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NATO at 60: The Burdens of Age

04/14/2009 | James Sherr
[James Sherr is Head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.]

At fifty, NATO was an alliance in renewal. Its admission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic testified to a widespread faith, in the words of Ukraines 1998 State Programme of Cooperation with NATO, that it was the most effective structure of collective security in Europe. It had a troubled partnership with Russia, not with itself. The principal European architect of the NATO-Russia partnership, Germany, was also the principal European architect of the first wave of enlargement. Apart from Slobodan Milosevic, NATO had no enemies and didnt anticipate any. Its designated threatsethnic and religious strife, proliferation of dangerous weapons, organised crime, failed stateswere generic, abstract and, presumably, common to all. At fifty, NATO was also an alliance at war in the Balkans: a more problematic and divisive war than it cares to recall, longer than the four days that President Clinton originally predicted, but relatively brief for all that.

At sixty, NATO is overextended, overburdened and apprehensive. Two additional waves of enlargement have brought further benefits but also further divisions. For eight years, the United States embodied the arrogance of power and none of its wisdom. During the same period, Russia acquired the means to contest NATOs primacy de facto as well as de jure, and in the former USSR it has displaced common security with hard Realpolitik, not to say [da i/ne govorya uzhe o] conflict. The events of 9/11 have not only taken NATO out of area but onto the global arena and possibly out of its depth. At sixty, NATO is also an alliance at war in Afghanistan: a war that might last a further seven years beyond its initial seven; a war that, by misadventure, has become central to its purpose and its future.

Yet NATO is not in demise. Last summers events in Georgia and this winters energy crisis have reminded all members that security begins in Europe. These events have also replaced an outmoded consensus about Russia with vigorous argument, not only between member states, but within them, not least within Germany. If the post-Cold War NATO had become an Article 4 organisation, new problems are reviving interest in Article 5 and its adaptation to conditions and threats scarcely conceivable when the North Atlantic Treaty was written. The determination of the new American administration to rejuvenate multilateralism has every possibility of reviving the West as a meaningful term and NATO with it. A dying organisation does not does not debate problems. It succumbs to them.

Today it is an open question whether todays debates will produce policies that revive NATOs standing or half measures that merely cushion its decline. The implications for Ukraine are equally uncertain. Yet not for the first time, they will depend very much on what Ukraine does and does not do for itself.

THE LANGUAGE OF SUMMITRY

Like Georgians, Ukrainians experience in acute form an anxiety that, in more measured degrees is felt by most of NATOs newer member states: that the West in the name of stability will strike a grand bargain with Russia at their expense. Since the Russia-Georgia war, the anxiety has been deepened by the apparent shelving of the MAP process, the warm reception given to President Medvedev in Berlin and Evian (where he unveiled his initiative for a new architecture of European security) and the declaration by Vice President Biden at the Munich conference that the USA wished to press the reset button in its relationship with Russia. The report of the Commission on US Policy Towards Russia, timed to coincide with Obamas arrival in officebut written, it must be said, by individuals outside the administrationwill not provide much comfort to those who harbour these worries.

Given this context, two decisions, entirely explicable in their own terms, look like signals, rather than mistakes. The first, NATOs decision not to invite partner countries to the Sixtieth Anniversary summit (and the related decision to convene the NATO-Ukraine Commission one month earlier), is narrowly explicable in view of the scale of the 2008 summit at Bucharest. Yet it is unwittingly symbolic that at this most ceremonial occasion, the Alliance chose to celebrate by itself. The second is the fact that President Obama will have met President Medvedev twicefirst at the G20 and then in Moscow in Julybefore any likelihood of meeting Presidents Yushchenko or Saakashvili or setting foot on Ukrainian or Georgian soil. The constraints on Obama are easy to discern. A decision not to meet Medvedev at the G20 would have been inexplicablelike opening a door in order to slam it. And a decision to meet the Ukrainian and Georgian presidents would risk exacerbating rather than defusing the political crises in those countries. Yet a bolder course would be to accept the risk and defy it by demonstrating the importance the United States attaches to the countries rather than their leaders.

Whatever unintended signals were given, it is better to look at the signals intended: the substance of the NATO Summit Declaration and the G20 Medvedev-Obama communiqué. They show far greater steadfastness over principles and priorities than the latest round of worries would lead one to expect.

