Jamie Shea

Jamie Patrick Shea is Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at the North Atlantic Threaty Organization (NATO). He served as NATO Spokesperson during the Kosovo War.


What is the perception of NATO throughout the different generations?

Well, I think NATO’s low profile in the United States is, on one hand, good news, because it means there is a perception of an overwhelming threat – remember the famous clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists during the Cold War. One minute to midnight – a sort of Damocles of nuclear destruction over people’s heads. That’s gone. So to some degree, NATO’s become a more normal international organization because it succeeded so well in removing those threats and that sense of urgency. On the other hand, the bad side of that – and we have this in Europe as well – is that people think that security is now granted, that it sort of comes from nature, and we have to point out all of the time that that’s not the case. If you take an organization like NATO away, you take away your ability to deal with these threats – they’re not going to go away, they’re more likely to get worse. So, therefore, I know people obviously would rather spend their money on education and vacations, but we still have a price to pay for our security. And NATO is still probably the cheapest, most cost-effective way of paying that price.

Could you give us an overview of the new strategic concept, and how it identifies new and emerging threats?

The strategic concept says basically three things. Number one, it says NATO still has to have a focus on Europe because Europe is still unfinished business. Some times in America people have the impression that Europe is a totally pacified continent, but we say in the Balkans in the 1990s with the collapse of Yugoslavia, with 100,000 dead in Bosnia and many more in other parts of the former Yugoslavia, that that’s no true—wars are still possible in Europe, even if they’re not very likely today. But there is still unfinished business in Europe; so NATO still has to keep the peace in Europe, it still has to maintain stability in Europe. We still have to provide collective defense to our member states.

But the second part of the strategic concept is to realize that we live in an age of surprises. Nearly everything that’s happened over a couple of years – Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, 9/11, the collapse of Yugoslavia – were not predicted even by the intelligence community. Yet NATO has been called to step up to the plate to manage those crises, to provide a response to protect ourselves, to stop things from getting worse. Because only NATO has the transatlantic dimensions, these military capabilities, these command structures to put a reaction quickly and effectively. Look at Libya just last year. I’m going to make a prediction – I can’t predict the next crisis but there will be another crisis before too long. And once again, people are going to look to NATO to be the first responder. And, therefore, part of the strategic concept is to make sure that we have the political basis, the military capabilities, the multinational structures, the network of partners to be still an effective crisis manager.

The third idea, though, is we’re not in a global security world. There are lots of new kids on the block. China is rising; India is rising; Brazil is rising. The Asia-Pacific is becoming increasingly important. We don’t want that world to be a 19th century world – to be a competing power block of rivalries, alliances armed to the teeth against each other. We want it to be a cooperative world, but somebody’s going to have to build that cooperation, somebody’s going to have to invite the Indians, the Chinese, the others to the table and start talking about common interests rather than differences. NATO is not the only organization to do that, but NATO is in a very strong position given its network of partners around the globe to perform that cooperative security function.

So those are the three reasons: defense of Europe, stability in Europe, keeping Europe at peace, managing crisis, building international cooperation security in the 21st century – those are the three core functions of NATO that come out of this strategic concept.

As budgets tighten in both Europe in the U.S., threat assessment is something that needs to be done. With the emerging threats, how do they rank at this point?

You’ve got to say still that the nuclear weapons are probably still the thing you need to worry about, proliferation, because no other threat today is able to wreak the havoc and destruction that a nuclear explosion still would bring about. So clearly fighting proliferation, preventing the emergence of more nuclear powers in the world, stabilizing new relationships, pushing arms control, disarmament while still keeping in NATO the nuclear deterrence capability to deter nuclear threats and nuclear risks. That’s got to be to my mind the number one priority. That’s why in the division which I represent; we have nuclear policy and proliferation at the center to our attention. The other thing though is terrorism. Yes, you in the US are quite rightly very pleased with the success you’ve had against al Qaeda and the fact that 70% of the leadership structure that was present to 9/11 of al Qaeda has now been killed or capture or taken off the battlefield. That’s great. But if you look at Mali today, West Africa, the Sahara, Yemen, for instance, you look at Syria, al Qaeda is alive and well; it’s mutated. So terrorism has to be a major concern. Because thankfully we haven’t had in New York another 9/11 or in London another 7 July type of incident, that’s not doesn’t mean to say it’s not an ever-present threat. So exchanging intelligence, priming the capabilities to deal with those threats is still very important.

