Don't leave reformed NATO to governments and the military
July 10, 2006 8:58 | by Tiny Kox
NATO is changing from a transatlantic defence alliance into an organisation operating on the global level. This transformation is occurring away from the prying eyes of media and parliaments and with absolutely no public debate. This is unacceptable, argues Senator Tiny Kox of the Dutch Socialist Party (SP), the Netherlands' most progressive parliamentary party. The future of NATO is too important to be left to political elites and military leaders.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, since 1949 a defensive transatlantic alliance of North Americans and western Europeans, has in recent years absorbed many of its former Warsaw Pact enemies. In 1999, ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary all joined. They were followed in 2004 by the former Soviet Republics, Baltic states Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, as well as Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and the ex-Yugoslav state of Slovenia. Two other former constituents of non-aligned Yugoslavia - Croatia and Macedonia - together with the once ultra-isolationist Albania, have held talks on possible future membership.
At the same time, the former transatlantic alliance, through all sorts of new alliances and agreements, is well on the way to becoming a global security agency. This development fits with the new strategic concept, agreed on 25th April, 1999 - NATO's fiftieth anniversary - which specifies that that alliance has a right to defend its vital interests, even beyond the territory of its member states. NATO has, since the adoption of this strategic concept, indeed allowed itself to conduct 'crisis management operations', both 'peace-keeping' and 'peace-enforcing', and has been chiefly active outside the territory covered by its treaty, conducting military missions in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Military cooperation agreements have been signed with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. Australian troops have joined NATO's mission in the Afghan province of Uruzgan, coming under Dutch command, and have been active in the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom, which, under pressure from the US government and support for the merger from NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, is gradually fusing into the NATO action. The Dutch NATO boss has, after all, described Afghanistan as a litmus test for the new NATO and is naturally keen to avoid its being sucked into the Afghan quagmire. If the mission should fail, it would, he says, plunge the organisation into a crisis threatening its very existence. Success in pacifying Afghanistan, on the other hand, would prepare the ground for further such actions elsewhere. This would represent a further broadening of the scope of the NATO operation in Iraq, currently limited to training of Iraqi soldiers and police officers, a situation which the Americans are keen to change, keen as they are on the idea of seeing some of their own troops relieved by NATO forces.
Structural cooperation has also been established with the Mediterranean countries of Africa and the Middle East, while Israel exerts ever greater pressure in pursuit of any form whatsoever of integration into the alliance. There is also talk of improving links with South Atlantic states such as South Africa and Brazil. The United Nations and the African Union have in certain cases requested NATO support, while in other instances NATO has offered such support without waiting to be asked. Recently the alliance has offered, for the first time, humanitarian assistance, following an earthquake in Pakistan and a flood in the United States, in the first case taking advantage of the presence of NATO troops in neighbouring Pakistan and, in the second, of NATO ships off the US coast.
New military relations have been established also between NATO and major powers such as Russia and China. Expansion into eastern Europe has created a continental-scale border with the former, and Russian military advisers have been welcomed to NATO's Brussels HQ as permanent representatives. Russian ships take part in the anti-terrorist surveillance operation in the Mediterranean. Through its activities in Afghanistan the alliance has for the first time acquired a border with China. Though this is only 18 kms in length (about 12 miles), it is nevertheless of strategic significance. The Chinese government is primarily interested in military technology. Countries such as France and Germany are keen to deliver this, but it is opposed by the United States - as well, incidentally, at least for the time being, by the Netherlands, whose government is bound by a parliamentary motion originally brought forward by my own party, together with the liberal VVD. Our concerns centred on human rights, but those of the US are more to do with attachment to their ally Taiwan, still seen by China as a rebellious province. Despite this, NATO, with both American and Dutch approval, has entered into staff-level talks with China over coordination and cooperation.
Meanwhile the transatlantic alliance is in strong competition with other international organisations, such as the United Nations, the European Union and the temporary alliances established by the United States. In addition, new confrontations threaten to break out, including with Russia, which remains the world's biggest country in terms of territory and in possession of huge raw material resources. Negotiations over impending membership of NATO are currently being held with the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine. In April 2006 De Hoop Schaffer spoke out in favour of rapid accession. This lead to criticism from Nobel laureate and former Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who sees NATO as attempting to encircle Russia. President Putin also let it be known that he was not amused that following the accession of the Baltic states on his western borders NATO was now looming up to his south. Russia's response was to employ its gas and oil supplies to its neighbouring countries, which are dependent on them, as a systematic means of bringing pressure to bear.
New relations, new treaties
Speaking in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia at the end of April, De Hoop Scheffer laid before NATO foreign ministers his vision for the transformation of the alliance. The new NATO would be no 'global alliance' but an 'alliance with global partners' which could be active on every continent. This broadening was sought primarily by the US. In addition, work would be done to bring about a closer connection with countries such as Sweden, Finland and Switzerland. At the NATO summit in Riga, Estonia, to be held this coming November, the organisation's transformation will be the central theme. The Dutch government - which may, however, change before the summit takes place, elections having been scheduled for immediately before it - is interested in making the new NATO into, in addition to its current role as a military alliance, the most important transatlantic political forum. According to this view, the new NATO is the most important 'global security player', bringing security and stability on a world-wide level and should therefore be developing new alliances with countries on other continents. In addition to a NATO Response Force already declared to be fully operational, the Dutch want to see as soon as possible a NATO Training Force to offer instruction to armed forces of countries outside the alliance's territory. Lastly, they are urging the strengthening and deepening of ties between NATO and the EU. There is, argues foreign Minister Ben Bot, no need to revise the 1949 Treaty, far-sighted as it was.
