Prague, 16 November (RFE/RL) -- Last month (Oct. 2) U.S. Senator William Roth, the outgoing President of the North Atlantic Assembly (NAA), said in a report on NATO's future that the Alliance members should "preferably act with a mandate from the United Nations or Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)". But he said they "must not limit themselves to acting only when such a mandate can be agreed."
Last week (Nov. 13) in Edinburgh, Scotland, the annual session of the North Atlantic Assembly, which groups parliamentarians from NATO's 16 members states and 16 partner Central and East European countries, approved a resolution saying the Alliance does not need a UN or OSCE mandate to take military actions outside its treaty area.
The resolution is a non-binding recommendation, but the definition of the scope of the Alliance's activity is at the heart of a debate over NATO's new "strategic concept" due to be adopted at the summit in Washington next April. The concept is to prescribe NATO's role and direction for the years to come.
Until now, NATO's military activity has been limited by the founding treaty both to a strict geographical area (the territory of the member states) and to defense against an outside threat. Any military action outside its treaty area could be taken only when mandated by the UN Security Council.
The proposal to free NATO from that limitation has been prompted by the recent conflict in Kosovo, when NATO leaders decided to take forceful steps if Belgrade refused to withdraw its security forces from the southern Serbian province.
But the call formally to remove the requirement for the UN mandate has stirred criticism within the Alliance itself and opposition from some nations outside NATO, particularly Russia.
France, for example, argued at the NAA session in Edinburgh that if NATO decided to cast off the required UN or OSCE mandate for military operations it could encourage other countries or groups of countries to do the same, thereby damaging the UN's position and undermining the rules of international law.
Russia protested more strongly. General Valery Manilov, First Deputy of the Russian General Staff, told a Russian news agency (Itar-Tass) last week (Nov. 12) that Moscow would regard any NATO military action taken outside its treaty area without the UN or OSCE mandate as an "act of aggression" which would be "totally unacceptable."
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana told the Edinburgh NAA session that the Alliance is generally determined to act in the spirit of the UN Charter, but he also said that NATO's threat of action in Kosovo had been "morally right."
Controversy over NATO's scope of activity is not the only problem issue facing the Alliance leaders in their debates over a new strategy for the organization. Others include the direction and pace of NATO's further eastward expansion, the scope of its cooperation with Russia and Ukraine, and the thorny problem of an internal re-organization to expand the European "identity" within the Alliance.
Each of these issues had already been touched on at the 1997 NATO summit in Madrid. None has been resolved in any clear and determined fashion, although NATO leaders strongly supported both the continuing eastward enlargement and the expansion of ties to Russia and Ukraine.
The issue of "European Identity" has become particularly contentious and strongly politicized because it is linked with a re-distribution of command posts among particular member states.
France had started last year a drive to take over NATO's southern command, but that effort was rejected by the United States. Even so, it is to be expected that before agreeing on any new strategic concepts in Washington, France will be pressing for a clear definition of Europe's role --and new appointments for Europeans in the Alliance's commands-- in setting NATO defense and security operations in future years.
NATO military experts are currently preparing draft proposals for the Alliance's new strategic orientation. These are to be presented to NATO foreign ministers for preliminary discussions when they meet in December for an annual session in Brussels.