NATO’s crisis

… Hint: It isn’t just the organization’s massively long over-reach in Afghanistan, as revealed in the ever-mounting casualties among western forces and the continuing, dire crises of insecurity and pauperization through which the Afghan people are living (or not), now, nearly seven whole years after the US invaded their country…
It’s also the whole range of questions raised about NATO’s purpose and usefulness by the whole Georgia crisis.
Many militarists here in the US have been arguing vociferously (a) that the existing NATO members should now ‘fast-track’ Georgia’s entry into the alliance and (b) that Russia would have been completely deterred from the counter-attack it launched against Georgia if Georgia had already been a member of NATO.
Excuse me?
Imagine if Georgia had already been in NATO on August 7. That was the day Pres. Saakashvili broke an existing ceasefire when he launched a rocket attack against targets in South Ossetia who included Russian peacekeepers serving there under the auspices of OSCE.
Russia’s military response to that can certainly be described as disproportionate (though not nearly as much so as, say, Israel’s assault against Lebanon in 2006.) But it was not completely unjustified… One could also describe it, in the circumstances that prevailed in the region over preceding weeks, as predictable with quite a high level of certitude.
So if Georgia was already a NATO member, would NATO as a whole have come to Saak’s rescue once the Russians counter-attacked? Or failing NATO-as-a-whole, would individual NATO members have sent in enough troops to push the Russians back out and “punish” them?
(NATO’s ground-rules of “all for one and one for all” would indicate that it should be NATO as a whole that responds… But we could look at the other option, too.)
In a word, no.
And that’s the real crisis of NATO. It doesn’t actually seem to have any point any more. And that is probably what has gotten “front-line” states like Poland and the Czech Republic into such a tizzy right now.
A good part of the reason that NATO wouldn’t have come to Saak’s aid even if Georgia were already in it is that it couldn’t have done so effectively because of the deep bleeding of its lifeblood and capabilities over Iraq and Afghanistan. The US military is the absolutely necessary backbone of NATO. But now, US ground forces are stretched to break-point. US military airlift, sealift, global recon capabilities, and long-distance attack platforms are all just about fully tied up trying to keep the Iraq and Afghanistan missions going.
And no, no-one in the US– as far as I know– was about to launch a nuclear first strike against Russia over Ossetia.
Nor should we forget that the political infrastructure of NATO– the web of relationships among its members– was rent in two by Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and remains in very bad shape because of the demands placed by Bush regarding Afghanistan…
So the Bush administration’s decisions to (a) invade Iraq and (b) frog-march as many NATO members as possible into the mission in Afghanistan have caused NATO’s crisis to manifest itself with particular sharpness right now.
But there are deeper problems, too… Mainly those connected with the phenomena of mission creep and/or mission dissolution. (Often linked phenomena in troubled organizations, I note.)
NATO was founded in 1949. Its founding goal– as its first Secretary-General, Lord Ismay, once famously said– was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” (I got the attribution on that great quote from Wikipedia, whose entry on NATO is pretty good.)
So what do you do, if you’re a western leader, in 1991-93, when first the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union itself collapses?
Do you hold a victory party, dissolve NATO, and then work with Russia and all the former WP/Soviet states to build a new, much better set of relationships among all these countries? (You might call that the Abraham Lincoln approach.)
You could have used OSCE as the main framework for this, given its significant history and its broad, trans-Eurasian and even transatlantic reach.
Or there were those, back in the early 1990s, who proposed inviting Russia (and presumably all the other formerly -Soviet countries) to join NATO.
Andrew Meier reminds us that that idea aroused significant interest from Boris Yeltsin, who in 1991 described it as his “long-term political aim.” Also, that even Vladimir Putin, during his first few days in office in March 2000, still expressed support for that aim.
But Presidents GHW Bush, Clinton, and GW Bush have never been able to get their heads around that idea of Russian integration into the transatlantic system on the “equal” basis that both Yeltsin and Putin insisted on. Indeed, they and the vast majority of the US political elite seem, even after the fall of the Soviet Union, to have stuck rigidly to the idea that the idea of NATO is “to keep the Russians out” of the system.
But given that the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union had both collapsed, there then arose the tricky political problem of how do you “sell” NATO, and the non-trivial costs involved in keeping the old war-horse going, to its sometimes skeptical non-US members? The watchword in some US circles at the time was that NATO had to either go “out of area”– that is, take on tasks outside its traditional Central European (counter-Russian) area– or it would have to go “out of business.”
As we can see from a glance at the map, Afghanistan is massively “out of area”!
So that’s one of the big differences between NATO and OSCE. NATO’s goal was to keep Russia out while OSCE’s goal, since the very beginning, has been to keep the Russians and their allies well integrated within the transatlantic/Eurasian part of the world system.
The other difference– which is huge, and fundamental– is that NATO is overwhelmingly a military alliance. Military action is its entire raison d’etre. (Hence, the need for ‘enemies’, and the shock with which most NATO leaders view any suspicion that Russia might be included in the membership… After all, if Russia is not an ‘enemy’, what is NATO for? Ah, good question.)
OSCE, by contrast, seeks to use numerous networks of relationships in the non-military sphere to try to keep its 56 member nations together, to build up support for common norms and for the institutions that embody and further them. One key one being the norm of finding nonviolent ways to resolve thorny political problems..
Hence, the role that OSCE’s been playing for the past 17 years– including inside Georgia– in midwifing and monitoring ceasefire and demilitarization agreements among and sometimes within its member states.
So here’s my proposal. Let’s declare the Cold War over? Let’s disband NATO. And rather than looking at ways to further encircle, ‘contain’, or push back Russia, let’s work hard at strengthening the norm of nonviolent conflict resolution across the board, including by seeking stronger roles for the UN, at the global level, and for OSCE, in the areas that it covers.
One good first step: OSCE’s announcement yesterday that it will be increasing the number of unarmed military monitoring officers it has inside Georgia by “up to 100.” Twenty of these monitors should be deployed “immediately.”

