Global security: too vital an issue to be left to NATO and the Right


March 25, 2008 10:36 | by Tiny Kox

The Left has an important role to play in the debate over NATO's future, argues Dutch Senator Tiny Kox of the Socialist Party. Calling for their countries to withdraw and NATO to be disbanded is no longer enough.

By its 60th anniversary in 2009 NATO must have a new Atlantic Charter, said Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in his recent speech in Brussels. This new charter should provide the basis for a new strategic concept, which must be ready by the following year. Developments worldwide at the beginning of this century have been such that the old strategic concept from the 1990s has, in the judgement of the Secretary General, been overtaken.

In that he is totally correct. The world has changed, so the architecture of its security must change too. The Secretary General sees a continuing role for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. But he understands also that in the future more countries will want to participate in decision-making over global security arrangements. Already countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan are making an important contribution to the ISAF/NATO operations in Afghanistan. There is a political-military partnership between Russia and NATO, which amongst other things takes the form of Russian participation in NATO patrols in the Mediterranean. The United States, NATO and Russia consult over the permissibility or otherwise of the building of a new rocket shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. At the forthcoming NATO summit in Bucharest, to be held at the beginning of April, representatives of the NATO member states could once again be joined at the negotiating table at one time or another by some thirty-five other government leaders, amongst whom will be the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd. In Bucharest they will hear more about NATO's plans for a new Atlantic Charter and a new strategic concept.

Two years ago then Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, in answer to a question I put to him in the Senate, said that he had not yet given any thought to changes to the strategic concept. One of the reasons was that it would not be so straightforward, he felt, to reach a consensus on the matter embracing all member states. In this he confirmed my suspicions. This difficulty is logical, given the great differences which have developed since the end of the Cold War within and between the NATO states and in the face of the rise of new threats. Iraq - the war which has now lasted longer for the Americans than did World War II - almost split NATO. And over the approach to the war in Afghanistan deep divisions exist, for example between the United States and Germany. The construction of a rocket shield, moreover, is dividing NATO countries just as severely, while over the manner in which the costs of NATO operations should be shared out there is as yet no sign of any agreement. Count along with these sources of friction the desire of non-member states, which nevertheless are participating in NATO operations, to be included in discussion. Add to this the need at every step to preserve a balance with the Russian 'partner', and the difficulties raised by the question of how to arrive at a new Atlantic Charter with broad support, one which is accompanied by a new strategic concept, become clear.

It is in precisely such a situation that the need not to limit debate over the future of NATO and, along with that, the future of the global architecture of security, to back rooms and the corridors of power which join them, becomes evident. Secretary General De Hoop Scheffer proposed at last year's meeting of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly in Reykjavik the organisation of a broad public and parliamentary debate. This was necessary, in his view, principally because of declining support in NATO member states for the organisation's activities. But the importance of such a debate encompasses far more than that. The world's security is a matter for the world as a whole and for all of its inhabitants, whether within or beyond the NATO countries. It is therefore of the utmost importance to support the Secretary General's call and as soon as is possible make a start on such a debate.

In this debate should figure the question of how the dominant position NATO enjoys in terms of military forces and equipment - and this means, principally, the United States - can be reconciled with the actual wishes and interests of other countries, including those far away from the Atlantic continents.

Precisely because reaching a consensus within the NATO countries will not be easy, it is perhaps the best moment to pursue a wider, global consensus, at least over the broad lines. This should offer an important role to the United Nations and its Security Council.

De Hoop Scheffer acknowledges the global dimension of the new NATO but denies that the organisation wants to become the world's policeman. He has spoken in the past of NATO as 'global provider of security', which is surely nothing other than 'global director of security'. If he wants to see this come about, then he must extend to other countries and other international organisations the right to discuss the future of the global security architecture and a sustainable new balance of powers in the 21st century.. Such a debate would undoubtedly be one of the most difficult ever conducted, but that is no reason to avoid having it. If you want to make global agreements to prevent new threats, criseis and wars, and to bring an end to existing threats, crises and wars, then the courage to begin such a debate is an absolute necessity.

Left political parties can play an important role in this debate as 'natural' opponents of the old NATO and 'natural' supporters of global security arrangements based on international law. They must also undergo a process of development, therefore, from their earlier position of calling for their countries to leave NATO and for NATO to cease to exist, to support for a situation in which their countries become integral parts of a global security structure in which the NATO countries, together with past enemies and opponents and current partners, can each find its place.

Tiny Kox is the leader of the Socialist Party group in the Netherlands' Senate. He is also a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and Chair of the United European Left in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.