NATO’s Transformation and Darfur

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has confounded the world’s expectations by outliving its original purpose of defending Western Europe against an invasion by the Soviet Union. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union’s empire, NATO has continued to be a relevant international organization through expansion and adaptation and has proven to be a stabilizing influence for Europe as a whole, and has served an important purpose in making multilateral action possible in situations where the United Nations has been unable or unwilling to act.

What is truly remarkable about NATO’s post Cold War transformation is how it has responded to areas outside of Europe. Jamie Shea explained that “the fact that NATO was ready to respond in Afghanistan well beyond the traditional NATO perimeter was also I think something which was overlooked at the time because it was rather revolutionary in its range” (Shea, 2004). Equally remarkable is the fact that NATO provided significant assistance to the African Union mission in Darfur, Sudan, another area outside of the original scope of the Washington Treaty that established the alliance.

In June 2005, NATO began assisting the African Union by airlifting five thousand African soldiers to Darfur, almost tripling the number of troops available to AU commanders on the ground. NATO continued to provide airlift support for the African Union until December 2007, having transported over thirty-seven thousand personnel. NATO also assisted by providing training in strategic and operational planning (NATO, 2010).

Mr. Shea pointed out that “NATO is not in Afghanistan through an act of international charity. We’re there because security in that country is a key part of the campaign to defeat international terrorism” (Shea, 2004). I submit that NATO did not assist the African Union mission in Darfur as an act of international charity either, but rather, acting out of the national interests of its members.

The United Nations Security Council spelled out why Darfur threatened the interests of the powers of NATO, when it determined “that the situation in Sudan continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security,” because of “the dire consequences of the prolonged conflict for the civilian population in the Darfur region as well as throughout Sudan, in particular the increase in the number of refugees and internally displaced persons” (Security Council, 2005). The Security Council, and I believe NATO itself, recognized that the refugees from Darfur could destabilize the entire region and that the lack of rule of law in Darfur has made Sudan a failed state; Sudan was actually listed as the third most failed state in the entire world by the Failed States Index (Fund for Peace, 2009). Failed states can become havens to terrorist organizations as well as piracy, as we have seen in Somalia. The lack of effective governance anywhere in the world can provide dangers and risks for the rest of the world, and NATO acted in its own interest to try to help stabilize Darfur.

NATO did not intervene directly by military force for several reasons. First, it had extensive preexisting commitments in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Second, both the African Union and Sudan itself opposed greater foreign involvement (Preble, 2006). Even after the African Union mission was rolled into the United Nations force known as UNAMID, Germany and Turkey, both NATO members, contributed both troops and police, showing their continued interest in Darfur (UNAMID, 2010).

The fact that NATO was willing to act to assist a peacekeeping mission in Africa shows the global perspective that now drives the alliance; NATO is no longer purely a defensive alliance providing for the security of Europe, but is a potent force for multilateral action anywhere in the world.


The Fund for Peace. (2009). Failed States Index. Retrived from

North Atlantic Treaty Organization. (2010). Assisting the African Union in Darfur, Sudan. Retrieved from

Preble, C. (2006). Let the African Union intervene in Darfur. CATO Institute. Retrieved from

Shea, J. (2004). The impact of September 11th on the Alliance. NATO Online Library. Retrieved from

UNAMID. (2010). UNAMID Facts and Figures. Retrieved from

United Nations Security Council. (2005). Resolution 1590. Retrieved from

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