EuroMUN: Interview with Nick Williams

by Suvi Rivinoja and Adam Strobejko

One could not complain about the number of attractions during EuroMUN. However, we cannot forget how it all started: with the keynote speakers inspiring us to act. Nicholas Williams was one of them. He is the Head of the Operations Section within the Operations Division of the International Staff at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. He was employed in Afghanistan and commented on the recent developments in the country, with the point of focus being on the upcoming elections. Our team approached Mr. Williams after his speech and, hereby, we provide you with the exclusive interview he agreed to give us.

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The Diplomat:
Many of people present here consider their future to be connected with public service. Could you briefly describe your personal experience?

Mr. Nick Williams:
I think you put it correctly by asking about public service. Working for an international or a national system is a service and, by service, I mean understanding what the organisation or the government you work for wishes and to help them achieve their legitimate aims. So the word service is crucial.

The Diplomat:
Would you then see yourself as a servant of the society itself?

Nick Williams:
That’s a more difficult question. In a national system you are indeed serving the society because you are, by definition, working for the elected parliament, which is accountable to the people. In the international organisations like NATO you do not have a parliament and you have to refer to the states as your clients and have to seek through them to your publics. But one of the problems of today is the general loss of accountability to an electorate. I think that from the beginning of my career I have seen this link weakening.

 

 

The Diplomat:
Do you think that initiatives like EuroMUN can succeed in describing the everyday activities of international organisations?
Nick Williams:
I think so. Of course, unless you were present when the North Atlantic Council meets, you don’t really get the feel for it. One thing that should be understood is that, quite often, when the ambassador or the minister is representing his country in the meeting, he is following the instructions. Therefore, the degree of spontaneity and given take is probably less than you are going to have during these discussions. But, then there is the benefit of going beyond the real and having the type of discussions you are going to have, because you will start to understand the issues underlying the position of different governments. You will not approximate to the slowness and formality of the process, but you will certainly have more dynamics.

 

 

The Diplomat:
NATO’s role in Afghanistan after the scheduled withdrawal at the end of 2014 will be discussed in the EuroMun. As the conclusion of the combat mission is coming closer, we would like to hear your view on what you consider to be the major accomplishments of the mission? And moreover, what kinds of lessons can be taken from it?

Nick Williams:
First of all, NATO was not alone in Afghanistan. It was a part of an international effort to help stabilise and develop the country. NATO’s role, as authorised by the UN, was to help build up the Afghan capacity for securing themselves. One of the most significant achievements is what we saw during the elections. The Afghan national security forces showed themselves capable of organising and delivering a very complicated security schedule.

 

The Diplomat:
The success of the transition to the NATO support mission is dependent on an impunity agreement with Karzai’s successor. So far all three leading presidential candidates have stated that they are in favour of signing a deal. How confident are you that this agreement will be reached?

Nick Williams:
The arrangements are not primarily about impunity. They are about, what we call the status of forces. The legal framework of the forces present in Afghanistan covers their taxation, entry, exit, movement, privileges and obligations. We are confident that the Karzai’s successor will sign and will come to the agreement on two documents which have to be signed. One with the United States on the bilateral security agreement and the second with NATO, called the status of forces agreement. The issue is more about when, as both leading candidates have indicated that they will sign. When they will sign is very important, because if we are to have a mission ready by 1 January 2015, they have to sign it very quickly. If there is no signature, there will be no mission.

 

Mr. Williams giving his speech
Mr. Williams giving his speech

The Diplomat:
What are the remaining challenges to the transition period?

Nick Williams:
The NATO’s role is linked to the security. Many challenges for Afghanistan are still to be addressed, such as: improvement in governance, respect of human rights, fulfilment of various commitments on narcotics, corruption. These are not sections of NATO’s primary responsibility. In terms of what NATO can continue to deliver is its support to the national security system, so it achieves a momentum and sustainability allowing for a measure of autonomy and independence. Even on 1 January 2015 Afghanistan will still be dependent on funding from the international community. Our aim is to change this position to the complete autonomy.

 

The Diplomat:
NATO has established multiple partnerships during the last 20 years, one crucial one being cooperation with Pakistan. What kind of direction will this partnership take in order to support NATO’s changing role in Afghanistan?

Nick Williams:
Pakistan is a very important country, irrespective of what happens in Afghanistan. NATO is seeking to develop deeper partnership with Pakistan. The means of doing that is an agreement between NATO and Pakistan on partnership: documents and declaration in which NATO and Pakistan would define the area of co-operation. As yet we are not on the point of signing this declaration and negotiations continue, but we would envisage it starting when it is signed on the usual basis, which is political exchanges, exchanges of information, military training, Pakistan’s co-operation and, generally, a deeper relationship which allows both sides to cope more easily in the modern world. We are not there yet.

 

The Diplomat:
– During the debate of candidates for Commission’s presidency which took place this week in Maastricht, reactivation of European Defence Community was proposed. Do you think this is possible and could fit in the existing framework of NATO.

Nick Williams:
This is a difficult question to answer. Europe has a European security and defence policies. It seeks to develop its defence and military capacities, but, at the same time, it doesn’t seek to replace NATO and doesn’t seek to achieve the same level of collective defence with the United States that we have within the NATO. The simple answer, both for NATO and the EU, is that if you spend more money on defence, if you develop more capacity and co-operate more closely, you will be capable of more. Until Europe actually does decide to invest and focus on its European security and defence policy, the situation will remain much as it is. They have a framework which they developed. It is not likely that Europe without the United States would be as effective as Europe with the US in this domain.
The Diplomat:
– Many countries have declared their worries over the situation. Do you think that NATO shall further enlarge (considering the voices of Ukraine, Sweden) and develop, or do you think that it should stick to its original concept?

Nick Williams:
NATO’s strategic concept seeks three functions for the alliance. One is collective defence, which remains our main function and is irreplaceable. Another is working with the partners around the globe. And the third one is stabilisation, sort of a thing we are doing in Afghanistan. I think in current circumstances that three-fold role contributes significantly to security and stability. As I said in my remarks, NATO can’t do everything and it doesn’t and  shouldn’t have a monopoly on any of those roles. But it’s not really about whether NATO should reduce or expand. It’s about what contributions NATO can make, and I think that these pillars allow for a significant contribution, which is why it still exist and it explains why it continued to exist after the Cold War.

When asked about his favourite French writer, Mr. Williams indicated Michel de Montaigne to be the best in reflecting the spirit of our times.

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