A New Security Architecture? It is generally understood that Russias new security initiative is vague in the extreme. Yet its underlying themes have been well elaborated: the need for a new, overarching structure which, whilst not dissolving existing ones, would somehow subsume them; an architecture based on individual nation states rather than blocs (EU no less than NATO); and a rebalancing of discussion towards hard (political and military) security, at the expense of soft (humanitarian and values-based) concerns which, in the words of Vladimir Putin, have transformed the OSCE into a vulgar instrument of interference in the affairs of other countries. Far from giving these principles a cautious welcome, the Alliance has rebuffed them.
We underscore that the existing structuresNATO, EU, OSCE the Council of Europebased on common values, continue to provide every opportunity for countries to engage substantially on Euro-Atlantic security. (paragraph 7).
Even in the Obama-Medvedev communiqué, the language is only slightly more conciliatory.

New Concessions? Not surprisingly, the summit declaration states that Russia is of particular importanceas a partner and neighbour. But the balance of comment is, by comparison with earlier declarations, sombre and occasionally blunt.

Our relations with Russia depend on trust and the fulfilment of commitments. Since our last Summit, dialogue and cooperation with Russia have suffered from profound disagreements on a number of issues. (para 33). Withdrawal from zones agreed in Georgia is essential; recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is condemned (para 34).

No concessions are made on CFE (Dogovor ob obychnykh vooruzhykh silkah v Evrope). 'NATO's constructive and forward-looking proposalsaddress all of Russia's stated concerns' (para 57). Deliberations in the sphere of energy security are being intensified in the wake of the January 2009 gas crisis (para 59), attention is being paid to the 'high north' in the wake of Russia's claim to arctic seabed resources (para 60), and activity regarding cyber security is gaining momentum (Para 49)

No more enlargement? The text is firm about the principle of enlargement and, on the face of it, equally firm about the principles that must govern the process. But the principles also allow room for equivocation, and that is not a new story. Paragraph 21 reaffirms that Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty opens the door to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership and whose inclusion can contribute to common security and stability. And if Russias militant hostility to Ukraines membership threatens common security and stability, then what is the Alliance to conclude? As we know, there will be an argument and a struggle.

But today there is no need for either because the principal obstacles to Ukraines membership are erected by Ukraine itself.

NO RETREAT, NO ADVANCE

It is customary to reiterate, whenever the opportunity arises, that Ukraines self-inflicted injuries render its Western partners exasperated and powerless to help. That has often been the case. In 2006, NATO was poised to invite Ukraine into the MAP process, but had to watch powerlessly as the dithering of President Yushchenko and the betrayal of Oleksandr Moroz destroyed that moment. Yet we are now at a different moment. The Alliance is fighting a war that neither the Cold War world nor the post-Cold War world taught it how to fight. After eight years of trans-Atlantic discord, there is a reasoned hope of reviving Euro-Atlanticism and rebuilding consensus. As the fruits of Russias victory in Georgia start to turn bitterand as the Pyrrhic nature of its victory in the gas war with Ukraine becomes plainthere is also hope that it might be possible to restrain Russia without provoking her. NATOs overarching task is consolidation, the rebuilding of its cohesion and strength. If it is to achieve that end, it cannot allow itself to retreat, and it dare not advance.

Against this backdrop, some of Ukraines staunchest friends are thinking the unthinkable: that Ukraines failure to advance, to meet NATOs criteria, to put a case for membership worth considering, has become momentarily convenient. Obama the consensus builder need not launch a bitter argument with his allies, because there is no argument to make. He need not confront Russia over Ukraine or appease Russia over Ukraine, because there is no urgency to do either. Obama needs time, and the Alliance needs time out. The infirmities of Ukraine and the uncertainties of Russianot to say the dampening effects of the financial crisismight for the moment help.

But the moment needs to be exploited because, like all such historical pauses, it will not last. NATO needs to prepare the ground for a new Ukrainian president to walk upon (and it could have no better framework for doing so than that set out in the latest report of the Razumkov Centre and the NATO-Ukraine Partnership Network). The EU needs to adopt a strategic approach to Ukraine, not to say its own security, and if we can judge from the EU-Ukraine energy framework agreement last month, at last it is doing so. By such means, the West might emerge from this moment wiser, stronger and, in good time, larger.

