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|04/27/02 at 22:41:28|
How to save the western alliance
Washington and Europe's disagreements are weakening and endangering NATO. But America's trend toward unilateralism and Europe's preference for coalition-building are both necessary parts of an effective western strategy.
Henry R. Nau
Sunday April 28, 2002
Washington is vilified for acting alone on a range of issues. Europe is being asked to do more on defence. This peevish debate risks weakening NATO just at the moment it should be agreeing to create a stronger alliance to fight terrorism.
Europe is once again outraged by American unilateralism. Since George Bush entered office early last year, Europeans have carpet-bombed Washington with charges of unilateral action on, among other things, the development of missile defences, global warming, banning landmines, the international criminal court, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the biodiversity treaty, a verification mechanism for controlling biological weapons, the 'axis of evil' speech, and, most recently, steel import restrictions.
The North Atlantic allies have been through this battle many times before. One might wonder if the charges and countercharges have more to do with the psychological infirmities of the western allies than the issues that divide them. America needs to shatter the moral lassitude it associates with western Europe, and Europe needs to ridicule the lack of subtlety and sophistication it associates with America. Politics, of course, adds fuel to the firestorm. Republican President George Bush crashed the cosy party of 'third way' social democrats that governed the major western countries throughout much of the 1990s.
The allies should get beyond their emotions and politics. America's trend toward unilateralism and Europe's preference for multilateralism are not in opposition to one another. Indeed, both are necessary to carry out an effective alliance strategy.
America's unilateralism expresses the need of free nations within a democratic alliance to act independently when their vital interests are at stake. Just as national democracies depend on the initiatives of individual citizens and groups, international democratic communities depend on national initiatives. Such initiatives are inherently unilateral. At least initially, they fly in the face of conventional wisdom and prevailing consensus. Otherwise, there would never be any change or innovation.
On the other hand, Europe's tendency toward multilateralism expresses the place where free people and free nations are committed to end up. They make decisions by consensus, or in some cases, as democratic countries grow closer - for example the European Union (EU) - by the will or vote of the majority. Democracy requires both leadership and eventual consensus or majority decision-making. Paradoxically, the unilateral/multilateral debate is a sign of democratic development within the North Atlantic community, not demagogic neurosis.
In the lead
America acts unilaterally more often than Europe because its military forces are more prominent and vulnerable around the world. And Europe acts multilaterally more often than the United States because it lacks independent military capabilities and thus seeks to influence the use of US might.
America is the first target in the crosshairs of terrorist groups and states. When conflicts turn nasty around the world, it is American forces that are exposed on the frontline in Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, the Gulf and now Southwest Asia.
European forces are not available to deploy in large numbers around the world or to fight sustained conflicts outside Europe. They play a more central role after the serious fighting is over, as in Bosnia and Kosovo. Until Europe spends far more on defence and convinces its people to support action beyond the continent, it will have to acknowledge America's greater vulnerability to terrorist resentment and concede a leadership role to Washington.
If Europe provided the major forces for the defence of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, would it be as relaxed as it is today about Iraq and Saddam Hussein? If Europe had thirty seven thousand troops on the 38th parallel in Korea and another forty thousand in Japan, would it be as eager to appease North Korea, abolish landmines, which protect US ground forces there, or forego theatre missile defence to protect American forces abroad?
Europe had a substantial military role in the NATO area during the Cold War. But it has since played a much weaker part in out-of-area conflicts. Even in the Balkans, its task is peacekeeping, not fighting. As long as this is the case, America will take the lead in defining threats - the axis of evil - and resisting arms control restrictions - such as those on landmines or nuclear testing - that weaken fighting capabilities in out-of-area conflicts.
Europe argues that it needs American forces on the ground in the Balkans to keep Washington's diplomacy honest. Isn't it just as reasonable that America might want European forces on the ground in Saudi Arabia or South Korea for the same reason?
It is disingenuous for Europeans to oppose American initiatives simply because they are unilateral. After all, Europe acts unilaterally too, as it is in building the European Rapid Reaction Force. It did not ask for or receive America's consent for this, and certainly did not give the United States or Russia a veto over the decision. The initiative is a good one, whether unilateral or not, and while America has had doubts about whether it is substantive or simply symbolic, it has not trashed the EU for acting unilaterally.
America has to adjust as well, however. If Europe did finally increase its defence expenditure and forward military deployments, the United States would have to concede influence. It cannot expect Europe to put fighting forces in the field without primary influence over decision-making, any more than the US would. Europe would have to play a bigger role in Middle East peace negotiations, in Gulf decisions about toppling Saddam Hussein or squeezing the mullahs in Iran, and in arms control questions about whether to deploy missile defence systems.
