Decline of The West
by George Szamuely

October 27, 2000

NATO and the New Europe

Nothing illustrates better the parochialism of our elite than the widespread condemnations that greeted Condeleezza Rice’s recent interview with the New York Times There were predictable fulminations from the predictable quarters at her suggestion that George W. is considering pulling US troops out of the Balkans and allowing Europeans to assume responsibility for security in their own backyard. "Governor Bush’s proposal would be more than a major untested shift in America’s foreign policy for the last half-century," Al Gore declared, "It would be one that could jeopardize fragile alliances. It would be a damaging blow to NATO. I believe it demonstrates a lack of judgment and a complete misunderstanding of history to think that America can simply walk away from security challenges on the European Continent, which is, after all, a core American interest in the world." Gore also trotted out the favorite cliché of America’s champions of NATO: "The whole history of NATO has shown that without America’s leadership and involvement, NATO is not willing to act." What exactly is the point of an alliance that only acts when bullied by the United States is never explained. But Gore was not done yet. He piled on dark, apocalyptic images. There would be a questioning of American leadership of NATO. Such questioning over time "would lead to the collapse of NATO and eventually threaten the peace in Europe."

Then it was the turn of the hideous harridan to let fly. "This is damaging to American foreign policy," she spluttered. It would send a "very dangerous signal." What would Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica say? The poor man "is putting together his new coalition." The Bush proposal would give heart to "anti-democratic forces in each of those countries who may feel they just need to hold on until American troops leave." One would have thought that if Kostunica were a genuine democrat, he would welcome the departure of US troops, if only to demonstrate his vaunted "independence." The former NATO Supreme Commander, the demented General Wesley Clark, also got in on the act. If the United States were to end its participation in the Balkans, he warned, "we would lose influence." "Influence" with whom and to what end he did not explain.

The media, as usual, took their lead from US Government officials. Needless to say, the New York Times beat all comers for fatuousness. "The job of securing peace in Bosnia and Kosovo is far from complete," an editorial sternly warned the other day. Moreover, "the NATO alliance has been built on a concept of shared risk that is inconsistent with a total withdrawal of American ground forces from Balkan peacekeeping." Then with a disregard for logic typical for the in-house organ of contemporary liberal sanctimony, the Times praised the Clinton Administration for having "done a good job of insisting that America’s share of peacekeeping responsibilities be steadily reduced." Dubya’s proposal, on the other hand, "challenges some of the basic assumptions of the Western military alliance…. Europe cannot be expected to accept an alliance in which Washington exercises political and military leadership but does not subject its own forces to any of the risks of ground operations." The thought the editorial writer could not bring himself to entertain is that the time for Washington exercising "political and military leadership" is long past. The Cold War ended years ago. Many Europeans only have a dim recollection of it – and often not even that. Such a thought would however undermine the case for continuing US hegemony in Europe. This ban on rational thought must lead eventually to something close to insanity. A Washington Post editorial writer appeared to be foaming at the mouth as he denounced Bush’s proposal: It "would more likely lead to a division of NATO itself – to the end of the alliance." Leave aside the salient issue of why we need NATO at all. Why is it unreasonable to expect Europeans to address European security issues? How would the Washington Post editorial board respond to a European proposal to station troops in Colombia and Peru the better to ensure "stability" and "democracy" in Latin America?

As the US media tell it, the Europeans will feel betrayed by the United States. The New York Times wrote about a "collective sigh of anxiety and even weariness among European diplomats, officials and analysts." The Washington Post talks about "a wave of anxiety among the European allies, who fear such a move would split the NATO alliance and damage faith in U.S. leadership." What was extraordinary about these "news" stories was how little they relied on direct quotes or quotes for attribution. Apart from the usual array of British foreign policy "experts" – forever nostalgic for the Anglo-American "special relationship" that never was – the reporters appear to have made up their tales of woe out of whole cloth. The former British Labor Defense Minister Lord Robertson, the new NATO secretary general, has apparently warned visiting US congressmen that the Bush proposal could undermine the whole idea of "risk sharing, which is precisely the glue that holds the alliance together." The source for the story was, inevitably, that ubiquitous figure "one NATO official." "If the United States says it will not perform certain tasks, then the basic consensus of ‘all for one and one for all’ begins to unravel," a European ambassador was quoted in the Washington Post, "Once you allow NATO members to pick and choose their operations, then where does it all end? The integrated military command could soon fall apart and so would the alliance." One would have thought the purpose of any alliance is to allow its members to allow its members to perform the tasks they are best suited for. But common sense is little valued in NATO. If it were, it would have dissolved itself the moment the Soviet Union disappeared from the scene. Through such outbursts of hysteria and irrationality, the various NATO flacks and toadies have managed to bully the public into continuing to underwrite a military alliance without a purpose.

