Reading Zbigniew Brzezinski’s new essay from the September/October publication of Foreign Affairs on the future of NATO, inspired me to write my own thoughts regarding this multilateral security organization.
Brzezinski essentially outlines, more or less, the same arguments regarding NATO’s role and future in the post-Cold War era as Henry Kissinger did in his extremely foretelling book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? They both outline the extreme importance of the Trans-Atlantic relationship, and how global power is slowly shifting away from the Atlantic to the Pacific, which makes NATO extremely important as a security organization. Additionally Kissinger asserts that the great danger lies not in the emergence of a new European identity in the form of the European Union, but rather the cause of this identity acting as a counterweight to American cultural influence. In Uncouth Nation, Andrei Markowitz outlines this same problem, and views an emergence of anti-Americanism to be so prevalent in Europe that a new European identity is emerging to counteract the weight of the United States. He is even as provocative as stating that George W. Bush should take his place among Jean Monnet, Robert Schumann, and Jacques Delors, as nothing before the U.S. led invasion of Iraq has ever produced a unified European identity in direct opposition to the United States. For me, the fate and purpose NATO is based upon four fundamental questions.
1. Need for purpose
First, the question must be asked regarding what NATO is supposed to be in this post-Cold War period. During the Cold War NATO had a distinct purpose; to create an alliance in Europe that would dissuade any military action by the Soviet Union and to stop a third World War coming into being. However, no longer do we live in a balance of power mentality, where wars are fought for the geopolitical advantage of territory, rather conflicts are more complex and predominately internal. Some, such as Mary Kaldor, have termed these New Wars, while others have termed them simply asymmetrical conflicts, pointing towards the way they are fought. Regardless, these wars are not a question of State vs. State, but involve non-State actors, such as warlords, that have emerged and do not respect international institutions, the rule of law, or even international law such as the Geneva Conventions. This has created a complexity that NATO must deal with, but so far has not. Additionally Kissinger views this more as a problem of a mission statement, as well as the multilateral character that NATO has acquired, paving way for the need of a consensus and not leaving room for those States with true hegemonic power, such as the United States, to take a substantial lead.
2. Improvement of the EU/NATO relationship
This leads to the second question: How can NATO play nicely with the EU? Though official rhetoric has been that the EU does not intend to replace NATO nor see the organization’s importance decrease, the way the EU decision making process works as well as NATO’s role in the region, has proved otherwise. It has always been argued that the need for the EU to have a common foreign and security policy is essential, the path toward this goal however is hotly debated and left unanswered. The EU has established European Battlegroups that are meant for rapid deployment and deal mainly with peacekeeping and “humanitarian missions.” Unfortunately with the European countries not having homogeneous weapons systems, the contributions by different countries in terms of forces and weapons have proven to be a logistical nightmare (this has however been identified, and plans to make homogeneous types of weapons as well as the means to transport them are in development). Additionally, the confusing nature of the EU in terms of who has what jurisdiction over which pillar, makes NATO’s ability to combat terrorism, or root out the sources that are funding the Taliban in Afghanistan, that more difficult. Information regarding the movement of peoples, bribery, organized crime, weapon smuggling, fraud, etc, are no longer under the jurisdiction of NATO member countries, but under Brussels. This creates a scenario that slows down the decision making process when a NATO action may be needed. Instead of creating a homogeneous, information sharing network that is used toward the completion of a goal, infighting and sore spots emerge under allegations that a territory has been inappropriately crossed and toes have been stepped on. NATO is no longer able to respond together as one unit, but must now go through unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that make its actions ineffective and has proven to divide the alliance rather than strengthen it.
3. NATO’s role in Afghanistan
This leads to the third question of whether or not NATO’s role in Afghanistan is politically sustainable in European countries. Thus far, the ability to properly frame the war in Afghanistan by Europe’s politicians as a serious potential threat to Europe has failed. Many argue that Europe is at a dangerous period of insecurity as it fails to properly integrate its large immigration population. Many point to the fact that many of the terrorists responsible for hijacking the planes on 9/11 were schooled and resided in Europe. Others show the growing resentment of Muslim populations in France and the U.K., as a result of large disparities of income and restrictions to education that disallow social mobility that further endanger Europe’s national security. Regardless of the argument, Afghanistan is as much geopolitically important to Europe, if not more so, as it is to the United States. Thus far, the failure to convey this essential fact to the European public has been dismal. In Germany, where even a limited mandate in Afghanistan exists, the upcoming elections and German passivity to anything regarding the notion of war, are making people nervous and questioning whether or not the number one economic power in Europe will have a future presence in the country. Furthermore, the increasing casualties of British soldiers are making many in the United Kingdom vocally question Britain’s engagement in Afghanistan (a situation that is presently occurring in the United States as well), and could danger the future of the NATO alliance if the U.K. decides to withdrawal. Looking at the wording of news web-sites, such as the BBC, there exists a failure to control the flow of information while offering counterpoints and explaining that such sacrifices are needed. I even remember a lecture I attended at the Chatham House in London concerning just this topic, and it was surprising to me how many were in favor of Britain withdrawing.
4. The Russian question
Finally, the question of how NATO should negotiate and act toward Russia should finally be agreed upon. There is a split among European countries regarding this matter. Many, such as the former Eastern European countries, are just as concerned with an emerging, hostile Russia and its current stranglehold on Europe’s energy security as the United States. Others, such as Germany, view Russia to be a key component in its energy security, and sometimes view it politically acceptable to move closer to Russia and act as a counterweight to U.S. influence.
The future is unclear
NATO is in danger of collapsing. Will it collapse with Afghanistan? It is very unsure. What is certain however is that NATO must define its strategic goals more clearly, and the United States must delicately balance its stance toward an emerging European identity without splitting Europe further and pushing some states more to the East. Above all, it is finally time for Europe to take more of an active role in its own external security, which cannot be achieved without a secure, confident Europe that can act as one unit. There does exist presently a tragedy of the commons, especially regarding Afghanistan, where some countries are not sacrificing as much as others. This, unfortunately, is the cause of any form of collective good. It must be combated and NATO member states must be persuaded to engage conflict areas just like everyone else, if and when NATO decides to act. This is the main task of the United States. The U.S. must lead the call that if a country is a member of NATO it must put in as much effort as everyone else based on its military capabilities. One country cannot make the sacrifice of its citizens, while others are allowed to sit up north and enjoy the Afghan countryside drinking a cold beer. Europe must act as one, and it is up to the United States to allow Europe to make important vital decisions, and make more of an impact in the region. The United States must use its soft power through culture, economics and diplomacy, per Joseph Nye, to strengthen the Trans-Atlantic relationship, while developing a clear, concise foreign policy, per Henry Kissinger, that leaves room for no surprises and gives everyone a fair deal. This will result in the United States to further strengthen the NATO relationship, create a solid framework in dealing with Russia’s worry over NATO’s expansion eastward, and create an environment where NATO’s members can define the role of the most powerful security alliance this world has ever seen. This, naturally, is easier said (or written) than done.