WHAT IS NATO FOR?
After 57 years of normally excellent service to its member states and 15 years from the end of the cold war which was its rationale, it seems appropriate to ask this question.
Founded in 1949 as a highly rational defensive alliance, for forty plus years it must rate as one of most successful defensive alliances of all time. In the bi-polar world, the us-and-them confrontation was clear cut. Sufficient to say that ‘they’ never invaded us and ‘we’ never invaded them. Perfect!
Such military excursions that took place were outside the remit of NATO which was limited geographically to the Euro-Atlantic regions of the Northern hemisphere. The major military tests during those forty years were a proxy fight in the Korean peninsula when the South Koreans got so severely pushed aside, that the UN empowered the US to lead a force under the UN banner. This did include many who were NATO members answering the UN call, like the UK and Turkey, Belgium and Greece, France, Canada and others (but not Germany or Italy at that point), However, it was mainly US forces plus the South Koreans trained and equipped by them, also supported by non-Europeans, like the Australians and New Zealanders. Those three years of hard fought war concluded at a line on the map, the 38th parallel, where indeed it had started – and both sides regarded it (publicly) as a victory for them. It could at this distance in time, be called a draw, and although at moments it came perilously close, it fortunately fell short of expanding into a world war, since China was a combatant and Russia if not legally so, was an effective supporter and held to be controlling Pyongyang as it’s proxy.
The South-East Asian fights, first with the French against a nationalist anti-colonial movement they could not contain, concluded after the French withdrawal, with the US intervention. Vietnam became an official theatre of war and Cambodia and Laos unofficial, but bloody nevertheless. The post-French interventions were all American initiatives, which started small with training missions and ratcheted up. It cost them, by the end, over 50,000 American deaths when the last US serviceman to leave had scrambled onto the last helicopter departing the Saigon embassy roof, to make an undignified exit – although that compares with 3 million Vietnamese civilians and fighters, who were killed during this period.
This time there was no UN imprimatur. Support for the US and their dubious South Vietnamese allies, came from loyal Australia, grateful South Korea and not many more; no NATO members felt constrained to join this time. These SE Asian countries conclusively fell to the communists and left US forces, and indeed the world, to reflect on the powerful message that this was as much a nationalist independence struggle, as a communist bid to take over the world. Indeed, although communist nationalist movements took over all three of these former French colonies, they were not and did not become puppets of either China or the USSR. The much vaunted ‘domino effect’ in SE Asia, the prevention of which was supposedly the rationale of the whole intervention, just didn’t happen.
Incredibly, a myopic Kremlin high command almost immediately afterwards made an identical mistake, and jumped into a similar nationalist quagmire by invading Afghanistan. As we can clearly see from today’s perspective and knowledge of the current situation there, the Afghans were fighting to defend neither democracy or capitalism, or anything approximating ‘western values.’ It was pure nationalism, informed by their religion and like Vietnam, a preparedness to take casualties in a patriotic struggle against a foreign occupier, none of whom have lasted long in over two millennia. So the Russians also got thrashed and had similarly to pull out, heavily bruised and in an undignified manner.
Meanwhile, the European theatre, tipped as the setting for the final Armageddon, slumbered on. Great armies of the East and West, combining the most destructive power that the world had ever seen, confronted each other across the North German plains, yet all remained tranquil and smooth. Berlin, for so long controlled by contingents from four armies, kept the peace even under periodical provocation. The East German uprising came and went. Hungary was in revolt – quickly subdued; the Czechs had their turn with an uprising, but NATO troops throughout stayed in their barracks, or at the least, did not cross the demarcation line of the ‘iron curtain’.
In the air, with technology advancing all the time, constant patrol flying was the norm, probing for vulnerable points in the opposing air defences. Yet still, despite accidents and contrived provocations, the peace held. On the sea, or more significantly beneath the sea where submarine warfare had taken a technological quantum-leap and become quite marvelous, dangerous incidents there were a-plenty, but were never by either side allowed to escalate. The nearest the world came to all-out war in all of those forty years was not in the constant military probing within NATO’s area at all. It took place, just a few miles offshore Florida, where Cuba and their Russian allies had installed some medium range missiles, and the world held its collective breath until the confrontation evaporated.
