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Sunday, February 7, 2010

NATO: After Soviet collapsed in Eastern Europe

When Soviet power collapsed in Eastern Europe in 1989, an intense debate developed over the roles Europe’s security institutions should play in the new era. Some, led by Moscow, favoured abolish both the Warsaw Pact and NATO and giving primacy to pan-European collective security organization, perhaps in the form of a strengthened Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Others, led by Paris, believed that NATO was still needed, but that primacy should be given to European institutions such as the Western European Union and the European Community, which became the European Union (EU) when the Maastricht Treaty on European Union went into effect in November 1993. Still others, led by Washington and London, believed that direct American engagement in European security affairs was still indispensable and that NATO, which provided the organizational framework for American engagement in Europe was indispensable as well. According to this line of thinking, NATO needed to be preserved, reformulated, and made the attraction of Europe’s new security architecture.

By the mid-1990s, it had become an article of faith in west European policy making circles that U.S. engagement in Europe was still an essential part of the European security equation. As a result, NATO came out on top in the debate over the relative merits of Europe’s security organizations. Unfortunately, NATO s mission has been reformulated in ways that will weaken the alliance’s effectiveness, authority, and long-term stability. It was natural and inevitable that NATO would change in some respects when Soviet power crumbled. Moscow was no longer in a position to launch a surprise attack on Western Europe. The alliance’s transformation, however, was not limited to changes in its force structure NATO’s leaders also changed its mission. The process began in 1990, with a campaign to soften the alliance’s image in order to get Moscow to go along with German unification on the West’s terms as a member of NATO.
With this unification problem in mind, the alliance’s leaders announced at their July 1990 summit that they would develop a new military strategy that would de-emphasize forward defense and enable NATO to play a more “political” role in European affairs.To begin with, NATO’s leaders expanded the alliance’s area of geographical concern: they declared that they would henceforth be worried about the continent as a whole, not just the NATO area. They also stated that threats to stability would be defined in much broader functional terms. They maintained that, in addition to traditional military problems, NATO would also address territorial disputes, ethnic rivalries, and political and economic problems throughout Europe. The rationale behind this new agenda was that, with the end of the Cold War and the diminishing importance of the collective defense mission, the alliance would have to address security problems throughout Europe if it was to survive.

The alliance’s new “expansionist” agenda led to the development of two new missions promoting stability in non-NATO Europe, and promoting stability in central and Eastern Europe by developing new institutional links with states in the region. The first of these new missions, promoting stability in non-NATO Europe, was put to the test almost immediately war broke out in Bosnia in early 1992, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions.

Surprisingly, NATO’s leaders continued to insist that promoting stability in non-NATO Europe was one of the alliance’s most important post-Cold War missions, even as they failed year after year to take effective action in Bosnia. The alliance’s second new mission was the development of new links with states in central and Eastern Europe, which the alliance’s leaders maintained would promote democracy and stability in the region. This led to the signing of Partner ship for Peace agreements between NATO and states throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union and, more recently, to the incorporation of the Czech Re public, Hungary, and Poland into the alliance itself. In the run-up to the alliance’s April 1999 summit, American officials argued that NATO’s expansionist agenda had to be extended and that yet another new mission had to be added to the alliance’s repertoire. The United States, they maintained, was spending a lot of money on power-projection capabilities to stabilize Europe, but NATO’s European members were not developing capabilities that would enable them to help the United States address its security concerns outside of Europe. The result, they argued, is that Europe has been getting a free ride. They contended that this state of affairs could not be sustained in the long run because the American public and the U.S. Congress would not tolerate it.

Globalist argues that a new transatlantic bargain is needed to keep the alliance alive. If the United States is to stay in Europe they say NATO’s European members must help the United States address its global concerns, NATO must go out of Europe or out of business. Both new agendas, however, the expansionist and the globalist, are wrong and dangerous for the alliance. They are wrong because they emphasize highly problematic missions. And they are dangerous because changing NATO’s main mission has made the alliance’s finish more likely.

The new mission of promoting stability throughout Europe is also highly problematic. Members of NATO will rarely be inclined to intervene in ethnic conflicts or other kinds of civil disturbances even in the heart of Europe, let alone in remote corners of the continent. Even if they are tending to act, they will have trouble defining clear political objectives and effective military strategies. Pulling together “coalitions of the willing” subsets of the alliance as a whole will always be difficult. Getting every member of the alliance to participate in a joint operation will be even harder.

The sad account of American and west European policy toward the wars in Yugoslavia and Bosnia should serve as a warning. For four years, from the summer of 1991 through the summer of 1995, American and west European leaders failed miserably in the Balkans, they failed to prevent war from breaking out in 1991, they failed to prevent war from spreading to Bosnia in 1992, and they failed most shamefully to stop genocidal slaughter from being carried out in Bosnia. They failed to act because they had limited national interests at risk, because they were unable to decide on a clear and coherent set of objectives, because they were unable to reach an agreement among themselves about what to do, and because they lacked the will to use military force in a firm and sustained way. Bosnia was a place where the need for outside intervention was clear-cut. Bosnian Serbs were engaged in a genocidal campaign against the civilian populations of their adversaries, who committed atrocities of their own. Civilian casualties were consequently high, and refugee problems posed difficulties for neighboring states.

Moreover, the Bosnian crisis was seen as a test of NATO’s ability to carry out its new mission and promote stability in non-NATO Europe. As a result NATO’s reputation was on the line. For these reasons, Bosnia was an easy test for NATO’s leaders but it was a test they nonetheless failed.The alliance needs a new, more durable strategic foundation, and this foundation should be framed by a minimalist vision of NATO’s future.

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