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article imageOp-Ed: Why NATO needs to be led by Europe

By John McAuliffe     Mar 3, 2016 in World
NATO was erected with America having the first and final say over its activities, but European countries make up the majority of members and have little say over their military commitments in the alliance. That needs to change.
Rumours that NATO is losing relevance are often whispered in the quieter corners of Washington, among only those political echelons who have a vested interest in NATO and wish to keep its military adventures running smoothly. The suggestion is occasionally found on the pages of the media, but what does it mean? It doesn't take a genius to see that America, which prides itself on being the greatest advocate of democracy around the world, maintains a firm unilateral grip of decision-making in the alliance. Despite the decision-making structure, the North Atlantic Council (NAC), constituting permanent representatives from all 28 member countries and NATO having been led by Secretary Generals from a wide array of nationalities, America's control is not based on nationality, but rather ideology. Also, decisions are made by unanimous decision. There is no voting or majority decisions. In effect, this means the members with the most military clout can more easily lobby, or bully, the other members into conformity until a unanimous decision is made. The U.S. is by far the greatest financial contributor to the body, with France, Germany and Britain following. Despite the latter three countries' traditional conformity with American decision-making in all major international institutions, the dominant ideology of NATO, with its ever-present invisible hand guiding events in the alliance's institutions, appears to no longer be an ideology shared with Europe.
NATO ideology has changed little over the course of its existence. It is still primarily an anti-Soviet military alliance. However, much to the dismay of NATO's special interests in Washington, the Soviet Union no longer exists. That hasn't stopped the body from seeing red where once the hammer and sickle waved in the wind. The Soviet Union was broken up, after all. Russia was the dominant state of the Soviet Union. It follows that NATO should then evolve into an anti-Russian alliance and encroach on its borders, absorbing as many old Soviet satellites as it can on the way. The fall of the Soviet Union dealt a near-fatal blow to the alliance, as its very reason for existence evaporated before their eyes. But ideology, whatever ideology it may be, has historically proved to be resilient. Enemies no longer present will readily be replaced in order to protect one's sense of identity. Indeed NATO replaced the Soviet Union with the Russian Federation, a fact very evident in current news reporting.
NATO is losing relevance for a number of reasons, one in particular being a growing divide between the foreign policy interests of Europe and the U.S. This divide, though always an existing phenomenon, only began to manifest itself more distinctly after the end of the Cold War. Though in 1966, French President Charles de Gaulle was especially concerned with the erosion of French sovereignty from being a member, he withdrew the country entirely, until President Sarkozy, often nicknamed "Sarkozy the American," rejoined.
In the interest of appeasing America and maintaining relations, member states such as France, Germany and Britain continue to fall in line with American decisions in NATO, but the sovereign governments are expressing their dissatisfaction in another way, by reduced defence spending. NATO demands its members maintain a defence budget of at least two percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2015, the British government proposed to begin meeting that target, but only after U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno and other high-profile military officials (from the U.S.) took issue with the government about their decreasing defence budget. The pledge by Britain made it the fifth of 28 members to meet the two percent target. Remarkably, NATO officials expressed deep concern about European members' falling defence budgets in light of escalating tensions with Russia, a phenomenon that may illustrate how NATO disproportionately magnifies threats to coincide with ideological beliefs. The concern obviously wasn't shared by the sovereign European governments. Reduced budgets may be seen as a Europe-wide expression of disillusionment with NATO and frustration with a lack of influence in the decision-making process, but it also reflects how Europe does not take NATO's and America's hyped "Russian threat" seriously.
Another series of examples of how NATO is losing relevance is the failure of its highest officials to adequately associate with reality. This is often reflected in ludicrous public statements, both recent and historic. On March 1, NATO General Philip Breedlove claimed in his address to Congress that Russia and Assad were conspiring against the West by deliberately weaponising refugees. He said: "Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration... to break European resolve." As evidence backing this conspiracy theory, Breedlove cited Russia's air raids campaign. The key factors making his comments implausible are the fact that America's military role in Syria began in 2011, while their bombing campaign was ongoing since 2014, long before Russia joined the conflict. The migration crisis was triggered years ago. Also, before Russia joined, Assad was losing the war. He was in no position to orchestrate the mass migration of citizens and terrorists to Europe, as Breedlove claims. Another recent example was a statement made by the NATO Secretary General after Turkey shot down a Russian jet in November last year. In part of the statement, he said: "I have previously expressed my concerns about the implications of the military actions of the Russian Federation close to NATO's borders." There are a few paradoxes from that statement. First, he treats NATO as a sovereign entity with borders that need to be protected from outside aggression. Second, if holding to the validity of the first, NATO is then engaged in military expansionism against other sovereign states, i.e. its members. That expansion has seen an eastward march of NATO military units and grand displays of overwhelming military power, absorbing Europe from France to the Baltic states, which neighbour Russia. NATO advocates would adhere to the argument that new members "choose" to join NATO and that the intimidating military deployments and drills around new prospective members has no influence over decision-making. Thirdly, because of the second, any military actions Russia undertakes inside its own country are "close to NATO's borders", through no fault of Russia. Russia is treated as the expansionist power whose right to defend their own borders does not exist. This perspective exemplifies the lingering 20th century ideology of American/NATO infallibility and universal Russian culpability. The reality shows that NATO is the expansionist power, now engaged in efforts to absorb two more Russia-bordering countries: Ukraine and Georgia.
