Thursday, April 03, 2008


Joschka Fischer

There's been a major NATO meeting in Bucharest, Romania, this week. The heat has been over issues like Bush's boondoggle pet project, the "missile shield" and the admission of Ukraine and Georgia, former Soviet Republics, into NATO. And the opposition of Greece to Macedonia's admission to the alliance.

But there is a very real and increasingly immediate question of whether NATO can or should survive as an alliance. If European countries perceive it as just being an arrangement where the United States creates messes and expects them to tag along and help try to clean up the mess, it's unlikely to survive for long. Right now, the Afghanistan War may be the single most important thing holding the alliance together as it is.

Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall writes about this in Is NATO Dead or Alive? by Huffington Post 04/01/08 (despite the date, it was apparently written last week). She at least recognizes that there is an "existential" issue out there, i.e., a question about the organization's continued existence:

Yet many of the nearly 875 million citizens of allied countries have no idea how much NATO is doing today or why it protects their security. Among European populations, there is a growing lack of enthusiasm for defense spending and far-flung military commitments. For example, polls show that 86 percent of Germans believe the Bundeswehr should not be fighting anywhere. Because public sentiment matters in democracies, the erosion of domestic support for defense investments and deployments - especially in key countries - could undermine Alliance cohesion and lead to NATO'S slow demise. (my emphasis)
That 86% is a very significant figure. The Afghanistan War is even more unpopular in Germany than the Iraq War is in the United States. And that's saying a lot.

Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, writes in more detail about those existential problems creatintg a "cloudy outlook" (Düstere Aussichten) for NATO in Die Zeit 31.03.08.

Noting that NATO rather remarkably has survived the end of the Cold War and the Soviet threat that was its original reason for being, he observes, "Der seit dem 11. September 2001 stattfindende Übergang von einem regionalen hin zu einem globalen Interventionsbündnis aber droht die Allianz zu überfordern." (But the change that has take place since September 11, 2001 from a regional to a global alliance for intervention threatens to overwhelm the alliance.)

Although I understand his reasoning, I'm surprised that Fischer still supports the German role in the Afghanistan War (Afghanische Klemme Die Zeit 04.02.08). Something which I plan to post about separately. But he certainly recognizes that the intervention is unpopular in Germany, noting that Angela Merkel's current Grand Coalition government (Social Democratic Party [SPD] and Christian Democratic Union [CDU]) has already begun discussions about a possible withdrawal and that public pressure for such a move can be expected to become more intense as 2009 parliamentary elections draw closer. Germany has turned down demands from the Cheney-Bush administration that they send additional troops to fight in the highly contested southern areas of Afghanistan.

And Fischer says that also a "new beginning" in the NATO intervention in Afghanistan is badly needed, there is little immediate prospect of such a thing taking place. The Cheney-Bush administration is now too weak, and the Merkel administration too unwilling, for such a thing to occur.

He identifies the key issues facing the alliance as the Afghanistan War, NATO expansion, the relations between NATO and Russia, and the military readiness of the members. And he comments on the irony that Merkel, having begun her Chancellorship promising to strengthen NATO, now finds herself at odds with Bush over major issues.

Irony, yes. But Fischer can't be terribly surprised. Any German government that went along with Cheney's and Bush's policies would quickly find itself in trouble at home. And as he says, Europeans can't count on the next President to have a substantially superior foreign policy to Bush's. He himself doesn't say it, though I will. A McCain administration's foreign policy would almost certainly be worse than Cheney's and Bush's, across the board, including on issues that matter most to EU countries.

The basic problem of NATO, in Fischer's view, shows itself especially in the Afhanistan War. On the one hand, Europe has a real interest in stability, peace and development in the Middle East and South Asia. But it can't be achieved the Cheney-Bush way, primarily through violence attempting to impose political solutions on difficult political and economic problems. And the European nations aren't willing to go fight whenever, wherever and however Washington wants them to. Unless a way is found for NATO to pursue a meaningful mission with a large measure of equal parnership among the participants, the prospects for its long-term viability and even survival are not good.

