11th Dec 2019

NATO should focus on counter-terrorism, former Spanish leader says

European politicians should press NATO to focus more on homeland security, instead of its foreign peace missions according to the former leader of Spain.

The radical proposals from ex-prime minister Jose Maria Aznar sparked some controversy at a security conference in Brussels on Wednesday (30 November).

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"NATO is in a real and very deep crisis, despite its hyperactivity", said Mr Aznar, now chairman of Madrid-based think tank FAES.

"I do believe we are facing a mortal enemy. And I believe those who prefer to see the islamist terrorists as a problem that can be contained are wrong", he added.

In a bid to face the specific "enemy", Spanish ex-prime minister suggested NATO should not only resolve its lack of military capabilities, but also undergo a complex institutional reform and re-think its priorities.

He argued it was a paradox to watch the alliance try to "be everywhere... while the feeling of vulnerability and insecurity of its members' citizens is growing."

"Do you think it is natural and acceptable for any politician in Europe to go to the public and argue for the multi-deployment of NATO in far away places, while people are being blown apart in trains and buses on European soil?" asked Mr Aznar.

Haunted by terrorism

The Spanish ex-prime minister quit European politics last year after the suprise defeat of his conservative party by rival socialists, following the Madrid terrorist bomb attacks on 11 March.

One of the reasons for a strong backlash against his people's party, which governed Spain for two terms and was ahead in the polls just days before the elections, was Mr Aznar's reluctance to accept the possibility of a terrorist group linked to Al Qaeda being behind the bombings.

Instead, Mr Aznar - a staunch supporter of the US in the war in Iraq - placed the blame on the Basque terrorist group ETA for some time shortly after the Madrid tragedy.

Almost two years on, the Spanish ex-leader argues the fight against "jihadism" should be put on the top of NATO's agenda, suggesting it should lead to both developing its "homeland security dimension" and a collective "counter-terrorist strategy."

"I think keeping NATO away from the fight against terror, just because it is devoted to peace support operations, or is entangled in what kind of relationship it wants and may have with the EU... is the wrong answer," Mr Aznar indicated.

On top of this, he said the alliance should "expand its geographical scope" to new members, sharing the same values, such as Japan, Australia and Israel.

Ambitious or ridiculous?

Mr Aznar said his proposals have been endorsed by several US officials, as well as Czech ex-president Vaclav Havel.

But some of the ideas were questioned or criticised at the Brussels conference.

Israeli ambassador to NATO Oded Eran pointed out it would not help the relationship between Arab countries and the alliance to name the "enemy" so openly and specifically, as Mr Aznar's think-tank did in a report linked with his speech.

A diplomat from the Jordanian embassy said the idea that Israel should join NATO, while still part of the Middle East peace process, would put off the Mediterranean countries, now increasingly involved in cooperation with the organisation.

Some speakers also doubted the added value of NATO's activities in the area of homeland security, noting that they might just increase the bureaucratic obligations of members.

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