NATO TODAY – AND TOMORROW
NATO was of course structured for that bi-polar world which no longer exists. The sixteen member states – now twenty six - have a council of ministers who represent the political will of the member states, all democracies, with ultimate responsibility for NATO’s actions. As to who actually makes the decisions, “war is too important to be left to the generals,” was a dictum that arose from WWI experience; but everybody in NATO knows that the USA, the heavyweight partners in this alliance, were and remain in the driving seat. The key to membership was in Article Five of the founding treaty, which requires ALL members to come to the aid of ANY member who is under attack. That remains, but now appears far less relevant with Europe no longer an area of primary concern. It is still however a large attraction for aspiring new members, most of whom until the 1990’s, were controlled by absolutist communist governments. These effectively were puppets of Moscow (or in Yugoslavia, Belgrade), and their young men enlisted into the armed forces of the Warsaw pact, the very forces that NATO had confronted over the four decades of the cold war. The fact that the militarily supreme USA dominates NATO, means to aspirant members that they would have the US protective umbrella over them from that time on. To have lived much of their lives under the iron hand of a totalitarian state begets a prevailing fear that perhaps one day, just perhaps, the giant neighbour Russia might loom over them once more. In such circumstances NATO is their answer and America their guarantor.
This situation now poses a new and uncertain dichotomy for the west, where the governments of Ukraine and Georgia, both originally heartland soviet states, seek the warm embrace of the alliance, fundamentally because of their fear of a resurgent Russia,
demonstrably prepared to bully, as they see it, and to use any available form of pressure against them. The commitment of membership, they feel, would plant them firmly looking to the west and no longer towards Moscow. Yushchenko pledged in his successful presidential election that he would take Ukraine into NATO. Georgia with three unwanted Russian military bases on its territory, and two breakaway republics sponsored by Moscow, was the home of the first colour revolution, effectively against Russian hegemony. They understandably seek the comfort of NATO’s Article Five.
Russia, seeking to recreate a ‘Russian space’, within the geographical (mainly non-moslem) core of the former USSR, is manifestly opposed to the idea of the west taking two such important pieces off the board. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said a few days ago in the Russian State Duma, reasonably enough from his perspective, “…the acceptance into NATO of Ukraine and Georgia will mean a colossal geopolitical shift and we assess such steps from the point of view of our interests.” He was making clear that Russia’s friendship and what flows from that for these former dependencies, cannot be expected if they join NATO. Whilst that is not a military threat, the fact is that Russia has moved on from being a military superpower and has become an energy superpower. It is in that field, he implies that those that reject the hand of friendship may have cause to regret it. The Duma voted that day 435 to 0 for a resolution that criticized Ukraine’s plans to join NATO.
How can it look otherwise to Russia than that they are being contained by a systematic process of encirclement? Various PR exercises mounted by NATO within Ukraine and even Russia itself, have not met anything approaching a wave of support, indeed rather the reverse. A stigmatising of the special exhibitions there, may well have been a factor to seek to show there is (unsurprisingly) little public support in Russia for a developing relationship between NATO and Moscow, but more worryingly Ukrainian public opinion, as distinct from its leadership stance is far from committed. The west wants to help, to respond to their courageous leaders and give support to these nascent democracies. Clearly a non-military non-threatening EU membership, is far more complicated to obtain with numerous rules and thresholds, which are not yet approached by these two nations. The US has no official say here and expansion of the EU is anyway for the foreseeable future, going to remain a ‘hot potato’ amongst its own members.
NATO however, can and does issue such invitations but all governments involved are apprehensive about such an ‘in-your-face’ rebuttal of the somewhat fragile relationship and line through to Vladimir Putin and Russia generally. As his military neighbour, normal good sense dictates that NATO does not appear to provoke.
The Russian perspective on this might best be understood if, for a moment, westerners could imagine a bizarre reversal of recent events, where a Warsaw Pact in the ascendancy invited, say Spain and Greece, into membership of their military alliance over the protests of their former colleagues in a disbanded NATO.