Interestingly enough, the committed European (i.e., advocate of European Union unity) Fischer is not optimistic about proposals to create an EU security force. He thinks in practice this will lead to "bilateralization", by which he means that it will wind up putting more emphasis on bilateral relations among, for instance, Britain and France, currently the leading proponents of such a policy.

Fischer states emphatically that NATO should not refuse to admit willing members like Ukraine and Georgia just because it makes Russia unhappy. But in practice, he thinks the current process is hosed, if I may summarize his position that way. Such an expansion will have real political consequences, not least in its effect on Western relations with Russia, and it would be foolish and irresponsible to pursue such a course without take full account of those consequences and making necessary preparations to deal with them.

He thinks the current pressure for such a move is almost exclusively a product of the Cheney-Bush administration's desire to show some kind of constructive foreign policy achievements. An interesting suggestion. But I'm not at all sure that Cheney especially and Bush also don't see the Iraq War, establishing a new precedent for preventive war, the use of torture, badly damaging international nuclear nonproliferation efforts and delaying common action on global climate change for years as being very positive accomplishments indeed. Having dealt with them as German Foreign Minister in intense situations, though, I wouldn't accuse Joschka Fischer of being naive about those characters.

Fischer concludes by saying that the US Presidential election in 2008 will decide the fate of NATO. He's not this explicit, but I'll take the liberty of interpreting for him: if John "100 Years War" McCain is elected, NATO is dead. And I'm not sure that with either Obama or Clinton as President, that NATO can actually survive as a meaningful alliance.

The Afghanistan War is very unpopular in Europe, though the NATO governments have been willing to support the US there up to a point. But it's sure to leave bad memories in Europeans' minds. And only a slavishly pro-American Brit like that pathetic Tony Blair would want to be put in a situation like Cheney and Bush put our European allies in during the prelude to the Iraq War in 2002-3.

Julianne Smith and Michael Williams address the effects and implications of the Afghanistan War for the future of NATO in What Lies Beneath: The Future of NATO through the ISAF Prism (Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS]) 03/31/08:

This fundamental divide about the [Afghanistan] mission’s purpose and overarching goals has now reached the point where one can effectively speak of a two-tier alliance. Some allies do the fighting, while others build schools. This is a simplified argument of course, but it hits at the heart of the matter. It might be difficult for Berlin or Paris to garner domestic support for a greater role in the south of Afghanistan, especially in light of declining public support for the mission, but it has not been easy for Ottawa or The Hague either. NATO is based upon the idea of solidarity and the reluctance of some major allies to get more involved is seriously damaging the future of the Alliance, not to mention the success of the mission in Afghanistan. The lack of consensus amongst the allies on specific goals and tactics has meant that many allies have been (a) reluctant to contribute fighting troops and equipment and (b) have failed to standardize a 'NATO approach' to the country, instead utilising different combinations of military power and development in an entirely uncoordinated manner. (my emphasis)
Smith and Mitchell also observe:

The inability of the Alliance to agree on the exact nature of the [Afghanistan] mission can also be traced back to root differences in how the allies approach the world. Perceptions of the efficacy of force are not shared across the Alliance and this affects how NATO trains for and engages in missions. The troubles in Afghanistan cannot be seen as independent of NATO and the Alliance should learn from this. (my emphasis)
This is not a matter of figuring out clever wording for formal resolutions at annual NATO meetings. The United States is still supporting a Cold War level military budget and viewing the world as an endless series of threats. Despite the occasional touch of nostalgia for the glory days in Britain or France, the European powers have tried this ruling-the-world business. Liquidating their colonial empires and not seeking out wars to fight has worked pretty well for them. They are prepared to defend their countries against any likely conventional military threat. For the most part, they aren't interested in helping the US to remake the world in the image of Dick Cheney.

Given the Democrats' current positions of drawing down troops in Iraq to increase the military effort in Afghanistan, it's very possible that a Democratic administration would wind up accelerating the dissolving of NATO. And in itself, that's not necessarily a bad thing. If the US is going to continue the Bush Doctrine mission of purging evil from the world with cleansing violence, the disintegration of NATO might help focus the public's mind on the real costs of this mad concept.

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