed at ensuring security of the member states. Although NATO proved to be an effective defence alliance, the transformation of challenges at the beginning of the twenty first century can become a threat to the role of the organization as one of the main regional and, possibly, global actors.

What is security? The notion of security nowadays is quite an important one as it seems to be central in policymaking of many countries and organizations. Security is usually seen as one of the ultimate goals: “NATO’s fundamental and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security” [1], “maintenance of regional peace, stability and security through the…” [2], “They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security” [3]. However, it is interesting that there is no universal definition for the term, though the word itself is used increasingly often in the speeches and official documents. It is used 69 times on the eleven pages of the “Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization” [1] and still there is no definition given to such an important component of the world politics.

The basic concept for understanding security usually uses the notion of “threat” to define the term and security is seen as an absence of a threat. This concept is closely connected with the etymology of the word which from Latin secures means "without care, safe," (se cura, “free from” + cura “care”) [4]. However, such a definition lacks precision as long as “absence of something” does not show exactly what is present. Moreover, speaking about international security we can state that there is no common understanding of a “threat” and this is one more reason to blame the “absence of threat” concept for inaccuracy.  Generally speaking, a threat is a possibility of suffering harm or injury. A threat could be actual or perceived, as well as it could be both: absence of the real menace does not necessarily means the absence of a threat as long as certain circumstances, which do not pose a threat, might be perceived due to subjective factors as the ones which do pose a threat. Thus, the definition of security is broadened and specified: "National security, in an objective sense, measures the absence of threats to acquired values, in subjective sense, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked [5, p. 485].

Therefore, in order to promote international security states are obliged to act with a certain degree of transparency as well as abide by the international law so as to make their actions more predictable and therefore decrease the level of perceived threat for other subjects of international relations. This is the basic prerequisite for creating international security organizations as long as through cooperation and adherence to commonly accepted principles the states decrease the level of possible threat.

At present, the density of various institutions for international interaction on security matters in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic region as a whole is the highest in the world. The main regional structures related, in one way or another, to collec­tive security include the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the European Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and many sub-regional struc­tures. Two of the above organizations – the OSCE and NATO – are institutions established to serve the structure of international relations in the condi­tions of the Cold War. Now they are looking for new spheres of their activity in the new conditions, but quite often – by their very nature – tend to repro­duce the logic of confrontation [6].      

The existing institutions for international and collective security in Europe have not solved the main problem – that is, the problem of war and peace. This inability manifested itself and resulted in the war in Yugoslavia in spring 1999 and in the conflict in the Caucasus in August 2008. In both cases, the tragic events were caused by the inability of the existing European security institu­tions to prevent both internal and intra-state con­flicts which escalated after the bipolar confrontation was over.

The Euro-Atlantic security scene is characterized by a loss of mutual trust, renewed tensions, Russian desire to restore its Soviet status and serious disagreements regarding not only practices but also principles. We see a troubling revival of the old East-West divide in strategic thinking. Those tensions are visible in the ongoing debate over NATO enlargement to countries in the post-Soviet space, the CFE Treaty crisis, the political conflict over possible deployment in Central Europe of elements of U.S. national anti-ballistic missile defense, over the Russian use of energy factor, recognition and support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia [7].

The beginning of the 21st century brought about non-conventional security threats (they include natural disasters, drug, weapon and human trafficking,  cyberwarfare and piracy, etc) which represent new challenges for those international organizations that have as their principal goal maintenance of security and stability on either global or regional levels. The North-Atlantic Alliance has assumed the responsibility for addressing these new challenges: in recent years NATO has assisted the tsunami relief effort in Indonesia and ferried supplies to victims of hurricane Katrina in the United States and to those of a massive earthquake in Pakistan. Moreover, NATO’s new Strategic Concept, adopted in 2010 at the Summit in Lisbon stipulates the adaptation of the Alliance to the new security environment [1].

Today NATO provides its capabilities and resources to assist international and regional organizations in tackling crises and resolving a wide range of problems. For example, the Alliance gave logistical support to the African Union’s mission in Darfur. Furthermore, UN Security Council resolutions have provided the mandate for NATO’s operations in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, and the framework for NATO’s training mission in Iraq [8]. As the strongest defence alliance, NATO has been instrumental in supporting the UN political efforts aimed to settle conflicts around the world. Thus, if NATO persists, it will become the key partner of the UN or any other international organization in sustaining political or humanitarian adjustment.