Such deep historical conditioning may need a generation to dissolve unless some as yet unsuspected, masterly diplomacy to ‘include Russia in’, is in the offing. Given the team currently in charge of the White House, that prospect does not look hopeful. If Russia had been moving progressively onwards and upwards towards democracy, it might have been different, but the situation there seems otherwise.
HOW THE ALLIANCE SEES ITSELF
To the original ‘Cold War members’ all of whom are experienced democracies, whilst acknowledging the military facts, there is considerable unease about the USA as the unofficial senior member having a unilateralist government, dangerously claiming the right to exercise pre-emptive strikes, and circumventing the UN. As in the case of Iraq, many NATO members could not bring themselves to support this military intervention. As a result, by declining to join the ‘coalition of the willing’, they attracted calumny and insult from the noisy popular media and populist politicians and preachers alike in the US, together with an offensive attitude in Washington at ambassadorial and government level. Yet as events have shown, the UN inspectors had done a thorough job and their intelligence about WMD’s was sound, despite being systematically ‘rubbished’ by the Cheneyites and their media allies.
The NATO allies readings of Saddam Hussein’s capabilities and intentions, plus the post-invasion scenarios they offered to their US ally, were rejected because that wasn’t what the White House wanted to hear, but it was indeed correct. Washington acted on the intelligence of its own agencies, (or that part that fitted their plan), and upon ad hoc Iraqi ‘sources,’ which were plain wrong. So, does President Bush call President Chirac and say, “Y’know Jacques – you were right and I ,why I was wrong”? No, nor will he anytime soon, but NATO nevertheless survives.
The Iraq situation for the Europeans, where NATO has a training mission, raises major questions of top level judgement, not a small issue when your ally is bristling with nuclear weapons, is easily the major military power on earth and in any tight situation, effectively runs your military. So there is no longer quite the uniformity of view within and between NATO member nations, that characterised the long era of East-West confrontation. In democracy terms, back in the cold war, the US were clearly seen to be on the side of the angels (in Europe certainly, if not in Latin America and SE Asia, where that could not equally be claimed). Their leadership of the alliance was not only acceptable, indeed to most, was a desirable situation with the other fifteen member states. France, it may be said, prouder (or spikier) than most, not wanting their forces always to be subject to US Generals, did make special semi-detached provisions, where they took on a specific sector of the notional NATO defensive line, but came back to the NATO military committee in due course.
The first NATO Secretary-General, Britain’s Lord Ismay, is credited with the reflection that NATO existed, ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down’, and in the early years of the alliance, how accurate that was. The only part of that coda that is still relevant concerns the US. From their aspect now, with Europe no longer being of primary concern – they reasonably enough believe that the Europeans should be able to handle local squabbles where military involvement becomes inevitable, as in the Balkan wars. There is simultaneously a desire within the European Union, reflected in a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), to have their own armed forces seconded to a wholly European command and similarly subject only to European political control, and there are good and sustainable arguments for this.
Opinion about this in US government circles is divided. The background is that there is no military enemy on the face of the globe and little credibly in terms of hostile potential. The much vaunted China (for lack of any other demon state), is light-years behind the US’s defence-offence capability and anyway, since their economic success is entirely based on making consumer goods for the western market, why ever would they want to be bombed back into the stone-age, when with their US bond holdings they are in a sense, by peaceful means, coming to ‘own’ America ? Washington spends at least six times more on its annual defence appropriations than does China, whose whole national revenue is less than the US military budget. But without a China ‘threat’, the defence lobbyists in Washington would be hard put to it to squeeze these incredible sums the way of the military-industrial complex that rides so high in the US, despite the warning of former President Eisenhower in his retirement speech.
SEEN FROM THE PENTAGON
NATO seen from the Pentagon has its pluses and minuses. The thought of 26 governments - with more to come, having to agree to new initiatives, and any one of them, because of the provision for unanimity, able in theory to scupper them, goes clear against the grain of clear-cut military chain-of-command thinking. Secondly, the quality of the contributions brought by member states varies widely. There is little doubt that the training and professionalism of military personnel of several of the NATO members is of a quality that compares well with anything the US has to offer, (particularly when it can be seen how heavily the US needs to rely on reservists operating extended tours of duty, as in Iraq), and compares favourably in world terms generally. But leaving alone the multiple language problem, clearly many of the smaller members, particularly the former Communist countries, have at this time a wide disparity of military training, doctrine, equipment and within the quality of their troops. It will take time to achieve the levels of the best-case members. With all of the NATO countries, the US has a genuine concern about the fact that for reasons of their smaller military budgets, NATO forces are progressively falling behind the standards of sophistication in military equipment deployed by the US, with hazards for future joint operations as a consequence .