A new strategic concept, better adapted to current needs, is, however, in the offing. How it will look remains a secret, but behind closed doors there is already circulating within the alliance a set of 'political guidelines' concerning the new situation of the political-military organisation in the 21st century. The statement by Bot, which echoes the position of ambassadors to NATO from the US, France and Germany, is in fact motivated by the fact that any new treaty would have to be ratified by all member states. This would be far from straightforward, agreement between the US and UK on the one hand and France and Germany on the other being, according to NATO watchers, difficult to achieve. NATO officials early this year expressed to members of its parliamentary assembly the fear that a new treaty could offer the United States an opportunity to forswear its current duty under the existing text to come to the assistance of European member states. The US would rather see any new treaty organisation designed according to its own views, or so Paris and Berlin fear. A new treaty might also lead to a public debate over the best way to organise and guarantee global security, a debate which most governments wish to avoid, especially after the experience of the European Constitution. Many members of the public have very different ideas about NATO's future from those which prevail amongst their leaders.
A new structure, a new debate?
Anyone taking stock of all of these developments can only conclude that the old NATO has in reality ceased to exist. Supporters as much as opponents need to take this new reality into account. No serious threat to the member states from a foreign power any longer exists; terrorism certainly presents a threat, but the question is very much whether this can be effectively combated by means of NATO's massive military might. Experience to date would suggest otherwise. On the other hand, there is a real need for international agreements on global security arrangements, agreements aimed at preventing as far as is possible armed conflicts and terrorist threats. In drawing up such agreements, consideration should be given to the role of the United Nations and of its Security Council, as well as to the position of military alliances such as NATO and to how these might be prevented from going to war without UN approval. The alliances must be prepared to listen to the UN, instead of rejecting the idea that the UN stands above them, as have the Americans in the case of NATO.
The probability is that NATO will seize the opportunity presented by its sixtieth anniversary in 2009 to complete the now-beginning process of renewal of its goals, strategy, resources and decision-making. This gives us three years to hold a broad public debate. This would be a first, because NATO has always been a political affair but never a public one. The Netherlands is not the only country for which "Into NATO" was the creed of successive governments, as well as an inescapable assumption for many citizens in the era of the Cold War; nor is my country the only one in which "Out of NATO" was an equally obvious choice for that section of the public which saw the division of the world into blocs and the accompanying arms race as presenting deadly dangers for peace and an inadmissible threat to the wellbeing and welfare of the world's population. For such people, NATO's support for repressive regimes in Turkey, Portugal and Greece bore this out. Yet neither the Dutch nor any other people was ever given any real say as to what might be the most desirable security structure. Now the old NATO is disappearing, we should seize the chance to discuss what should replace it. Peace and security are too important to be left any longer to governing politicians and military leaders.
A safer, more peaceful world
The question is no longer whether we should be in or out of the old NATO but rather what sort of new global security structure we would like to see. Do we resign ourselves to NATO's surreptitious development from regional defence organisation to a global interventionist alliance under the direction of the United States? Or should we work on the assumption that our countries' military capacities could be put to better use? In the case of the Netherlands this would mean pursuing goals in keeping with a national constitution which obliges our military "to further the international rule of law". In every case it would mean putting peace and security before the protection of the political and economic might of a limited - and rich - section of the world from the rest of it. Should we decide that our troops should henceforth be deployed only with the agreement of our national parliaments and at the request of the United Nations? Will we give priority to the prevention of political-economic crises rather than military crisis interventions? Will we commit ourselves to bringing an end to the grotesque fact that globally almost twenty times more is spent on armaments and soldiers ($1,000bn.) than is devoted to development aid ($50bn.)? Will we dedicate ourselves to the worldwide rejection of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), not only in 'rogue states' but in all countries, including our own? By doing so we would not only reduce the chance of WMDs falling into the hands of terrorists, of enormous catastrophes and a global war of destruction, we would also save huge sums of money which could then be devoted to world-wide reconstruction and development. Should we also be working to make our countries pursue international agreements on well-considered demilitarisation, by which poor countries are spurred on to real development instead of improving their armed strength. With scarcely five percent of the current global military budget the Millennium Goals, agreed by the UN in 2000 for achievement by 2015, could be fulfilled. These goals include reducing hunger and poverty by 50%, world-wide primary education for everyone,lowering of the rate of infant mortality by two-thirds, lowering of the percentage of mothers who die during childbirth by three-quarters, equal rights for men and women, a sustainable environmental policy and continuing global development cooperation. Shouldn't we be converting money for weapons into money for development because this turns out to be the best investment for the twenty-first century.
In the coming few years these questions will be answered. In the Netherlands my own party will be attempting to make an active contribution to this process, generating creative proposals as well as mobilising concerned citizens behind the idea of a safer Netherlands in a more peaceful world. We need such an effort to be made in every NATO member state, and beyond, for this is a responsibility we all share.
Tiny Kox was formerly National Secretary of the Socialist Party of the Netherlands and is now leader of its group in the 'Eerste Kamer', the Dutch Senate. He is a member of NATO's parliamentary assembly, as well as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).