ready to fight — but against whom?
Columnist M B NAQVI argues that
an “enemy” is being manufactured.
There is something odd about NATO’s expansion.
NATO has been expanded by the inclusion of seven new members from Eastern
Europe. It now virtually covers the Europe as such. In a way, it unifies
the Europeans in a particular way. But the question of questions is: what
is NATO doing today? It was the military wing of the North Atlantic Alliance
that was formed against communist powers, mainly Soviet Union and China.
Now the biggest communist power have ceased to exist; communism itself,
in a cognisable political sense, has ceased to exist. Even in China it
is on the retreat, if not on the backburner. The question therefore recurs:
what is NATO doing today —indeed what has the purpose of the Atlantic
Alliance itself. Why have they not been wound up the way Warsaw Pact was?
Where is the communism to fight? It is true that an enemy of sorts has
been discovered recently after 9/11. It is Terrorism. The idea is as misconceived
as it is ridiculous. Terrorism does not come in the shape of an army to
be fought against by a powerful military alliance. And yet there is great
insistence that NATO should be preserved, indeed strengthened. The central
question remains: what is now the rationale for it?
It is certainly true that the NATO has been performing various other functions.
But none of these were the stated purpose for which the Atlantic Alliance
and the NATO were set up. The first thing that the NATO does achieve all
the time is to preserve the political link between Europe and America.
NATO is costing the European governments a pretty penny. There is a great
deal of popular agitation regarding NATO. People want to know why it should
continue to exist. It is obviously costing too much; if it is wound up,
a lot of money can be saved. The case for remaining militarily prepared
is stupid if there is no clear enemy in your sights. Why go on spending
so much money is a question that each European citizen has to ask and
get an answer from his governments. The European governments have so far
claimed that we are keeping the NATO in order to defend Europe against
unknown and unforeseen dangers by keeping America aligned with Europe.
Whether this convinces the European citizens is hard to say. Insofar as
various symptoms that can be seen from afar are concerned, the people
are not fully satisfied. There is a muted kind of continuous agitation
regarding NATO. There is much questioning of its utility and implied and
sometimes explicit demands are made to show what does the European citizens
get for the expenditure that is incurred on NATO. Nevertheless, some of
the governments in larger countries are more ambiguous than the smaller
The recent expansion has occasioned a variety of reactions among the people,
judging from the media reports. The recent expansion in the membership
of the NATO Pact has occasioned the old question plus additional ones.
While some Europeans were silenced by the proposition that NATO expansion
would be a way of uniting Europe —- it was a way to allay some disquiet
—- not all of it was removed. One reason for it is that the Russians
were particularly angry about it. The seven new east European members
means that, notionally, the NATO troops, including the US ones, now stand
on the very borders of Russia. Russians would be superhuman to disregard
this placing of foreign troops on one’s borders. If the Russians’
relations with the Americans or the other Europeans deteriorate, the encirclement
of Russian territory is from the European side almost complete. The presence
of the easily unfriendly soldiers on the borders is always seen as a threat.
Which is why spheres of influence around them are sought by all great
powers. And Russians can be no exception. Russia despite the huge setbacks
to its economy, remains a potential great, indeed superpower. It would
very much like to see immediate neighbours to its west being more neutral
and friendly to Russia rather than friendly to those who can quickly become
The wonder of the wonders is that the Russians appear to have accepted
this expansion of the NATO with an ambiguous welcome. Some of the Russian
voices are not supportive of NATO action, to be sure. But their government
has apparently accepted the need to reconcile itself to what is a fait
accompli. The Americans have enthusiastically ensured that the NATO gets
expanded. The Russian protests were long and loud but they have not been
heeded to. The Americans have tried to mollify the Russian feelings by
a great deal of verbiage about special relationship and by setting up
a Joint Council of NATO with the Russians to ensure that the latter has
some say in NATO but without a veto power. In other words, the Russians
can say this that and other thing in the Council but it will not be binding
on anyone. The NATO will do what it has to do and the Russians may well
make some kind of representations which may be accepted if basically inconsequential
but which can be disregarded if it conflicts with NATO’s decisions.
And that is that.
One factor has to be remembered in this decidedly odd acceptance of the
NATO expansion by the Russians. The Russian economy is still largely disorganised
and is certainly not producing wealth on a steady pace. The Russians are
economically in trouble. They need a lot of cash in order to get by. That
cash comes from the Europeans and the Americans. Not that the Americans
are giving their own money. Since they control international financial
institutions, the Russians can count on the American goodwill to obtain
more loans from IFIs in emergencies. Although the current fact is that
relations between Russia and IMF are frigid and not many transactions
are being contracted, the hope of neat cash from IMF keeps Russia in line.
