[OPE-L:8487] The Crisis in NATO: a Geopolitical Earthquake

From: rakeshb@stanford.edu
Date: Wed Feb 19 2003 - 13:56:13 EST

 at counterpunch.org

Kolko explores loss of US hegemony, seems to complement 
Cyrus' analysis. 

February 18, 2003

Gabriel Kolko
The Crisis in NATO:
a Geopolitical Earthquake

February 18, 2003

The Crisis in NATO

A Geopolitical Earthquake?


The next weeks should reveal whether we are experiencing the 
equivalent of a geopolitical earthquake.

Washington intended that NATO, from its very inception, serve as 
its instrument for maintaining its political hegemony over Western 
Europe, forestalling the emergence of a bloc that could play an 
independent role in world affairs. Charles DeGaulle, Winston 
Churchill, and many influential politicians envisioned such an 
alliance less as a means of confronting the Soviet army than as a 
way of containing a resurgent Germany as well as balancing 
American power.

Publicly, the reason for creating NATO in 1949 was the alleged 
Soviet military menace, but the U.S. always planned to employ 
strategic nuclear weapons to defeat the USSR--for which it did not 
need an alliance. But no one in Washington believed a war with 
Russia was imminent or even likely, a view that prevailed most of 
the time until the USSR finally disappeared. There was also the 
justification of preventing the Western Europeans from being 
obsessed with fear at reconstructing Germany's economy, and 
American military planners were concerned with internal 
subversion. But when the Soviet Union capsized over a decade 
ago, NATO's nominal rationale for existence died with it.

But the principal reason for its creation--to forestall European 

For Washington, the problem of NATO is linked to the future of 
Germany, which since 1990 has been undecided about the extent 
to which it wishes to work through that organization or, more 
importantly, to conform to U.S.' initiatives in East Europe. 
Germany's unilateral recognition of Croatia in December 1991 
was crucial in triggering the war in Bosnia and revealed its 
potentially dangerous and destabilizing capacity for autonomous 
action. Its power over the European Monetary Union and European 
Union understandably causes other Europeans to fear the revival 
of German domination. But for the U.S., the issue of Germany is 
also a question of the extent to which it can constrain America's 
ability to play the same decisive role in Europe in the future as it 
has in the past. Such grand geopolitical questions have been 
brewing for over a decade.

NATO provided a peacekeeping force in Bosnia to enforce the 
agreement that ended the internecine civil war in that part of 
Yugoslavia, but in 1999 it ceased being a purely defensive alliance 
and entered the war against the Serbs on behalf of the Albanians 
in Kosovo. The U. S. employed about half the aircraft it assigns for 
a full regional war but found the entire experience very frustrating. 
Targets had to be approved by all 19 members, any one of which 
could veto American proposals. The Pentagon's after-action report 
of October 1999 conceded that America needed the cooperation of 
NATO countries, but "gaining consensus among 19 democratic 
nations is not easy and can only be achieved through discussion 
and compromise." But Wesley Clark, the American who was 
NATO's supreme commander, regarded the whole experience as 
a nightmare--both in his relations with the Pentagon and NATO's 
members. "[W]orking within the NATO alliance," American 
generals complained, "unduly constrained U.S. military forces 
from getting the job done quickly and effectively." A war expected to 
last a few days instead took 78-days. The Yugoslav war taught the 
Americans a grave lesson.

Long before September 11, 2001, Washington was determined to 
avoid the serious constraints that NATO could impose. The only 
question was of timing and how the United States would escape 
NATO's clear obligations while maintaining its hegemony over its 
members. It wanted to preserve NATO for the very reason it had 
created it: to keep Europe from developing an independent 
political as well as military organization. Coordinating NATO's 
command structure with that of any all-European military 
organization that may be created impinges directly on America's 
power over Europe's actions and reflects its deep ambiguity. 
Some of its members wanted NATO to reach a partial accord with 
Russia, a relationship on which Washington often shifted, but 
Moscow remains highly suspicious of its plans to extend its 
membership to Russia's very borders. When the new 
administration came to power in January 2001, NATO's 
fundamental role was already being reconsidered.

President Bush is strongly unilateralist, and he repudiated the 
Kyoto Protocol on global warming, opposes further restrictions on 
nuclear weapons tests or land mines, and is against a host of 
other existing and projected accords. He also greatly accelerated 
the development of Anti-Ballistic Missile system, which will 
ostensibly give the U.S. a first-strike capacity and which China and 
Russia justifiably regard as destabilizing--thereby threatening to 
renew the nuclear arms race. Downgrading the United Nations, 
needless to say, was axiomatic. The war in Afghanistan was 
fought without NATO but on the U.S.' terms by a "floating" coalition 
"of the willing," a model for future conflicts "that will evolve and 
change over time depending on the activity and circumstances of 
the country." It accepted the small German, French, Italian, and 
other contingents that were offered only after it became clear that 
the war, and especially its aftermath, would take considerably 
longer than the Pentagon expected. But it did not consult them on 
military matters or crucial political questions. 

Washington has decided that its allies must now accept its 
objectives and work solely on its terms, and it has no intention 
whatsoever of discussing the merits of its actions in NATO 
conferences. This applies, above all, to the imminent war against 
Iraq--a war of choice. This de facto abandonment of NATO as a 
military organization was made explicit during 2002 when 
Washington proposed a simultaneous enlargement of its 
membership to include the Baltic states and to allow Russia to 
have a voice, but no veto, on important matters. The nations along 
Russia's borders regard NATO purely as protection against 
Russia, and are therefore eager to please the U.S.--which wants 
no constraints on its potential military actions.