Yet despite those objections, the US has always held the top command of NATO which in some circumstances has the first call on the troops of all the European members, so there may be US military planners who will simplistically add the alliance’s men and materiel to those of the US, in global scenario planning.
There must also be the political concern of Europe’s nations becoming a loose cannon through the ESDP, re-establishing a European military consciousness and thereafter perhaps competitiveness, not of course as a future enemy but as a emergent military rival, that the US absolutely does not need, given the clear desire of this administration at least, to achieve global hegemony. It must be obvious that technically sophisticated European states have the capacity if not currently the political will, to have greatly increased military budgets. For the US to seem to spurn or disparage NATO might change the situation, as they got close to doing after NATO invoked Article Five after 9/11 but were then not invited to the ‘party,’ that followed in Afghanistan. It would be political naivety beyond belief if any US government, other than one that had become totally isolationist, were to open up that Pandora’s Box.
European powers on the whole have come to depend on NATO, which is a known factor and their citizens are at this point, neither well informed nor at all sure about a European shadow via the ESDP. Lack of a burning desire to get a viable force in place can be measured by the current EU operation in Congo where at the request of the UN, 2000 soldiers under German command will for the short period of upcoming elections join and reinforce17,000 UN troops already in-country, in enhancing security there. The UN request was made in December 2005, yet it took until March of 2006 to be able to accept the UN invitation, with 16 other nations (Germany and France between them account for two thirds of the force), agreeing to contribute the remaining 700 or so troops.
UNITY OF PURPOSE
In a bipolar confrontation this was a given, but consider the conflicts that have taken place since the fall of the USSR. The Balkans: When the issue of a Greater Serbia arose in the early 1990’s, the US government reasonably enough said that this was a European problem and should be solved by the Europeans. The Yugoslav federation fell apart and Slovenia, the first to quit took its independence quite easily and quickly, because Serbia the villain of the piece, which was using the federal Yugoslav army for a Serbian agenda, cut their losses, upped and left this northernmost of the six Yugoslav republics. They knew that a really big fight was brewing up with the Croats, as was indeed the case. The Europeans proved to be fairly useless in stopping or affecting the intensive and brutal Serbo-Croat war. Germany was anyway believed to be supplying Croatia with arms, whilst Russia was doing the same for Serbia. Many nations accepted war refugees from that conflict.
Bosnia Herzegovina (BiH), was another story. There was a re-run of history here evoking echoes of the Spanish civil war of the 1930’s. The legitimate Bosniak government in Sarajevo with nothing much more than a militia, initially 2,500 men, was invaded by the well-equipped (with heavy weapons) federal Yugoslav army, at the behest of Serbia’s Milosevic. The Europeans myopically (or with sinister intent), chose to see this as a civil war, but it was clearly an invasion by the heavily armed Serbs misusing the federal army, supporting the minority ethnic Serb population of BiH.
The European powers in a manner reminiscent of how they treated Spain’s legal republican government in the 1930’s then embargoed arms to
all parties in the conflict. This had the inevitable effect of leaving the field to a well armed Bosnian Serb army, who had their federal army tanks and heavy artillery, plus the professional soldiers of the federal republic. Against this were the rifles and machine guns, as it were, of the legitimate authority in Sarajevo, who had to resort to contraband sources and middle-eastern countries to obtain the minimum to survive. NATO naval forces off the Croatian coast were deployed to interdict shipments. It was an imbalance that nearly sank the BiH forces and brought little credit to the chancelleries of Europe.