However, there are two major challenges which may prevent NATO’s remaining the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security system. The first is the global economic downslow, and, particularly, the financial crisis in the European Union [9]. European countries, which comprise the majority of NATO members, may cut their defence budgets in order to manage their financial predicaments, thus undermining their ability to cooperate effectively with transatlantic partners. The second is the issue of cooperation with emerging powers (Brazil, China, India and Russia) in the area of international security. The main question is whether these states will cooperate with NATO in the global arena or they will pursue their own security policies which will not coincide with NATO’s interests and goals. In this case, NATO may become a regional actor with a vague perspective of global status.

The security trends play the great role in the process of forming a new system of international relations.  In dealing with external or internal challenges any subject has three options: to change itself, change the setting or change the purpose (strategy). While the nature of the threats and the ways in which NATO organizes itself to deal with them are changing, the fundamental underpinning of the Alliance remains the same. Nevertheless, there are three ways of NATO development:

  • Reformation
  • Transformation
  • Conditioning

Under the reformation we understand the results of strategic planning; the transformation means the structural changes (e.g. military transformation). By means of conditioning NATO adapts or accommodates to modern challenges. First of all, conditioning is a complex process including both perception of challenges and repercussions. The result of conditioning is a trend. NATO trends are:

Smart defence as a combination of principles and power – this is NATO initiative for making better use of available resources, “to help nations to preserve capabilities and to deliver new ones” [10].

Improving defence capability, means not only military and contingency planning but also coordination and investigation of different ways of defence (e.g. the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency  - NC3A).

Fighting the invisible enemy, like terrorism. It means improving NATO’s technological and procedural capabilities, different peace and security programs.

The new partnership. Here it is possible to mention the interoperability standards of NATO as an unprecedented move to a new level of defence.

Analyzing the development of NATO today, first of all it should be noted that NATO adaptation does not follow the way of military strengthening, but also that of qualitative changes. At the same time the Organization requires the development of transparency and multinational solution procedure. Successful transformation and adjustment to non-conventional security threats is the major precondition for globalizing the role of the Alliance, though the financial crisis and the opposition of emerging powers can impede further development of NATO.


  1. Strategic Concept For the Defence and Security of The Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [Electronic resource]. – 2011. – Mode of access: – Date of access: 11.12.2011.
  2. The Treaty of ECOWAS [Electronic resource]. – 2007. – Mode of access: – Date of access: 28.12.2011.
  3. The North Atlantic Treaty [Electronic resource]. – 2005. – Mode of access: – Date of access: 28.12.2011.
  4. Online Etymology Dictionary [Electronic resource]. – 2011.–  Mode of access: – Date of access: 28.12.2011.
  5. Wolfers, A. “National Security” as an Ambiguous Symbol / A. Wolfers // Political Science Quarterly. 1952, № 4, vol. 67. P. 481–502.
  6. Euro-Atlantic Security: One Vision, Three Paths. East West Institute Review. Brussels – 2010.
  7. Dunay, Pal, The Trans-European Security Architecture: Models and Issues, in: Jurij A. Lepeškov/ F.-V. Charting (Eds), The Trans-European Security Architecture: Models and Issues, Minsk 2009, P. 32-55.
  8. NATO’s Relations with the United Nations [Electronic resource] / The Official Website of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. – 2011. – Mode of access: – Date of access: 12.12.2011.
  9. Rasmussen, Anders Fogh. The Atlantic Alliance in Austere Times / Anders Fogh Rasmussen [Electronic resource] / The Official Website of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. – 2011. – Mode of access: – Date of access: 12.12.2011.
  10. NATO Secretary Speech at Future ISR Conference 30 November 2011, Brussels [Electronic resource]. – 2011. – Mode of access: – Date of access: 29.12.2011.

Международная безопасность и НАТО в новых условиях (сборник материалов международного семинара, Минск, 15-16 декабря 2011 года)