Our media reflect the complacent assumption of US elites that the rest of the world sees the actions of the United States much the same way they do. Since US policymakers have convinced themselves that peace is impossible anywhere without the United States bestriding every continent, they assume that this is a widely shared view. It is very comforting for us to continue to see the Europeans as a bunch of indolent adolescents who, without, the guidance of a strict taskmaster in Washington, would collapse into a life of juvenile delinquency and petty crime. By a strange coincidence, the unnamed European officials quoted in the news stories invariably confirm this edifying tale.

American debate about NATO has an air of total unreality about it. The truth is, the Europeans would be delighted to be rid of the United States. Europe is rapidly consolidating and gradually emerging as a geopolitical rival to the United States. It is moving towards establishing a political federation, with a directly elected president. It will soon have its own Constitution. It is developing its own armed forces and its own foreign policy. Even Britain, the United States’ most faithful ally in Europe, can no longer be counted on to thwart the European project. There is no longer any question that Britain will soon join the euro zone of countries – probably almost immediately after the next General Election. A recent leaked memo from Downing Street stated that the political case for Britain’s entry into the European single currency is "already decided." Britain is creating joint military forces with other European countries. The Ministry of Defense recently opened discussions with Germany over the possibility of a joint Anglo-German Tornado jet force to attack enemy air defenses. Tony Blair talks of Europe becoming a "political and economic superpower." "Europe’s citizens need Europe to be strong and united. Europe today is no longer just about peace. It is about projecting collective power," he declared in Warsaw earlier this month.

The European Union is planning to deploy by 2003 a rapid-reaction force comprising at least 60,000 troops. The Clinton Administration has expressed many misgivings about this, but has no idea how to stop it. Here is how Javier Solana, the European Union’s high representative for the common foreign and security policy, described European foreign and military policy in the Financial Times recently: "As well as needing rapid and effective decisions on international issues we must have flexible armed forces available to back up those decisions. A more effective foreign and security policy begins with the political will to use all the available instruments in a more coordinated and coherent way…. We can use our diplomatic, economic and financial muscle to influence the behavior of recalcitrant parties and aggressors. But until now we have been unable to add military means to the measures available. This is now changing. Our aim is to integrate our military forces into a global crisis management strategy. It is important that this initiative is not misunderstood. It is not a move to militarize the EU. Nor is it a threat to NATO. The aim is far more simple. It is to allow the EU to tackle crises better, whether they require a humanitarian or full-scale military response. We want to do more to prevent crises in the first place and to provide a rapid response before they spin out of control." One has to decode this unappetizing piece of Eurospeak. Behind the standard gobbledygook of warm and fuzzy terms like "humanitarian" or "prevent crises," lies a clear political agenda. Here are the key sentences, and they are worth repeating: "A more effective foreign and security policy begins with the political will to use all the available instruments in a more coordinated and coherent way…. We can use our diplomatic, economic and financial muscle to influence the behavior of recalcitrant parties and aggressors. But until now we have been unable to add military means to the measures available. This is now changing." There is nothing here about NATO, nothing about the Grand Alliance with the United States, just an assertion of the EU will to power.

Mired as they are in Cold war nostalgia, US policymakers refuse to take the idea of a European superpower seriously. On the other hand, they have to be aware of the fierce disputes over trade, now dominating transatlantic relations. Last month the United States and the European Union barely avoided a full-blown trade war. The EU had been threatening to impose at least $4 billion of sanctions on US goods. This was in retaliation for a multi-billion-dollar American tax break scheme for exporters. Under the scheme, the United States doles out billions of dollars a year in tax breaks to big US exporters like Boeing and Microsoft through offshore subsidiaries in tax havens such as the Virgin Islands, Barbados or Guam. The World Trade Organization (WTO) had ruled earlier this year that the program, which covers hundreds of billions of dollars of exports, was an illegal export subsidy. Washington was given until October 1 to change the system. The US did nothing, and the EU was about to impose unilateral sanctions. Such acts are now commonplace. Last year the United States imposed punitive 100 percent import duties on more than $300 million of European exports after the WTO had ruled against the European Union over its ban on hormone-treated beef from the United States, as well as over its restrictive banana import rules.

These economic clashes are becoming ever more frequent. While the United States is running the highest trade deficits in its history, the Europeans are peacefully allowing the euro to sink against the dollar, thereby making their goods that much more competitive. It is unlikely the US will put up with this for much longer. Two economic rivals cannot belong to the same military alliance indefinitely. George W. seems to have some dim awareness of this. He at least is prepared to rethink NATO. Our foreign policy elite, on the other hand, simply cannot let go.

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