Challenges and Opportunities Across NATO’s Greater South

May 1, 2017 
by Matthew Conway and Steve Zyck

NATO and its partners, as a part of discussions related to the Alliance’s efforts to promote peace and security in its broader neighbourhood, have increasingly focused on NATOs’ “Southern Flank.” In the following report, the authors argue that this primarily military term is likely to be off-putting to many current or would-be NATO partners, such as foreign ministries, international organisations, and civilian stakeholders, hindering the goals of “projecting stability” and risking a near-exclusive focus on threats and risks. Furthermore, this report demonstrates how the term “Southern Flank” does not fully capture NATO’s challenges. For example, issues like trafficking and migration originate in far-flung areas including West Africa, Latin America, and Central Asia, which may not be part of the Southern Flank as current conceived by NATO. In suggesting the use of a less heavily value-laden and military-centric term like the “Greater South”, the authors point out that challenges emanating from the Greater South also present opportunities to Alliance states that may bolster NATO’s strategic objectives.

(Access full report here)

The following observations and findings are based on a review of the pertinent literature from academics, research institutions, governments, and various international organisations (IOs) and international nongovernmental organisations (INGOs). They also emerge in part from the authors’ combined twenty years of research experience working on and researching issues ranging from civil-military interaction to post-crisis stabilisation and humanitarian action in contexts as diverse as Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lebanon, Somalia Syria and Yemen for governments, UN agencies, the World Bank, INGOs, NATO’s former Civil-Military Fusion Centre and others.

Challenges and Opportunities in NATO’s Greater South

Some of the most immediately pressing challenges emanating from the Greater South include migration and trafficking in drugs, guns, persons as well as conflict and violent extremism. These inter-related issues thrive amidst corruption and low state capacity, prevent economic growth, and facilitate instability and extremism. This report explores these challenges and demonstrates (i) their intersecting nature; (ii) how typical approaches to addressing these issues, including increased border control and military responses, can displace the challenge and plant the seeds of future instability elsewhere; and (iii) that the various challenges facing NATO may be reconceptualised as opportunities rather than purely as threats. 
With regard to migration, in 2015, 1.2 million people applied for asylum in Europe, 66.2% of whom were male according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This may pose social stability challenges not only in assimilation and cultural differences relating to gender relations but also in the fact that most young, male migrants, many of whom are single, will be jobless for a year or two following arrival. However, with approximately 84% of incoming migrants under 34 years old, the host economy may ultimately benefit economically from migration. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), for instance, estimates annual output to increase by 0.1% in the EU and 0.3% in Germany by the end of 2017.

Trafficking also poses challenges as well as opportunities. Trafficking from the Greater South as well as closely-related corruption are believed to cost Europe nearly €300 million annually. In Mali, endemic drug trafficking and corruption played a role in instability and an ensuing coup in recent years; illicit trafficking in natural resources in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has fuelled conflict for decades. As most illicit trafficking is associated with the Greater South and is facilitated by weak economies and corruption, development activities encouraging licit commerce and economic development would benefit NATO member states and the Greater South. There are, as the full text outlines, opportunities to better economically link countries across the Greater South with one another as well as with NATO members.

Some of this study’s most interesting findings, however, do not address migration and trafficking in isolation but rather their inter-relationships and their ties to conflict and violent extremism. For instance, the Geneva Centre for Security Policy states migrant smuggling “has particularly strengthened groups with a terrorist agenda, including the Islamic State,” and that taxation on migration and illicit trafficking is ‘possibly now the largest and most easily accessible finance opportunity for both organised crime networks and armed groups’. Migrant smugglers often overlap with criminal ‘industries and traffic drugs, weapons and other goods alongside people. A joint Europol and Interpol investigation underlines the extent of trafficking networks and their overlap with terrorist organizations, noting migrant smuggling was worth an estimated $5–6 billion dollars in 2015 and organised criminal enterprises facilitated travel for 90% of migrants bound for the EU.

Furthermore, particular policy responses to issues like migration have been linked with increased instability. For instance, attempting to simply contain migration in the Greater South — rather than tackling underlying causes of migration such as conflict and poverty — may lead to a series of adverse effects. For instance, those attempting to migrate to NATO member countries in a context of more heavily secured borders are increasingly likely to make use of more capable smugglers and human trafficking rings which are associated with armed and extremist groups in places like North Africa and the Sahel.
Likewise, border control measures aimed at preventing North-South migration may have displacement effects, essentially driving migrants to urban centres in middle- and upper-income countries in Africa and the Middle East. The growth of urban slums heavily populated by young and unemployed or under-employed men in these locations can have major implications for social cohesion (e.g., ethnic, tribal, or religious tensions) as well as political stability. Hence, the question for NATO is not only how to tackle the sorts of challenges outlined in this paper, but also to consider how its responses may produce unintended secondary consequences in the medium term.

Recommendations and Conclusion

The available research shows that typical security threats emanating from the Greater South, including migration, trafficking, and their interwoven relationships with conflict and extremism, are more dynamic than initial analysis would assume. Each threat poses potential benefits for certain NATO member countries if approached correctly. Notably, these approaches entail neither grand political or development agreements — such as large aid projects implemented quickly to extend state authority quickly — nor military crackdowns, as both may increase conflict and displace challenges to other regions. Rather, sustained engagement in social and economic conditions, ranging from government capacity building campaigns to development investment funds, are the most promising and evidence-backed approaches to reducing the challenges emanating from the Greater South.

In seeking to confront these challenges, NATO will likely have most success by collaborating with United Nation (UN) agencies and regional bodies including the European Union, the Economic Community of West African States, and the Gulf Cooperation Council, especially in coordinating security and development (e.g. trade) responses. (Read more here)

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