At last NATO got seriously involved and reorganized command structures away from the UN. Although the war was eventually stopped with NATO troops lined up on the BiH frontier, nevertheless this small war produced the blackest page not only for NATO, but also for the United Nations at whose behest NATO were there. The troops were supposed to be there as peacekeepers, to keep the adversaries apart where it was possible to do so. But the governments that owned the NATO contingents, after half a century of European peace were risk-averse on behalf of their soldiers, and mindful of public opinion back home. This was to prove fatal – for NATO’s mission - and for too many murdered Bosniaks!
SHOCK AND SHAME
The BiH city of Srebenica was, apart from its mainly Moslem residents, stuffed with refugees driven from their homes by a Serbian policy of ethnic cleansing over a wide swathe of the country. There was a peace-keeping garrison of some 500 NATO troops from the Netherlands stationed there, but when the far superior Serbian forces arrived, they insisted that the Dutch stand aside or surrender. Their lieutenant-colonel who had no armour or artillery, just lightly armed infantry, desperately requested air support from the responsible NATO General, but that was considered on high, to be an escalation of the crisis and was vetoed by the UN and NATO politicians. He got no air or any other support. What to do? He contacted his own Ministry of Defence in the Hague who took the decision to instruct him not to fight. Many people since have concluded that the Serbian general Ratko Mladic, who is still all this time afterwards on the run as a war criminal, would not have dared to so provoke the NATO powers by attacking and destroying this Dutch battalion, but we will never know. NATO and the UN not for the first time, behaved like paper-tigers and General Mladic with his political chief, Radovan Karadzic, now also on the run for this and other war crimes, might well have attacked the city and slaughtered the Dutch if they stood in his way.
Whatever, it was a black day for the honourable profession of arms, for the Netherlands, the UN and for NATO alike, because all the parties knew that the UN had previously guaranteed its protection for this city and its inhabitants as a ‘safe area’! The Serbs contemptuous of that walked in, opposed only by the lightly armed Bosniaks and were able to brush them aside. They took 37 Dutch soldiers hostage, threatening to kill them if NATO responded with air strikes. Separating the women and infants in the city, they marched the rest of the males away. Murder on a massive scale then followed over the next two days and an estimated 7,000 Moslem men and boys were executed in cold blood and dumped into mass graves, still being uncovered.
The shock and shame in the west brought about a more steely determination and this war was transformed when within three weeks a total of ten divisions of NATO troops, more than 60,000 men were marshalled there in the winter of 1995. It seems that credit must go to the US who stiffened the sinews of the European NATO members and eventually brought the Balkans wars to a close, but not before a further and powerful airborne intervention directly attacking Serbia, as well as military targets in its Moslem province of Kosovo, where Milosevic’s forces had transferred on a wholesale level their ethnic cleansing techniques, to the outrage of the civilized world. The success of this, entirely an air war, owed nearly everything to the US and little to the other allies, again partly because there were disagreements about attacking Serbia.
Traditional European alliances were severely tested. France for example leaned traditionally in the Serbian direction. Public opinion in Greece, a long time NATO member, was outraged at (their fellow Orthodox) Serbians being attacked on behalf of the Yugoslav Moslems (ethnic Albanians). Outside NATO, Russia, historically ’Protector of the Orthodox,’ for a brief moment in time looked as though it might even become involved on Serbia’s side.
WHAT TO DO FOR AN ENCORE
So when in 1991 the USSR suddenly ceased to be and spilt up into 15 sovereign states this left NATO, after congratulating itself, wondering what it was going to do next. The new world order was far from clear – the concept of a hegemonic unilateralist USA only emerged after the 2000 US elections, with the newly elected and comparatively abrasive team, now in charge of the most powerful of the world’s nations
What indeed in such circumstances is NATO this unique force, structured as a defensive alliance against a now dissolved threat, supposed to be for? A gendarmerie for Europe? To be the world’s policeman? An extension and limb of projected US military power? The core of a truly international United Nations military available to the Security Council? After the uprise in terrorism in the late nineties, the concept of an anti-terrorist military force has been added to the list.
With most of the century stretching away ahead of us, this is a question that still does not seem to have been answered - and it should be.
The Balkans were the first test of the Alliance in a gendarmerie role or indeed anywhere in a minor war situation, and although successful eventually, it was ineradicably stained by the horror of Srebrenica. Analysing the reasons for the failure, it seems clear that the rules of engagement left doubt about events that both political and military planners had failed to foresee. But the European politicians did not emerge in glory and it took the eventual smack of firm government from the US, in this case Bill Clinton, to put matters right.
