Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NATO: Divergent Interests Plague Alliance

This article is written by Brother Saqib Bukhari

28 heads of state convened in Lisbon, Portugal, today to discuss a new ‘Strategic Concept' for the North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO) as a means to deal with the threats, issues and challenges it faces in the next decade. A lot of speculation is circulating amongst western academics in relation to the end result of such a convention and how it will shape global politics.


A number of statements have been made by many a policy maker concerning the efficacy and purpose of NATO and such statements have ranged from the institution being an outdated coalition to a necessary mechanism in order to deal with security issues and the like. For one to better understand the current reality of NATO as well as its future forecasts, it is imperative to appreciate its history based on the causes for its inception in 1949.

Following the end of WWII in 1945, European countries faced an array of problems. Economic hardship, inflation and industrial stagnation led to a host of societal problems as poverty increased and living standards rapidly decreased. This concern was coupled by the presence of an assertive Soviet Union in the east that espoused the Communist ideology. This particular era in history represented the watershed moment in international politics as it marked the end of the conflict of nation states, in the conventional sense, to a conflict of ideologies. This conflict became known as the Cold War

The Cold War was a tense era as two rival viewpoints, namely Capitalism and Communism battled for supremacy. Such a situation meant that European nations were beholden to the United States for defence and financial assistance in the form of the Marshall Plan to bolster economic recovery, giving Europe time to craft the European Union and expansive welfare states. For the Americans, this was a minor inconvenience and a small price to pay as the potential of a Soviet-dominated Europe would have combined Europe's technology and industrial expertise with Soviet natural resources, manpower and ideology, thereby creating a continent directly threatening the US.

The inception of NATO was solely to:-

Protect Europe (and the wider region) from Communism

To prevent the balance of power shifting from the US and Europe to the USSR

To create regional power blocs to stand united to effectively deal with threats that may hinder the West's strategic and economic interests

The above 3 points can be simplified by stating that a bloc needed to be created as a mechanism in the midst of an ideological warfare and NATO filled that need and void.

During the Cold War, the presence of 50 Soviet and Warsaw Pact armoured divisions and nearly 2 million troops to the West of the Urals, justified the creation of NATO.

The issue now at hand is that the Communist threat is gone; however, as we have heard many a time, the red menace has been replaced by the green crescent and one can safely deduce that NATO will be looking to form a more pronounced alignment of its policies and strategies to protect its ideology of Capitalism from a revived Islam rippling throughout the world. However divergent interests and threat perceptions of its constituent states has created a deep tension in NATO in terms of a strategy that is best suited to deal with the threat.

To illustrate this point, one should analyze the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan as part of its war on terror and understand how the operation in the region (including Pakistan) is deeply controversial and is acting as a thorn for many of the states involved. It is of no secret that NATO presence in the region is geared to curtailing the possibility of an Islamic government taking power. This sentiment is further echoed by a former British General, Sir Richard Dannatt, who in an interview expressed his concern that an ‘islamist agenda, which if we don't oppose it and face it off in Southern Afghanistan or Afghanistan or in South Asia, then frankly that influence will grow... to the high- water mark of the Islamic Caliphate'

His statement typifies the concerns that have been voiced by politicians, academics and policy makers regarding the aspirations of the masses in the Muslim World to live according to Islamic governance.

The point of contention, however, is whether or not the ‘Islamist threat' will be a pressing issue to the point of devising a mission statement that will explicitly take such a reality into consideration and become part of its core activity or will it lie in a peripheral space. The reasons for such potential disagreements amongst NATO states lie in the following:

Its mission in Afghanistan is deeply unpopular

The NATO alliance seems deeply split in relation to the issue of Afghanistan and its presence in the region. This split is made clear by a recent speech by U.S Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, who stated that NATO was in ‘a state of crisis' and levied much of the blame on the European's lack of commitment to deploying troops to fight the Taliban and other mujahideen groups in the region. Essentially a two-tiered alliance has formed, where certain countries such as U.S, Britain and Canada have committed fully to the tasks at hand and are willing to employ and implement the NATO values but there are other countries that are reluctant to toe the line.

The reasons for such reluctance are many fold; a) a number of states including Germany cannot get public or parliamentary support to deploy troops under the NATO guise, simply because the war has been viewed with great scepticism on part of the Europeans who considered it to be a ill thought out objective coupled with the fact that the Neoconservative Bush Doctrine was unpopular and its war mongering aspirations were detrimental to European interests and threat perceptions. Secondly, the European experience of 2 world wars has left a bitter taste in the mouths of policy makers and public so to fully commit to the mission is resulting in an unsure hesitancy. A third difference is predominantly methodological; all NATO countries recognise the threat of an Islam taking political assertion but for most European states, such revivalism is not one to be countered with warfare but rather at home using domestic anti-terror policies, law enforcement initiatives and educational enactments in order to create a friendlier version of Islam, a secular European Islam so to speak that can be projected to other parts of the Muslim world.

Differences on Russia

After the demise of the Soviet Union and the post cold-war era, NATO began to integrate the central and east European countries within its structure. This further weakened the alliance as each new state had differing self interests and threat perceptions which subsequently led to a lack of consensus on many issues. The main point of tension was, and still is, the role of Russia in the region. NATO's enlargement to the Baltic States combined with the pro-Western Georgian and Ukrainian colour revolutions - all occurring in a one-year period between the end of 2003 and end of 2004 raised suspicions in Moscow. Russia viewed the NATO expansion to the Baltic States and former Warsaw Pact countries as a vehicle by which the U.S can extend its sphere of influence in the post Soviet space and she has found this unacceptable. As a result, the Kremlin has countered the threat by amplifying its influence in Central Asia.

For the European countries, especially Germany, an aggressive Russia is a peripheral issue and not warranting concern because of energy and economic deals between the 2 entities. Secondly, the major European powers do not wish to witness another type of cold-war. The U.S on the other hand is concerned about a resurgent Russia, however, is over-stretched in its commitments primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, at present it remains a low priority but as Russia looks to expand its interests, the U.S will have no choice but to act. When the U.S does fully reawaken to the Russian resurgence, it will find that only a portion of NATO shares a similar view of Russia. That portion is in the Central European countries that form NATO's new borderlands with Russia, for whom a resurgent Moscow is the supreme national threat. By contrast, France and Germany - Europe's heavyweights - do not want another Cold War splitting the Continent.

The above is not an exhaustive account of the divisions and tensions in NATO but it suffices to articulate the problems the alliance will have in deciding where to align its policies for the next decade. For the U.S, its efforts will be geared towards bringing the member countries to the consensus that greater military employments need to be conducted and it will use the threat of a ‘radical Islam' to muster the support and political will. The E.U countries however, are far more reluctant to engage in unpopular wars because of a lack of public support coupled with defence cuts as a result of the recession engulfing the continent. The most likely outcome is that the U.S will continue to be the big player and will develop a two pronged strategy vis a vis the Muslim World. It will essentially divide its policies along the hard-soft power spectrum. The hard power will be exhibited by the core NATO members such as Britain and warfare will continue to persist, whereas the more reluctant E.U countries will be happy to be utilised as the soft power arm of U.S affairs, thereby be engaged in intellectually challenging the rise of Islam.

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