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  • 2009.04.14 |

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    : Disarmament 101 by J. R. Nyquist Weekly Column Published: 04.10.2009 When we read eye witness accounts of the bombing of Hiroshima, which occurred in August 1945, we are shocked at the horror and inhumanity of the worlds most terrible weapon the atom bomb, which subsequently evolved into the hydrogen bomb. If todays nuclear arsenals were unleashed against urban centers, hundreds of millions would die. Entire national economies would collapse. Some people imagine that nuclear weapons are, in themselves, a great evil. They argue that all nuclear weapons should be scrapped. After all, in the fullness of time, by design or by accident, nuclear war is inevitable. Doesnt it make sense to do something to prevent such a disaster? Shouldnt we embark on a universal program of nuclear disarmament? Two points should be made regarding this subject. First, nuclear weapons are not evil. They are merely inanimate objects. If there is danger in the world, it comes from evil politicians. Second, lethal biological weapons have greater death-dealing potential than nuclear weapons. The United States does not possess an arsenal of lethal biological weapons. If we eliminate our nuclear weapons and do not account for the biological arsenals of Russia, China, North Korea, etc., we will leave ourselves open to attack without any means of retaliation. Few have considered what genuine nuclear disarmament would entail. Unless the whole human race takes a drug that makes everyone stupid, nuclear technology is not going to disappear. As long as modern civilization remains technologically advanced, we will have weapons of mass destruction. There is no way around this, because the ultimate weapon is not a nuclear bomb. The ultimate weapon is the human mind. Our new administration in Washington thinks that eliminating all nuclear weapons (in every country) would be a good thing. President Obama says that eliminating all nuclear weapons is not pie in the sky. But if this is not pie in the sky, then nothing is. For even if every nuclear arsenal were dismantled, some countries might build new arsenals in secret. Therefore, real nuclear disarmament requires the elimination of all whose skill and knowledge would facilitate the construction of future arsenals. One would have to arrange abortions, as well, for all fetuses that might be born and later become nuclear scientists. It must be admitted that weapons of mass destruction do not exist of and by themselves. They stem from our technological sophistication, from our intellectual accomplishments, from modern scientific concepts. Only if we eliminate these precursors, can we eliminate the possibility of nuclear weapons and nuclear war. Nevertheless, the new administration is determined in its utopian venture. The White House Web Site states: Obama and Biden will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it. Obama and Biden will always maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. But they will take several steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear weapons. They will stop the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert; seek dramatic reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the U.S.-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global. Obama and Biden are determined to remove the chief guarantor of peace Americas nuclear arsenal. They no longer believe in the balance of terror. What they want is a treaty for the elimination of nuclear arsenals worldwide. Totalitarian countries have a long record of treaty violations. The ruling KGB gang in Russia is currently developing a super-plague weapon in violation of existing treaties. These people are not going to keep a nuclear arms control agreement if they can achieve global dominance by cheating. If all nuclear weapons were eliminated, you would merely achieve the disarmament of the United States. Obama and Biden are dreamers. If you are going to play the utopian game, why stop at the elimination of nuclear weapons? Why not eliminate evil? Get every world leader on the phone and propose the elimination of evil worldwide. After all, the problem was never in the weapons. It was in the people who built them. Even if you remove all the nuclear weapons from the planet, evil people will try and build new weapons. And they will do so secretly. How does Obama propose to stop them? In discussing the elimination of nuclear weapons, or the elimination of evil, we are not talking about a fourth grade math problem; in fact, many so-called problems are not problems at all because they do not admit of any solution whatever. We cannot prevent a nuclear war by eliminating nuclear weapons any more than we can eliminate evil. The truth of the matter was eloquently summed up by Ursula LeGuin, who wrote: [Evil is not] something that can be solved... Instead, she observed, it is all the pain and suffering and waste and loss and injustice we will meet all our lives long, and must face and cope with over and over, and admit, and live with, in order to live human lives at all. As mature adults, as realists and not fantasists, we should embrace LeGuins words. Evil is among us, it is within us, and it is here to stay. And the same is true of nuclear weapons, with the following addendum. There is a path to nuclear disarmament and a nuclear-free world. It is the path of nuclear war, in which civilization and mankind are taken back to an earlier, less technologically advanced era.
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