8 thoughts on “NATO’s crisis”

  1. Be careful of what you ask for — you might get it.
    1. NATO statement: “We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual” with Russia.”
    2. news report: Rice said NATO had spoken “with strength and unity” in its decision to suspend regular contacts with Russia.
    3. news report: Moscow plans “to freeze all military cooperation with NATO and allied countries”
    4. US State Dept: “If this indeed is the case, it would be unfortunate. We need to work with Russia on a range of security issues”
    Foggy Bottom is now Comedy Central, led by “Russian expert” Rice, the *worst SecState ever.*

  2. ‘contain’, or push back Russia, let’s work hard at strengthening the norm of nonviolent conflict resolution across the board,

    Rice: Military power is ‘not the way to deal in the 21st century.’»

    So if that the case Dr. Rice why you find better solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan instead using massive power killing arresting people making them refugees and assassinations and all Iran fault now according to newest US report!!!

    Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will endorse a $20 billion plan to substantially increase the size of Afghanistan’s army and will also restructure the military command of American and NATO forces in response to the growing Taliban threat, senior Pentagon and military officials said Thursday.

  3. Cancel NATO — excellent idea! Next, cancel the “War on Terror.” The “war” can easily be replaced by cooperative police actions among European nations. A “War on Terror”, aside from antagonizing local populations, emboldens insurgencies with an inflated sense of their importance. A stupid idea, that encourages stupid thinking among our political elites.

