Relaxation of veto, coalitions of the willing

If there is one sacred word in NATO today, it is «consensus.» However, as often happens with anything sacred, the more we invoke it, the less we mean it. None of NATO’s 19 members, not even the US, wants to change the decision-making process, although only a few months ago the British ambassador had raised the issue tangentially, and recently a similar debate was held on the issue in the US Senate. Even the Americans are now considering the unimaginable likelihood – although who knows what tomorrow will bring? – of finding themselves in the minority. On the other hand, decisions have to be taken. According to NATO sources, four de facto ways of dealing with the issue are to emerge. The two extreme scenarios are that either decisions are taken absolutely unanimously, or else decisions will be not be taken and any countries that wish to do so may act outside the bounds of NATO. Then there are the two mostly likely, «flexible» scenarios. If member states raise objections, particularly because of a previous mandate by the UN on military action, some member states may exclude themselves and thereby open the way for NATO to act without the participation of the member states in question, either in the decision-making process or the operations. According to the final scenario, NATO will not involve itself in operations, but will provide support, particularly at the planning stage, for powers that set up ad hoc alliances. Senior US diplomatic and military officials in Brussels and Mons are worrying, however, whether any member state that senses that NATO does not really serve its interests might feel like opting out. The North Atlantic Council, moreover, has not yet raised the issue of whether and how an initiative might be taken without a previous resolution by the UN, although no one believes that this would be a real obstacle.