All 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 ones.
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 its enemies.
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.