One is also bound to look at the fact that the national military units are not only responsible within the chain of military command, but also have a line through to their home countries who can intervene, as happened here. The failure of the military high command in this case to support their isolated and outgunned unit and impotently leave them to their fate, might also be traced back to a political cause where different member states disagreed on the policy and thus the rules of engagement at a time when troops
were already committed. One would do well to remember additionally that soldiers who rise to the rank of general in peacetime have at the least, political antennae. Their ambition within their national career structure doesn’t cease because for a time they may be seconded to a NATO command.
ARTICLE FIVE’S ONE AND ONLY OUTING
It is easy to see why at the time of 9/11, within 24 hours NATO members rushed to invoke Article Five of the NATO charter (like the 3 musketeers - all for one and one for all), the US rather embarrassedly offered thanks, and a sort of “don’t call us we’ll call you” response. The last thing the US government or military wanted at that point was a complex of negotiated actions to be ticked off by 19 sets of other countries politicians, at a time when the US clearly had the means and the ability to respond alone.
The European and Canadian NATO members, apart from teams of highly-trained special forces, (which had been inserted into Afghanistan, even before the US publicly launched their military support for the Northern Alliance), really had nothing concrete, other than moral support, that they could offer. That is not a criticism of the military, but an evaluation based on the fact that NATO looks towards the US to a great extent to literally ‘do the heavy lifting’ - to provide the heavy transports, the infrastructure of war, etc; apart from fast response units of which in this case the US had enough of their own. It is also believed that the military lesson of Kosovo in the US, was partly the massive imbalance of effort where one member, themselves , reportedly provided 80% of the useful capability in terms of missions flown and fulfilled, but with the frustration that these missions were subject to concensus with 18 other governments. NATO then, was given no big part to play after 9/11. Except now, nearly five years later in Afghanistan, where that has completely changed and the Pentagon are now able to move on without that responsibility
The US top military today probably now regard NATO forces as the Romans would regard auxiliaries from friendly allies. Politically difficult but commanded by one of their own. Able to do scouting, take garrison duties, provide support and release US soldiers from such duties to swell the ranks of those under direct US command immediately available for the Pentagon to redeploy. So it is in Afghanistan. The US after taking troops away for the Iraq invasion had left about 20,000 in Afghanistan. Most of these had spent much of their time within their well-fortified camps held in reserve, ready to be deployed in case the very active special forces, including those of NATO member countries, permanently rotating on patrol, should upset a hornet’s nest of Taleban fighters, or better yet track down the elusive al Qaeda high command.
That hasn’t happened and for political and rotation reasons, the US has reduced its presence by some 4000 troops and arranged that primary responsibility for the support of the Afghan government should go to NATO, in this case in the field under the command of a (British) general responsible not to Washington but to the NATO organization in Brussels and SHAPE in Mons. This perfectly well chimes in with the capabilities of NATO in assisting nation-building, and seeking to establish security in dangerous territory, whilst having the capability of giving sustained combat in the face of attack.
Until Afghanistan, with NATO now in its sixth decade, it seems that no NATO soldier had hitherto been killed ‘in anger’ until now. It is the first time since the Balkans that NATO ground forces have taken on a large territorial mission like this. 20,000 men are deployed, that may not be enough in what is one of the least governable nations on the globe, although the NATO commander claims his force to be adequate. Already there have been casualties and the peace-keeping mission has involved fierce localized fighting. This mission could be said to be partly a ‘world policeman’ role and that of a UN military force, of those prospective ‘categories’ listed above. But at the recent NATO meeting in Paris, (June 2006) the French Defence Minister warned “We have to be sure that we don’t become an organization charged with spreading democracy across the world in the face of the greater Middle- East, China or Russia”. The President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly observed at the same meeting, “ Frankness compels me to say that considerable vagueness appears to reign over the concepts and even the raison d‘etre of our organisation.”
