Sunday, December 14, 2008

The demise of NATO?

The demise of Nato

As Nato enters its twilight years, the US should encourage the EU to grow into its global responsibilities

Nick Witney, Monday 8 December 2008 22.00 GMT

Nato is dying. Death, of course, comes to all living things. And, as Nato approaches its 60th birthday next spring, there seems no immediate urgency about writing its obituary; 60-year-olds may reasonably look forward to another decade, perhaps two or even three, of active and productive life. But perhaps it is now time for some discreet reflection on the fact that "the old man will not always be with us."

But each now resents the behavior of the other. Americans find their patience tried by Europeans who are free with their advice and criticism yet reluctant to shoulder risks. Moreover, the US learned from the Kosovo experience of "war by committee" to distrust Nato as a place to run operations, and now Afghanistan highlights the organisation's limitations as a mechanism for generating force contributions.

As for Europeans, they are unhappy about pressure to participate in a US-led "global war on terror" that they regard as dangerous and misconceived, and to go along with policies seemingly designed to antagonise their more difficult neighbours like Russia and the Islamic world.

So what is to be done? None of the ideas for another dose of Nato rejuvenation looks like the answer. All the talk of an improved Nato-EU partnership is mainly wasted breath. "Intensified strategic dialogue in Brussels" in practice boils down to the chilling spectre of interminable joint committee meetings at which one nation's ambassador to Nato explains his government's position to a compatriot diplomat who is accredited to the EU, and vice-versa.
There is nothing more dramatic to be done than to focus on upgrading the EU-US strategic dialogue. The annual summits need to be made more substantial, and their focus shifted from transatlantic, bilateral issues to aligning EU and US global policies and actions. The US president should keep an eye on the calendar of the European Council, which brings the EU presidents and prime ministers together four times a year, and solicit an occasional invitation. The US mission to the EU should be scaled up, and EU representation in Washington turned into a proper embassy. The more seriously the Americans show that they are willing to take the EU collectively, the more seriously the Europeans will take themselves.

Winston Churchill once remarked that you could always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after having tried everything else. In the same way, the Europeans will eventually find themselves having to speak with one voice and act as one body in the wider world, if only because a globalised world will not allow them the luxury of doing anything else. As Charles de Gaulle forecast: "It is not any European statesman who will unite Europe. Europe will be united by the Chinese." Only collectively can Europeans be effective contributors to global security, or achieve a robust transatlantic security partnership.

As Nato enters its twilight years, the US should encourage the EU to grow into its global responsibilities. For, despite all their differences and mutual dissatisfactions, Europe and the US know that each is the best friend either is likely to have for the foreseeable future.
Nick Witney, former Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency, is a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

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