The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an intergovernmental political and military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed in April 1949. It was originally formed to combat communism however it currently consists of 28 sovereign member states that are determined to pursue main security as well as defense-political goals. NATO’s essential purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. NATO promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defense and security issues to build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict. It is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military capacity needed to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty – NATO’s founding treaty – or under a UN mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organizations. A “NATO decision” is the expression of the collective will of all 28 member countries since all decisions are taken by the principle of consensus.
Topic 1: “ENHANCING THE RESILIENCE OF CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE SYSTEMS”
In late 2007, a digital attack effectively sabotaged a uranium enrichment plant in Iran by inflicting physical damage to the centrifuges. In 2014, a breach of an unnamed German steel mill’s internal network enabled the intruders to gain access to the control systems which resulted in a destruction of industrial components and an ensuing interruption of the production process. In May 2017, facilities across more than 150 countries were targeted by a ransomware attack that stalled mission critical process in healthcare, transportation and the financial sector.
Together these events signal a shift in the causal relationship between digital networks and the material world that undergirds them. If in the past, the latter served merely as a foundation for a separately existing cyber realm from which no intervention into the physical world was possible, this seem to be no longer the case. Driven by the need to improve the efficiency of ever-more complex social processes, infrastructure systems within sectors such as energy production, communication, finance, food supply, water management, transportation, healthcare, and even manufacturing are increasingly becoming digitalized. While digitalization may indeed make these systems more economical and easier to manage, it also exposes them a plethora of threats.
Some of these may be inadvertent, resulting from unforeseen faults in the system as such, while others come from state and non-state actors well versed in navigating the digital terrain. Be it in the form of terrorist attacks or hybrid warfare tactics, nation states need to be able to fend off any attempt to cripple the very physical foundations upon which their societies rely for day-to-day functioning. To that end, NATO member states will need to engage with one another in finding ways to effectively counter the new and emerging challenges affecting the security of modern infrastructure.
Topic 2: “THE RISING TENSIONS IN AFGHANISTAN AND THE INVOLVEMENT OF NATO”
For the first time in NATO’s history, the organisation took charge of a mission outside the North Atlantic area and joined the US forces in the Afghan war since 2003. The main objectives were clear: to dismantle Al Qaeda, remove Taliban from power, restore sustainable peace and stability in the country, and thus preventing Afghanistan from becoming once again a safe haven for terrorists. By the end of the mission in 2014, the Taliban was removed from central power and fled to Afghanistan-Pakistan border; a considerable Afghan security force is built, and significant institutional improvements have been made such as in education. One could argue that this was, if not a total victory, at least accomplished its core goals. Yet many records show that numbers of suicide bombing, civilian casualties, heroin production have increased in the years of NATO’s presence in Afghanistan. Some argue that NATO did more harm than good, leaving behind a complete mess in the country.
Tensions are rising once again in Afghanistan since the beginning of this year. The Taliban has regained control in many strategic regions and Al-Qaeda still existing. The IS has also started their activities in different provinces. Russia’s and Iran’s support to the Taliban instead of the state authority has complicated the situation even further. Terrorist attacks and different forms of atrocities has reached a new high. On April 13, US forces in Afghanistan launched a massive strike on ISIS and the Trump administration has further revealed probabilities for a stronger military intervention in Afghanistan once more.
Learning from the ISAF mission, what role should NATO play in this potential third mission to Afghanistan? Confronting criticisms from left and right, it is a crucial moment for the organisation to determine its involvement in Afghanistan to defend its core values and reclaim its relevance in an ever-so-globalized world.