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Bridging the transatlantic divide strengthens the US

Bridging the transatlantic divide strengthens the US
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Even as the incoming Biden-Harris administration confronts spiraling crises across the U.S., a rare, pivotal moment exists for a new presidency to bridge the transatlantic divide rapidly. By transforming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) relatively unheralded Partnership for Peace (PfP) process for civilian-military crisis management, this new administration’s experienced, formidable foreign policy team can strengthen the U.S. and remake ties with our oldest European allies and committed European/Eurasian partners.

The world remains stymied in pandemic upheaval, societies faltering far too long. The quarter-century-old PfP cooperative security process offers large-scale emergency planning and resourcing — nationally and multilaterally. Few realize that from the moment in 1994 when Germany’s military forces deployed onto Poland’s territory for the first time since World War II, PfP’s initiation became enduring. It peacefully accelerated Europe’s post-Cold War transformation. During that first, weeks-long PfP “Cooperative Bridge” exercise with peacekeeping and humanitarian relief facets, North American and Western, Northern, Central, Southern, and Eastern European platoons planned and trained together.

PfP’s cooperative security model is grounded in the vision of its originator, U.S. Army General John Shalikashvili — an American immigrant, Supreme Allied/US European Commander (1992-93), and U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1994-97) — who, having survived in bombed-out sewers in World War II Warsaw, knew first-hand how communities needed stabilization, hope, and healing.

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General Shali, as those of us on his staff called him, envisioned a resilient process to bridge the transatlantic divide, to rebuild war-torn devastation, forging longer-term security, more durable peace, and better opportunities for prosperity.

General Shali foresaw how NATO and PfP nations might bring together military commanders, political leaders, diplomats, and policymakers from formerly enemy countries. His vision quietly and vigorously transformed into thousands of PfP civilian-military exchanges, training regimens, exercises, and annual implementation plans. Habits of cooperation normalized with integrated joint and combined operations multilaterally reducing conflicts, managing crises, and often preventing miscalculation.

As his senior civilian strategist and planner on the Joint Staff in the J-5 Directorate for Strategic Plans and Policy, I had the privilege to work for and learn from General Shali.

We built PfP’s policy with the U.S. Government and NATO by closely coordinating with the civilian-military leadership. We shaped Congressional funding into long-term cooperative partnerships across state national guard units and PfP nations, with Canada, and Europe, Eurasia, North Africa, and the Middle East.

PfP’s bipartisan support in Congress stands strong today.

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Often unrecognized is how its practical vision and implementation advanced 21st Century conflict prevention planning, crisis management, and societal revival. PfP’s early years paralleled what the Marshall Plan accomplished for some post-World War II European nations, but also extended planning partnerships with vastly diverse countries. We believed that such crucial concepts as a Peace Corps, an AmeriCorps, a civilian-military corps from across societies remained essential for leaderships better to manage crisis — and counter crises.

Today, PfP’s diversity includes such countries as Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, Georgia, Ireland, Belarus, Austria, Switzerland, Serbia, Bosnia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia.

The Biden-Harris transition harkens to President Franklin Roosevelt’s early era of rapid mobilization and revitalization, but early 2021 offers the Biden-Harris foreign policy team much more adaptable crisis management options, with pragmatic allied-partner ties.

North American and European leaders stand at an international security crossroads. The U.S. might peacefully increase and synchronize NATO and European Union (EU) public-private sector planning and rebuild societies ravaged by the pandemic. The Biden-Harris administration can use PfP’s unique, measurable, and systemic successes to revive ties, remake integrated planning, and overcome political, pandemic, and economic turmoil faster.

Extensive coordination among 50 North Atlantic and European nations would enhance continental and international security. Such a NATO-EU civilian-military crisis management partnership might better adapt multinational military commands and civilian-military emergency planning.

The PfP process can bridge divides and transform political vision across Europe and North America, linking resources across multinational organizations, international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses more efficiently, flexibly, and quantifiably.

The PfP cooperative security model might better harness a post-COVID-19 world to mobilize people and resources more realistically among nations for vaccine distribution. 

PfP’s practical means to productive ends has withstood the challenges of post-Cold War and 21st century transitions and exemplifies the essential planning and learning integral to decreasing erratic decision-making.

PfP gives policymakers and leaders practical tools to resolving confounding problems. The 1995-96 NATO-United Nations coordination included U.S., Russian, German, and French forces, and finally stopped the Bosnian war in former Yugoslavia.

Given the early 21st Century’s myriad challenges, PfP’s foundation can bridge both the transatlantic and the British-European divides. Creatively employed, PfP might reinforce peaceful competition for better crisis management.

Dr. Joshua B. Spero is professor of international relations at Fitchburg State University. He served as senior civilian strategic and scenario planner in the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s J-5 Directorate for Strategic Plans and Policy/Europe-NATO Division from 1994 to 2000 and was lead joint staffer on the Partnership for Peace (PfP) policy/funding/programs.