Now look at cyber. Last year the international community estimates that nearly 1 trillion dollars were taken out of the world economy because of cyber threats, cyber crime, espionage, and we increasingly see just how dependent we are upon these information networks that can be easily disrupted. So obviously NATO’s got to step up to the plate in this area as well, and start to help allies protect themselves against this very sophisticated form of cyber threat.

Then we got critical infrastructure. Last year, just for example, was the worst year for natural disasters, and the global economy lost over half a trillion dollars in losses due to disruption of power lines, disruption of critical infrastructure, grids, production facilities being taken out after the Fukushima earthquake, and the floods in Thailand. So protecting that critical infrastructure against manmade or natural destruction, that’s important as well. Again, that is something now that NATO is taking up. Those are just some examples of threats, they are not just simply we’ve thought up to give ourselves a new job to do, but of ever-present, and for a security organization like NATO to be worth its salt, has got to be able to deal with this kind of contingencies as well.

To follow up on cyber, is that an issue that is difficult to cooperate on between the allies?

It’s becoming easier for the simple reason that whereas, a couple of years ago, it was mainly the United States that was being subjected to cyber attacks because obviously the U.S. is clearly a very important commercial, business centre, with big banks and a big military infrastructure. People may have thought it was an issue for the U.S. Now every ally has been affected by an increasing number of cyber crimes, cyber theft, cyber espionage, cyber attacks. And one of allies, Estonia, was crippled for up to 11 days back in 2007 as a result of a very devastating so-called APT – advanced persistent threat – cyber attack. So, again, this is not Hollywood; this is here and now. And the fact that all of the allies are now waking up to the fact that they’re more vulnerable and they’ve got to invest more in awareness, in forensics, detecting attacks that make their systems more resilient. That’s been a very powerful incentive to cooperation in the alliance, and in fact, to the allies now, have been much more prepared also to give NATO a role in developing expertise, lessons learned, exchange of best practices, to help the weakest allies to get up to the levels of protection of the strongest. I really see this as a big growth area for us over the next few years.

I suppose that includes buying from the private sector as well?

Absolutely, in fact cyber is an example of “new security.” In the old days, NATO, in the Cold War, could provide its own security. We didn’t need anybody else; we didn’t need anybody else’s capabilities. Our own members, our own capabilities were enough to keep the Soviet Union at bay and to prevent war from breaking out. But you’re absolutely right – the new type of threats are the threats that, for example, in the area of cyber, 90% of all the information, the infrastructure is owned and operated by the private sector. We don’t own it; we lease it – along with everybody else. Much of the expertise on malware, new forms of viruses, Trojans, logic bombs, most of that analysis comes from the private sector. The private sector is in the forefront of providing the protection as well. So you can only be successful, not just by mobilizing your own members, but by getting partners of an international organization, the private sector involved and exchanging intelligence, information, identifying redundant capabilities, unique surge capability, so that you can collectively manage a cyber crisis. So today NATO is viable to the extent that it is plugged in networks with these other actors. We can help them, we’ve got things that they don’t have, but we rely greatly on a great deal of the expertise that they provide us.

NATO changed its focused from some of the traditional security challenges to some of the new ones we see today. Is the idea of NATO operating out of area; is that an out-dated concept at this point?

Absolutely, we live in a globalized world where geography no longer exists – it’s the death of distance with instant communications, money being transferred around the world in nanoseconds. If you jump on a plane in East Asia, you can get anywhere in the world in almost 24 hours. And look at 9/11 — That was a threat that was financed out of Asia; it originated in the Middle East; the people who perpetrated 9/11 were trained in Europe; and, of course, organized and carried out in the United States. And the threats we see today are network threats. Weapons come out of Libya and then destabilize Mali. The accounts of explosive devise technologies that were first tried out in Iraq, now turn up in Afghanistan. The nitroglycerine for example that powers these bombs comes from across the world. So we’re dealing with networked global threats, and if we don’t provide a networked global response, we’re always going to be on the back foot whereas we want to be and will be on the front foot.