America is not ready for greater European influence. And so its rhetoric urging Europe to spend more on defence is just as suspect as Europe's complaints about American unilateralism. Neither ally really wants the consequence of what it is asking for. America doesn't want greater European influence, and Europe doesn't want America not to lead - because then it would have to lead on its own. The unilateral/ multilateral debate is convenient for both, and thus never goes away.
Until relative capabilities change, America has to take the initiative. But it has to lead so that Europe eventually follows. The sooner Europe gets on board the better. Thus the United States made a mistake by not using NATO in some capacity in the Afghanistan war. After September 11, for the first time, NATO invoked Article 5 to declare the attack against American territory as an attack against the territory of all its members. This decision expressed the deepest ties that bind the members and constitute the alliance.
America failed to validate these ties. It feared that acting under Article 5 would hamstring its military operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Since America had the capability to lead the attack alone, why should it compromise military effectiveness by sharing operational control? Once again, the disparity in military capabilities weakened the alliance.
But if NATO operational procedures are inefficient for out-of-area military strikes, they should be made so, not weakened further through disuse. The invocation of Article 5 was an opportunity to strengthen the alliance's integrated command and control systems. At the very least, Washington should have requested a battalion or brigade of forces under NATO command to assist its operations in Afghanistan.
This decision will come back to haunt the United States. NATO is being progressively weakened as a military organisation. After a troublesome experience in Kosovo, it is not being used in out-of-area conflicts. Instead, the United States is unilaterally deploying a growing number of forces to combat terrorism - in Yemen, Georgia, Pakistan, the republics of central Asia, and the Philippines. America is sticking its neck out beyond the multilateral consensus. Even if it succeeds, will the alliance be there to support the peacekeeping that follows?
At the same time that America neglects NATO, the alliance is becoming increasingly unwieldy. It is expanding to include new members and deepen its relationship with Russia. A new council of twenty - the nineteen NATO members plus Russia - proposes to make certain decisions collectively.
If NATO was always an awkward alliance to use in the post-Cold War world, it is becoming even more so with expansion. And deepening ties with Russia threaten to impose a de facto veto on its operations, especially in areas such as Georgia or the Baltic states where Russia is most concerned about NATO intervention.
Time to step back
America needs to step back. It needs help from the major European allies to formulate a sustainable, long-term strategy to defeat terrorism. Whether Europe can get over its peevishness and provide such help is questionable. But here is what needs to happen. Europe and the US should agree on a progressive strategy to squeeze Iraq and, if nothing else works, to dispose of President Saddam Hussein. Even if Europe cooperates, Saddam is not likely to have a change of heart. Thus his overthrow is probably inevitable. Iraq is seeking weapons of mass destruction and, after September 11, that threat is no longer tolerable.
Bush has been very clear: 'One thing I will not allow is a nation, such as Iraq, to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction.' The President has majority support in Congress. Along with Republicans, moderate Democrats such as Joseph Lieberman, who opposed Bush as a candidate, 'are serious about eradicating this many-headed monster [of terrorism].' 'That certainly goes,' Lieberman added, 'for Iraq, where we must deal decisively with the threat to America posed by the world's most dangerous terrorist, Saddam Hussein.' There is also broad support among the American public. In Washington Post-ABC News polls since January, no less than seventy percent have favoured US forces taking military action to force Saddam from power. Thus at some point Washington will act against Iraq. Europe has been put on notice and cannot say that it was blindsided or not consulted. The consultation is going on now.
If Europe fails to cooperate on tougher action against Iraq, the United States may still be able to unseat Saddam alone. But can it manage the aftermath in Baghdad without its European friends? Who will help stabilise and rebuild Iraq? Russia will oppose UN action and, if the UN cannot act, NATO is the only multilateral institution that can. Even as it dominates the alliance, the United States needs NATO. This is another reason not to dilute it further with premature arrangements that make it easier for Russia to create divisions.
At the beginning of a debate over Iraq, missile defences or any other alliance issue, unilateral initiatives by the United States - or sometimes Europe - are the only way to overcome inertia and initiate a new approach. Such action is not detrimental to the alliance but actually galvanises and reenergises relationships. At the end of the debate, however, multilateral consensus must prevail. No democratic country, including the US, can act successfully in foreign policy if it is directly opposed by other major democratic states. Both Europe and America need to reaffirm this and get beyond the unilateralist-multilateralist debate.
Henry R. Nau is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University and author of 'At Home Abroad: Identity and Power in American Foreign Policy' (Cornell University Press, 2002).
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