This is a far more important reason why the Russians have finally accepted
the American fiat. For, it is largely due to American actions that the
expansion of NATO has taken place because the Europeans were not pushing
for it; most Europeans too have accepted the fact simply because they
do not want to displease the Americans, the sole superpower.
It has to be remembered that the Russians are not necessarily loved or
liked by many in Europe. It is true that all Europeans of goodwill and
statesmen want Russia to be closely associated with the Europe, without
being a part of their decision-making apparatus. They want good relations
and friendship with Russia and close economic and trade relations with
it. But there is no inherent trust and love of Russians, especially in
its present phase. No one seems to be sure where Russia is headed. What
motivates it? The Kissingerian doubts about what is the philosophy guiding
Russia in the post- Soviet era are widely shared. Dr. Kissinger’s
doubt was that the old Russian expansionist and militant nationalism will
again be the dominant ideology and that is what will make Russia a maverick
force. True, insofar as the Europeans are concerned, they do not automatically
assume that the Russians would again be aggressive and expansionist. But
they find no reason to ignore the possibility. The Putin regime is ambiguous
on several questions. Some of its actions, such as in Chechnya, suggest
that Putin might yet have the same instincts as Yeltsin had, which were
clearly seen as purely nationalistic and indeed verging on the apotheosis
of nationalism: it becomes either colonial imperialism or Fascism. The
liberal democratic opinion in Russia is a tender plant and no one believes
that the masses of Russia today have suddenly become liberal-minded democrats.
People may want to have their civic rights, yes. But to become safe to
liberals is a different proposition. Even so the European attitudes are
vastly different from those of Americans. The Europeans have in fact aided
Russians far more materially, particularly the Germans, than the Americans
or anyone else. The Europeans, left to themselves, their designs and approach
would have been different vis-a-vis Russia and Eastern Europe. The German
preference in earlier in the 1990s decade appeared to be to work for European
unity through the expansion of the European Union while de-emphasising
NATO, though not daring to wind it up altogether. The Germans and the
others have their own preferences and they felt that annoying and alienating
America will not serve any purpose. Hence they have fallen in line with
the American wishes —- much against their wishes, as the recent
spat between the Gerhard Schroeder and the Bush administration indicated.
Still the old question returns: what is NATO doing today? As noted, the
Americans have planned a new purpose, fighting terrorism in concert with
all the European members. They have forced NATO to accept the proposition
that it will operate outside Europe. It is a big European concession to
the Americans wishes. It was always understood and was seen as a part
of its Charter that its troops will operate only for the defence of Europe,
inside Europe. The idea of Europeans going out of Europe is foreign to
them. It is hard to say that NATO has fully accepted the idea of operating
outside Europe. It will be too tall a claim on behalf of the Americans
in spite of there being some kernel of truth in the proposition. But the
fact is that the Germans and others could be persuaded to contribute contingents
for servicing in Afghanistan, albeit non-combatant service, was crossing
a rubicon though it did not amount to Germany doing police duties under
ISAF are an equivalent of British participation in American military campaigns.
The British are rendering yeoman’s service to the American designs
by contributing their soldiers and military hardware in the various wars.
They have participated in all the battles in recent years. That is neo-colonialism.
Without this purpose participating in any war outside Europe will be pointless.
The French and the British do send their flotillas and forces largely
as a traditional habit with a view to retaining their own influence in
Asia, the relics of colonialisms. However it can be said that though the
Americans have tried hard to woo the Europeans have been not won over
to go out to battle in the company of the Americans outside Europe —-
which is what the Americans had wanted the Europeans to do and that too
with some enthusiasm. That has not happened. NATO is still, for all practical
purposes, a European phenomenon that does not wish to have any other orientation.
Its ethos is European, indeed West European. The old purpose of retaining
the affections of the Americans vis-a-vis Europe was the reason why NATO
has survived so far.
Why they want American affection has a long history on and would require
a long discourse. Partly it is America’s superpower status, partly
there are other trade and economic reasons that political relations with
the sole superpower cannot be in doubt or disrepair. In any case, no one
in Europe thinks itself to be in a position to confront the Americans.