The crisis in NATO was both overdue and inevitable, the result of a 
decisive American reorientation, and the time and ostensible 
reason for it was far less important than the underlying reason it 
occurred: the U.S.' growing realization after the early 1990s that 
while the organization was militarily a growing liability it remained 
a political asset. That the United Nations and Security Council are 
today also being strained in ways too early to estimate is far less 
important because the U.S. never assigned the UN the same 
crucial role as it did its alliance in Europe. 

Today, NATO's original raison d'Ítre of imposing American 
hegemony is now the core of the controversy that is now raging. 
Washington cannot sustain this grandiose objective because a 
reunited Germany is far too powerful to be treated as it was a 
half-century ago, and Germany has its own interests in the Middle 
East and Asia to protect. Germany and France's independence is 
reinforced by inept American propaganda on the relationship of 
Iraq to Al-Qaeda (from which the CIA and British MI6 have openly 
distanced themselves), overwhelming antiwar public opinion in 
many nations, and a great deal of opposition within the U. S. 
establishment and many senior military men to a war with Iraq. 
The furious American response to Germany, France, and 
Belgium's refusal, under article 4 of the NATO treaty, to protect 
Turkey from an Iraqi counterattack because that would prejudge 
the Security Council's decision on war and peace is only a 
contrived reason for confronting fundamental issues that have 
simmered for many years. The dispute was far more about 
symbolism than substance, and the point has been made: some 
NATO members refuse to allow the organization to serve as a 
rubber stamp for American policy, whatever it may be.

Turkey's problem is simple: the U. S. is pressuring it, despite 
overwhelmingly antiwar Turkish public and political opinion, to 
allow American troops to invade Iraq from Turkey and to enter the 
war on its side. The U.S. wants NATO to aid Turkey in order to 
strengthen the Ankara government's resolve to ignore 
overwhelmingly antiwar domestic opinion, for the arms it is to 
receive are superfluous. But the Turks are far more concerned with 
Kurdish separatism in Iraq rekindling the civil war that Kurds have 
fought in Turkey for much of the past decade, and the conditions 
they are demanding on these issues have put Washington in a 
very difficult position from which--as of this writing--it has not 
extricated itself. Turkey's best--and most obvious--defense is to 
stay out of the war, which the vast majority of Turks want. It may 
end up doing so.

America still desires to regain the mastery over Europe it had 
during the peak of the Cold War but it is also determined not to be 
bound by European desires--or indeed by the overwhelming 
European public opposition to a war with Iraq. Genuine dialogue 
or consultation with its NATO allies is out of the question. The 
Bush Administration, even more than its predecessors, simply 
does not believe in it--nor will it accept NATO's formal veto 
structure; NATO's division on Turkey has nothing to do with it. 
Washington cannot have it both ways. Its commitment to 
aggressive unilateralism is the antithesis of an alliance system 
that involves real consultation. France and Germany are now far 
too powerful to be treated as obsequious dependents. They also 
believe in sovereignty, as does every nation which is strong 
enough to exercise it, and they are now able to insist that the 
United States both listen to and take their views seriously. It was 
precisely this danger that the U.S. sought to forestall when it 
created NATO over 50 years ago.

The controversy over NATO's future has been exacerbated by 
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's attacks on "Old Europe" 
and the disdain for Germany and France that he and his adviser, 
Richard Perle, have repeated, but these are but a reflection of the 
underlying problems that have been smoldering for years. 
Together, the nations that oppose a preemptive American war in 
Iraq and the Middle East--an open-ended, destabilizing adventure 
that is likely to last years--can influence Europe's future 
development and role in the world profoundly. If Russia 
cooperates with them, even only occasionally, they will be much 
more powerful, and President Putin's support for their position on 
the war makes that a real possibility. 

Eastern European nations may say what Washington wishes 
today, but economically they are far more dependent on Germany 
and those allied with it. When the 15 nations in European Union 
met on February 17 their statement on Iraq was far closer to the 
German-French position than the American, reflecting the antiwar 
nations' economic clout as well as the response of some prowar 
political leaders to the massive antiwar demonstrations that took 
place the preceding weekend in Italy, Spain, Britain and the rest of 
Europe. There is every likelihood that the U.S. will emerge from 
this crisis in NATO more belligerent, and more isolated and 
detested, than ever. NATO will then go the way of SEATO and all of 
the other defunct American alliances.

The reality is that the world is increasingly multipolar, economically 
and technologically, and that the U.S.' desire to maintain absolute 
military superiority over the world is a chimera. Russia remains a 
military superpower, China is becoming one, and the proliferation 
of destructive weaponry should have been confronted and stopped 
20 years ago. The U.S. has no alternative but to accept the world 
as it is, or prepare for doomsday. The conflict in NATO, essentially, 
reflects this diffusion of all forms of power and the diminution of 
American hegemony, which remains far more a dream than a 

Gabriel Kolko, research professor emeritus at York University in 
Toronto, is author, most recently, of Another Century of War? (The 
New Press, 2002). He can be reached at: 

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Feb 21 2003 - 00:00:01 EST