IF NATO DIDN’T EXIST – IT WOULD HAVE TO BE INVENTED
It is certain from the above that unanimity has not yet been achieved as to the way forward, since in 1999, a paper was produced approved by all, on the Alliance’s Strategic Concept. Six years ago in the world before 9/11, it concentrated sensibly on improving military potential but one key change was agreed – to go out of the North Atlantic region under appropriate circumstances. “To stand ready, case by case and by consensus…to contribute to effective conflict prevention and to engage actively in crisis management,” is the way they put it; again, “…Alliance security must also take account of the global context.” “NATO …(offers)…to support…operations under the authority of the UN Security Council, or the responsibility of the OSCE…”
So there in a sense is the agreement, subject always to consensus, to be a limb of the UN and that is their authority for being in Afghanistan. If NATO didn’t exist, it would have to be invented for this role. It is a big, well-disciplined, all professional military force that considers no nation its enemy. Militarily, the US is of course the biggest kid on the block but after the massively unpopular invasion of Iraq, its long term partiality towards Israel in contrast to Palestinians, Syrians etc; its overt and covert oil imperialism, all add up to say that in many parts of the world, it is just not trusted. Conversely, NATO under the aegis of the UN has a fair chance of being regarded with trust in a role such as that in Afghanistan, providing that government there remains legitimate.
Away from the Euro-Atlantic theatre as Afghanistan so spectacularly is, does not mean that NATO has the capability of exercising anything other than a short-term presence in strength say, in Africa. But what it can and should do, is go flat out to train the cadres equivalent to their own within the African Union, so that benighted continent might have a chance at least to regulate its own ‘Balkans’ type internal conflicts, with a modicum of justice and efficiency. As to even more distant theatres like East Asia and Latin America, since no European power, after the retreat from empire, ‘projects’ militarily there, it would seem at this time, to be irrelevant to this alliance. Perhaps the most valuable role is to just exist! To be there to be ready to develop as circumstances themselves develop, over the next few decades. Missions will emerge, some may fit, others not.
The role of NATO in anti-terrorist operations can only be to support the civil power because essentially this is about police and intelligence, border guards, emergency services and co-ordination, which latter with NATO being a trans-national organization may fit its capabilities. Again we are living in the history as it unfolds and our collective defensive alliance must always be prepared to adapt.
For ‘Balkans watchers’ in the 1990’s, it was heartbreaking, sickening to see the Federal army artillery for years pound the city of Sarajevo, and worse, the depredations of heavily armed Serb ‘irregulars,’ like weekend outdoor men going duck hunting, but actually were murder gangs going off to massacre first Croatian and later Bosnian civilians in their homes, (and bragging about it in the bars of Belgrade afterwards). Similarly, the hardmen of the military security ‘police’ that Milosevic sent into Kosovo with license to bomb and shell civilians, in order to drive them out and turn them into refugees in neighbouring countries. The only possible response to this was a military one. Journalists in their reports as well as the victims begged for intervention, the evidence was overwhelming. Western politicians prevaricated – how they prevaricated, but when it finally happened, it was like a western epic with the cavalry showing up in the last reel. Wonderful!
There were many lessons for our political leaders in the Balkan wars - possibly the last that Europe will see, and one of them is that NATO must not now be dissipated, or allowed to wither on the vine. There will always be armed situations too robust for ordinary police. For example, NATO in Albania cleared away road-blocks and the heavily-armed extorting brigands that for years had operated them, within hours of arriving there and taking up their responsibilities. We are collectively ahead of the game because NATO exists and with such a record that they have. It would be political failure of the worst kind if we were not to recognize the value of access to a well tried military alliance like this, that regards no nation as its enemy.
The ‘NATO Strategic Concept’ paper quoted above makes many references to the Atlantic link, a cornerstone of the alliance to be cherished - and in the face of frustration remember the US are also frustrated with the absurdity of the imbalance of effort in the Kosovo operation described above. There is a danger that populist media and others in the US might start to portray NATO as they do the UN, now sadly enfeebled by the US’s attitude towards them. But US politics hold out reasonable hope that a more balanced administration may succeed the present team in Washington as scheduled elections roll out. Many Americans, not only other nationalities, will be praying for just that outcome and perhaps a new beginning to the Euro Atlantic relationship.
Publisher - Clive Lindley