So even when they differ, and differ very seriously, the thought of confronting
America and taking it head on does not enter in any European brain. No
one in Europe today wants to become a superpower for playing a global
role in the way the Americans are doing. No one wants to waste one’s
resources —- and they are more interested in becoming richer rather
than becoming poorer. They go along with the Americans if they insist
too hard but they remain stragglers more or less. The Americans have so
far utilised NATO to anchor the American global leadership role in the
Europeans acceptance through NATO. Indeed the leadership of Europe has
been actually usurped by the US by virtue of its superpower status; it
has more or less forced Europe to remain in line with its broad policy
thrust in pursuance of global interests. The one definite but unavowed
function of NATO is to institutionalise American influence and power in
and over Europe. Indeed the functional leadership of Europe is today divided
into various sectors. There are the Franco German directorate, so to say.
There are the British who by virtue of their special relationship with
Americans claim a prominent role for themselves in Europe. The Northern
rich and social democratic countries within EU have their own notions
of leadership in social matters. Few of them care for military predominance;
indeed the Americans have found the Europeans to be particularly loath
to spend money on defence which they find more or less useless. And yet
they are paying through their nose by keeping up the NATO updated. Which
fact testifies to the American success in Europe so far.
The main difficulty is that the European public opinion and sentiment
is not at all pro-American in any meaningful way. Indeed anti-Americanism
over most questions of the day constitutes a familiar European phenomenon:
it is generally critical, sometime viscerally anti-American. These differences
are more of approach and outlook on life. The Americans start with leadership
pretensions which Europeans resent; the Europeans want to judge things
on their merit today, because in most things they have no self-interest.
The most critical audiences for the Americans are provided by Europe.
Europeans sympathy for the American purpose of keeping their leadership
role, as they put it, can be said to be intact. But it is also a fact
that American imperialism is perceived to be a less than a friendly phenomenon
even to the Europeans, let alone the Latin Americans or the Asians. The
divergence between the Americans and Europeans springs from various sources.
There are some structural factors. For instance, the Europeans have no
imperial interests left. No European has the will or the desire to operate
as a superpower like America does, as noted. That influences the approach
to world events no end. The Europeans do not have any self-interest in
such matters. Then a lot of actions around the world can be attributed
to enmity between pro-Americans and anti-Americans. The Europeans judge
such issues on merit. They do not assume themselves to be linked to, or
being the yesmen of, the Americans. The Europeans are less than enthusiastic
about the Americans habit of being gung ho in all sorts of situations
or actions and in all parts of the world. The recent instance of the American
insistence on going for Saddam Hussain is a case in point. The Americans
dislike the vicious Saddam dictatorship to be sure. But all said and done
he is no threat to the west, least of all to America. It is true that
Israelis fear him a great deal, for which reason the Americans dislike
Saddam Hussain more intensely. In addition, there are economic interests
that motivate the Americans such as the Iraqi potential of a lot of oil.
Iraq is credited for one-tenth of the world’s total known reserves.
Trillions of dollars in profits can be foreseen, if Iraqi oil becomes
controlled by the Americans.
There are other cognisable political factors also. For instance, the Europeans
are now assailed by an economic recession of their own. In all major European
countries, such as Germany, France and Italy, level of unemployment hovers
around 10 per cent. This is unacceptable by their standards set during
the immediate post-war decades. The Americans have not let the European
powers find a toehold for economic purposes in Latin America. They have
been edged out of the Middle East and whatever scope the Europeans have
is slowly and slightly being squeezed out. Asia used to be a wide-open
area. It is no longer so. Steadily the American advise is blighting Europeans’
hope of taking a share of Asia’s trade and economic development.
True, the Europeans are discreetly fighting and they have set up a Europe-Asia
Forum where they discuss and are ready with their purses to invest. But
on the whole, the Europeans have been largely pre-empted by the American
influence from Asia. Insofar as Africa is concerned, it is a shrinking
market in any case, though not spectacularly. The Europeans see no reason
to love American actions. Most of them see a direct link meant between
American political action and their economic troubles. Which is one reason
why the Europeans are frequently excoriated by Americans for being ungrateful
for all America did for Europe and the Americans never tire of repeating
this theme song. That their country rescued Europe through its Marshal
Plan is quite true. That only grates the European sensibilities. The outlook
for cross-Atlantic relations is uncertain. Wide-ranging prognostications
will be unsafe. It is safest to expect the continuation of the present
mutual disenchantment rather than genuine friendship and no direct confrontation
between Europe and America can be seen in the immediate future. For the
longer-term, economic compulsions of both America and Europe would determine
their courses —whether they would diverge more or converge more.