What Next for NATO?

The European Union doesn’t know where it stands at this moment. NATO thinks it knows and is gambling.

Has the EU a future, or has disintegration set in? The behavior of the Germans under the conservative Merkel government is taken by many to signal that the end, if not nigh, is foreordained. Germany in this view will reclaim its lost Deutschmark, intensify its productive and export capacities, and go forward in singular and exemplary European primacy (although, as most of its exports are to neighbors in the EU it supposedly will have renounced or abandoned, one would think isolation could only go so far).

Moreover, Germany’s highest-value-added exports are the respected but banal heavy industrial goods, machine tools, chemicals, and the rather boring and bourgeois automobiles it manufactures as foreign political functionaries’ limousines, and numberless Mercedes taxicabs on another manufacturing chain, plus worthy and reliable family cars from VW, Opel, and Ford. Plus the tiny Smart, invented by a Swiss who managed by some managerial legerdemain to convince Mercedes to take it over when he didn’t make a success of the idea.

Germany’s high-tech products are nearly all in industries where the French forced the Germans to be, grumbling and resisting and complaining at the cost, such as Airbus; the European Space Agency, which operates the most successful commercial space industry in the world; high-speed rail; and grudgingly, nuclear energy. It was slickers from the U.S. who smooth-talked German bankers of provincial horizons into the recent catastrophe in the international banking trade.

How is all this going to be disentangled if Germany decides to readopt Deutschmarks and go it alone? The original members of the European Union are so tangled up with one another commercially, economically, and politically that to try to terminate the union would be a nightmare and end in catastrophe, not to speak of abandoning the forlorn countries who were last to join the 27. All that is imaginable (but in fact scarcely thinkable, given the political ramifications) and would additionally slough off the remaining EU aspirants, formerly part of the Warsaw Pact or victims of the Yugoslav succession – and very worried about their futures.

I don’t think that Germany, even a post-Merkel Germany, would deliberately break with the EU. As Mrs. Merkel told Le Monde this week, “for Germany, the culture of stability is not negotiable.” What Germany might do, though, is stay in the EU and prove a spoiler, starting with the currency union.

The more problematic issue is what happens to NATO, which involves guns rather than butter and Airbuses. The United States has, since the end of the Cold War, wanted NATO to become an American military auxiliary, largely under the sway of the Pentagon, and on the whole this has happened, France providing the only resistance, and under Nicolas Sarkozy that is no longer the case.

This is why the U.S. has so fiercely resisted the idea of independent European defense. At the NATO experts meeting on Monday, which considered proposals for what NATO should become by 2020, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright asked why the Europeans should pay twice for their defense.

I can think of one unspeakable but not unthinkable reason why European countries might wish to defend themselves. What if it should prove one day that the threat the Europeans need to defend themselves against is of American and Israeli origin?

Let me explain. The United States currently pursues a program of global security that NATO is expected to support, according to criteria defined by Washington. Without belaboring the matter, it has not gone unnoticed in Europe that this policy, supported by NATO members and intended to impose a benevolent international order, has destroyed the Iraqi nation, killing a substantial portion of its population as well as of its infrastructure, while leaving it without – to date – an agreed new government, and inevitably under the influence of Iran; not actually what either Washington or the NATO governments had in mind.

The United States is now engaged in a course quite likely to produce a similarly unhappy result in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and possibly among the varied and rival ethnic nations which make up Afghanistan’s own population, as well as those of the states surrounding Afghanistan, nearly all of them Muslim. These nations make up the whole of western and central Asia, including Iran, with which some American and Israeli hawks want a war. Iran is the corridor uniting them all, and if Israel or the U.S. were to go to war with Iran while the U.S. was losing the war in Afghanistan, Iran would be the convenient battlefield for a frustrated and determined American effort to carry on a war against all the main regional Islamic powers resisting the U.S., with Israel (and Iraq, unwillingly) providing the launching bases for an assault on and through Iran towards Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hysterical geopolitical fantasy, no doubt. Although with a possible return to power of the same kind of people we were introduced to during the George W. Bush administration, this seems to me not entirely fantasy. And these American hawks would naturally expect NATO to take part in the American-Israeli push to link up, if possible, with an American-controlled Afghanistan-Pakistan.

You had possibly not thought of Professor Samuel Huntington’s forecast of the “next world war” as this particular clash of civilizations. (He actually had in mind a war with China as well as the Arab Muslims.) I know of no one in Europe who has spoken of this possible evolution of events. If they did, they might not see NATO membership as so reassuring. A European security pact might even be interesting.

The theme at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Monday was the need for NATO “willingness to operate and fight far from its borders.” A new report by NATO experts says NATO must maintain a nuclear deterrent “at the minimum level required by the prevailing security requirements” – rejecting European arguments that battlefield nuclear weapons be removed from Europe.

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that NATO must not fail in its battle with Europe’s enemies, the Taliban. “In today’s world we may have to go beyond our borders to defend our borders,” he said, thereby identifying Afghanistan as where Europe’s borders begin.

(c) 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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