#12 - JRL 7168
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
WHY IS NATO NOT CRUMBLING?
Analytical study by Prof. Alexei BOGATUROV (doctor of political sciences), director of the International Relations Research and Educational Forum
The future of NATO is a key issue of the post-Iraq world. Likewise, the quarrel between NATO countries shortly before the Iraqi war was the largest trial for the bloc since 1966, when France led by Charles de Gaulle withdrew from its military organisation. Washington was fully aware of this and hence did not take unnecessary risks. As soon as it became clear in February that Germany, France and Belgium would not bury their plans of creating a front of resistance to the USA over Iraq in NATO, the US administration removed the issue from the NATO agenda.
It was a double-edged sign on the part of the USA. On the one hand, the three countries were shown that the USA, supported by Britain, would do without the other NATO members. On the other hand, a smart politician was bound to see how "caring" the Americans acted with regard to their allies. They preferred to shoulder nearly the whole burden of the war in order not to stir European discontent. The more so that the opposition consisted of old and respected bloc members (West European countries), while the supporters were the newcomers from the deceased Warsaw Pact.
The USA made note of this but preferred not to comment. But its ill-wishers in NATO did comment on that situation. They are divided into optimists and pessimists. Optimists see any wind of change as the harbinger of the bloc's crisis, while pessimists hopefully sniff at every wind but do not allow hope to delude them. Believing a dream may lead to bad advice for your home country, because crises in NATO are not as simple as they may seem at first glance.
Though NATO was created in 1949 for the eventuality of crises, it were international rather than internal NATO crises that the founding fathers had in mind. This is why they risked adopting a system of decision-making based on consensus, where nothing can be done if even one country is against it.
The Warsaw Treaty Organisation, which was set up in 1955 and lasted until 1991, was based on strict discipline. Decisions were made by a majority vote, though they were nearly always unilateral because the East European member countries heavily depended on the Soviet Union. The Warsaw Pact looked stronger but its rigid structure turned out to be fragile.
Thanks to the formula of consensus, NATO's in-built absorber cushions shocks. Practice shows that the admissible angle of vacillation is rather big in the bloc, which helped it to survive the French "revolt" in 1966 without losing its basic features. On the contrary, it gathered the experience of smoothing over internal contradictions. This is why the US reaction to the behaviour of France and Germany with regard to the Iraqi problem was not repressive. The Americans are criticising their allies but the heat of polemic is gradually subsiding. There have been problems over Afghanistan and Iraq, just as over Panama and Grenada in the past, and there will be new problems in the future, but the task is to preserve NATO.
There are quite a few elements on uncertainty in this situation. How do the Americans see the future of NATO? In 2001 and 2003 Washington's main military-political operations abroad were carried out without the assistance of the bloc as an organisation, though the USA acted jointly with some of the bloc members. This is a clear sign showing that the USA is abandoning the institutional-collective attitude to partnership with its allies in the bloc. In two cases the USA disregarded NATO as an integral structure in favour of collaboration with individual bloc members (with Britain in 2001 and 2003) and other countries (with Russia in 2001).
Is NATO no longer as important to the USA as it was in the past? Or is it important but in some other, "different" way, as an instrument of neutralising "hinterland risks" now that the USA is acting on new foreign policy fronts, which have shifted to Asia? Time will show.
On the other hand, this is not important. Even if the US interest is moving eastward and the role of NATO is changing, Russia's relations with the West and East remain important. The new system of political coordinates in the middle of the first decade of the new century is developing over and above the blocs that were created in the middle of the past century.
The Asian shift of the US policy is encouraging the eastward advance of NATO's military structure towards Russia's borders. This will pose a potential threat to Russia for as long as it remains outside the bloc, because NATO remains the symbol of Russia's isolation. And isolation is a dangerous thing. Russia's foreign policy independence is dwindling and its integration with the countries with which the Russian leadership wants to join hands is not growing.
This brings us to the key question: Can Russia's policy of rapprochement with the Western security structures be resumed after the general chaos created by the anti-Saddam operation of Washington? Will Putin and Bush become true friends again?