NATO s expansion eastward seeks to claim Ukraine and Georgia.
NATO's expansion eastward seeks to claim Ukraine and Georgia.
Produced by TSO
NATO expansionism is a highly contentious issue for Russia, not only because of a encroaching military threat to its borders, but also because agreements made during German reunification explicitly held NATO to the promise that it would not expand eastwards. Despite the conflicting testimonies of numerous high-ranking officials from NATO member-states which contradict one another, recently declassified records of conversations from 1990 between the German and Russian foreign ministers prove this assurance was given.
Video: NATO forces conducting drills in Georgia, near Russian borders.
This expansionist policy is still being directed by the U.S., which continues to dominate decision-making, but it is also increasingly creating threats to Europe by threatening the stability and security of Middle-Eastern, North African and former Soviet countries, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine and Russia. With growing threats to Europe from NATO activities, Europe needs growing control over the body.
The European Union (EU) has long been afflicted with strategic ineptitude in military matters, however its array of military and foreign policy institutions, through its Common Foreign and Security Policy, have taken up increasingly successful roles in humanitarian and peace missions abroad. When the EU failed to show decisive action on Libya in the campaign to overthrow Gaddafi, the U.S. imposed its authority through NATO over European military assets for use in a bombing campaign in the North African country. But an understanding of European values would suggest the EU's indecisiveness was a result of trying to adhere to their own values and appease American foreign policy objectives. However, the two are incompatible. Europe's political values differ radically from American ones; Europe seeks to genuinely pursue peace and stability in their foreign missions whereas the U.S. quickly resorts to military options with high "collateral damage" in the form of political and economic destabilisation and civilian casualties. An iconic example is America's blitzkrieg war in Iraq and Afghanistan and Germany's and Japan's massive efforts at state building afterwards, to which the US showed little support (until positive results were obvious, after which it took full control and credit for the accomplishments). The invasion of Iraq showed the differences in American and European values so starkly that relations suffered. France and Germany refused to go along with the military adventure, which is now known to have intentionally been built on false information. In Britain, the Chilcot inquiry into former Prime Minister Tony Blair's role in facilitating the circulation of false information to send Britain to war in Iraq has caused Blair to anticipate the fallout by apologising in advance. It highlights the extent to which some European political leaders go to appease a hostile American foreign policy, both directly and through NATO.
European complicity in American (and NATO) foreign policy objectives have savaged positive political and economic relations with Russia and have exacerbated the terrorist threat by becoming a target for reciprocal attacks. These threats have manifested themselves in economic downturns and vicious terrorist attacks in major NATO member states, such as France, Britain, Spain and Germany. Adhering to American foreign policy has created these threats to Europe, but the days of looking to the U.S. and NATO for leadership are over. European members need to push for a joint European council in NAC for decision-making authority. Under European leadership and values, NATO could begin to rectify its past mistakes and help facilitate the security of the majority of its members better than it ever has. Its lingering bind to an expired ideology will end and its relevance will be redefined in a less expansionist way and a more defensive way. Furthermore, as the EU examines ways through which it can construct its own EU-wide military alliance, countless issues and massive cost remain as hurdles to successfully realising the goal. NATO already exists and is more inclusive than the proposed European military. Under European leadership, the well-developed institutions of the military alliance would help Europe overcome its previous indecisiveness and American foreign policy ambitions would increasingly become the exclusive concern for America and no longer considered a priority for the timid European politicians who struggle to speak for themselves. The fact that the new NATO headquarters is in Brussels is a good start.
The ruins of NATO s bombing campaign in the heart of Europe  in Serbia  still exist today.
The ruins of NATO's bombing campaign in the heart of Europe, in Serbia, still exist today.
Jonathan Davis
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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