  4. Stratfor of course has a fascinating insight
    Germany: Merkel’s Choice and the Future of Europe
    Stratfor Today » August 20, 2008 | 2216 GMT
    As countries the world over begin reassessing their relationships with a resurging Russia and a bogged-down United States, Germany in particular has some tough choices to make. While Germany has a place in the European Union and NATO, Stratfor sources have said that Russia has offered Germany a security agreement — and German Chancellor Angela Merkel knows how vulnerable her country is to Russia.
    As countries around the world rethink their positions and ties with the resurgent Russia and the bogged-down United States, one of the countries with the largest dilemma is Germany. Unlike many former Warsaw Pact or Soviet states that were forced to adjust dramatically and quickly to a Russia on the move, Germany’s geographic location, ties to Moscow and history as a leader and divider of Europe make it the next state to have to make a tough decision. Berlin will have to decide whether it wants to continue acting like an occupied state and relying on the NATO-Washington security guarantee, or act on its own and make its own security pacts with Moscow. In the past, Germany and Russia traditionally have cooperated when they were not at war with each other — something that makes geopolitical sense but terrifies the rest of Europe.
    The world changed Aug. 8 as Russia proved its strength when it launched a military campaign in Georgia and the West did not come to Tbilisi’s aid. Moscow’s muscle-flexing in its former Soviet state forced many countries to reassess their positions immediately by either solidifying their ties to Russia — like Armenia and Belarus — or turning to Washington to guarantee its security — like Poland. Naturally, former Soviet and Warsaw Pact countries were the first ones to react; not only are they closer to Russia, they also have the most to gain or lose in the short term.
    But during the Cold War, one country — Germany — was divided between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. This put it in a very different position from most of Europe. During that time, a defeated Germany not only was split and occupied, but also was not allowed to field a meaningful independent foreign or military policy. Instead, all of its energies were harnessed into the European Union and NATO. During the decade following its reunification, Germany has slowly crawled its way back to being a normal state allowed to have an opinion.
    Or Germany could act like its own state and create its own security guarantee with Russia — something that would rip NATO apart. Berlin does not have to make a decision right now, but it does need to start mulling its options and the consequences.
    Rumors are floating around Moscow that a discussion between the Kremlin and Berlin on such a topic is occurring — not that a deadline has been presented, just that a dialogue on the issue is under way. Of course, such a discussion would be tightly guarded until Berlin actually made a decision. On Aug. 15, as the war between Georgia and Russia wound down, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in Sochi, but the meeting was highly tense (as shown during their press conference).
    Germany acted peculiar during the entire Georgian-Russian conflict. When the war began, Berlin issued a fluff statement on “needing to find a solution” between the two states; however, as the war escalated, Merkel fell silent on the issue. Many within the German government released statements in favor of either Russia or Georgia, but it is Merkel who calls the shots in the country — and she was waiting for her meeting with Medvedev before speaking

  5. Frank
    That Stratfor report sounds very Amerocentric to me. US people love disparaging the EU. I don’t think Europeans would take that point of view.

  6. I think George Friedman’s (Stratfor) analysis there is fascinating. Germany and France have both played intriguing roles in the present crisis. Yes, NATO’s consensus is eroding very fast.

  7. Thanks Helena
    The German Economy depends on exports and the difficulty with the US policy over the last few years is that they want to make war on the places Germany wants to export to.
    With something like 40% of their domestic gas consumption coming from Russia and substantial numbers of the population in the former East germany finding VV Putin more palatable than George Bush continuing to follow a US lead makes less and less sense. There is no reason for somone from Leipzig to send his children off to fight for the interests of US and UK oil companies in Central Asia.
    Technology transfer in exchange for access to Russian markets would suit both sides. Germany would perhaps become the capital market for reinvestment of Russias oil funds.( and also the Gulf soverign wealth funds?)
    The deal seems to be that France gets the Mediterranean countries to develop, the Germans get Central Europe and the Balkans and it is a free for all in Turkey and the Caucuses.
    Russia itself doesn’t have the tank armies it once had so for the foreseeable future they are unlikely to rollback across frontiers towards the Rhine.
    You only have to look at the picture of Cologne around the Dom in 1945 to see why the Germans are reluctant to think of going to war.
    As Friedman says
    These two considerations together should cause concern in most of Europe. Since Germany and Russia are the two big powers on the block and want to keep any other power (like the United States) from their region, it would make sense for Berlin and Moscow to want to forge an agreement to divide up the neighborhood — such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which had secret protocol dividing the independent countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania into either the Nazi or Soviet spheres of influence. Most of those countries have since sided with Washington, but if Germany and Russia make some sort of deal, it will be open season on American influence in Europe.
    All of this is not to say that Berlin is about to flip on the West. It has time to mull its decision. The point is that Germany is not the solid rock of NATO and the European Union that the West assumes it is. Russia’s recent actions mean that history is catching up with the Germans and that a choice will eventually come. Everything depends on Berlin’s choice between maintaining its dependence on the United States or flipping the entire balance structure in Europe by striking a deal with Russia. Berlin has been itching to reassert itself as a real and unbound power on the continent once again. However, though it has new economic and political strength, Germany is in many ways more vulnerable than it has been in more than 60 years. Berlin’s choice will shape the future of Europe and possibly the world.

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