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Archive for the ‘NATO’ Category

Lessons learned from the past

In Democracy, Europe, NATO, Russia on September 14, 2009 at 8:02 am

A friend of mine passed along a link to The Iron Curtain Diaries, a project undertaken by journalists, photographers, and a cartoonist who travelled along the former “iron curtain,” interviewing people about their feelings of the past and their prospects for the future. I’m usually not a big fan of flash sites, but this one is well designed and very informative. Plus it’s very easy to access media content, such as interviews, video and text and it’s all streamlined. It’s definitely worth a look and a showcase in how the internet can create an interactive experience and give museums a run for their money.

But bouncing on that, it seems academia has been in an old “Eastern Europe” kick. It probably has something to do with the fact that the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall is right around the corner, but regardless it’s useful to point out a few articles to spark your interest, in case any of you has or wish to have some knowledge on the subject.

The first is an article straight out of Foreign Policy by Edward Lucas. Edward Lucas is one, if not the lead scholar of the region formerly known as the Soviet Union, which is illustrated by the fact that he’s a regular contributer to the Economist. He has a new book out called The New Cold War, which seems to be getting some good reviews and I did put it on my “to-read” list. The article outlines many of the problems that the Baltic states, (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) are facing in terms of large amount of government debt, corruption, and a tourist industry that is nearly collapsing. The article is very informative, and goes beyond politics and economics and brings to light some interesting cultural tidbits about the countries. First, these states were considered to be the “winners” of the post-Cold War who were able to quickly transform their economies from one driven by a strong, central government to a market economy. This was no easy task, and, as Lucas outlines, some of the Baltic countries were more successful than the others. Unfortunately they were hit very hard by the financial crisis, exposing their high government debt and had to quickly rely on a partial bailout from the European Union. The second point is that with their collapse and fear of them becoming failed states, it would be quite easy for Russia to regain a strong foothold in the region and bully them away from the West. Yes they are in NATO and the European Union, but, here my last point, it surprises me that more attention hasn’t being given to the state of affairs in the Baltic states, as they not only have a high strategic geopolitical importance, but could serve a precedent of a country, or countries, failing in the EU. If they do fall and are gobbled up by an aggressive Russia, what message could this send to other states who view the European Union as a given to ensure their national security? What about new states that are currently entering the mix, like Croatia (Slovenia has finally dropped its stance of blocking any chance of it entering) or the rest of the former Yugoslavia who view the road to the EU as a guarantee for prolonged peace? Second, the thesis of the article seems to be that these countries are disappearing. Not literally of course, but no-one seems to be paying any attention to them or taking into account the seriousness of the situation. Whether it’s NATO who, Lucas argues, never really took to providing the Baltic states a competent military presence in face of a Russian threat or tourists who seem to have abandoned the region (apparently it’s so bad, that employees in the service industry decided not to show up for work), it seems as if the region is in danger of disappearing.

To be sure, the old Eastern bloc has come a very long way since 1989. Many have transitioned to market led economies, are democracies, follow (more or less) the rule of law, and are success stories. However, it is a fickle thing as the financial crisis has demonstrated and it is easier to destroy than to create. The EU has its hands full to be sure. Hungary has proven to be very insolvent and is in deep financial trouble. The Czech Republic and Poland have their troubles, but from the material I’ve read and at least from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem to be as dire as what Lucas portrays in the Baltic region.

What impresses me the most and makes me very hopeful for the current state of the world, is that if one lesson I have learned from these accounts of success and stories form the Iron Curtain Diaries, it is that there exists a possibility to put aside differences and high points of tension that are historic and culturally deep. The Economist singles out the relations between the Ukraine and Poland being very close and productive, despite both of their turbulent histories and the autocracies they have committed against each other. They managed to create a dialogue, acknowledge what happened, and are moving forward together.

This proves that it’s worth being hopeful and something we should think about as the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall approaches. Despite war or societies being cut off by oppressive regimes, there is still hope. Not for it to end, but for the time afterwards, when all is said and done and the smoke has been cleared from the battlefield. It is possible to rebuild and heal any scars.


A multilateral nightmare

In Afghanistan, European Union, Foreign Policy, NATO, Russia, The United States on August 28, 2009 at 11:10 am

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.