Saturday, June 10, 2017

The stakes for the US and Europe in NATO

The national security expert and adviser to Presidents Zbigniew Brzezinski, who passed away just recently, was a devout Cold Warrior. But he also tended toward a realist perspective. That manifested itself in the run-up to the Iraq War, when he made his opposition to invading Iraq very clear and public.

In an article from 2003, Hegemonic Quicksand The National Interest Winter 2003/04, he looked at the role of the European Union in US foreign policy in Eurasia and the Middle East, particularly the Islamist challenge in its various forms.

The current anti-Europe policy of the Trump Family Business Administration has given the US/European divisions over the Iraq War renewed immediate relevance. Brzezinski's article was written at that now-almost-forgotten moment after the ousting of Saddam Hussein's government when it still seemed possible that violence was quickly winding down in Iraq. War opponent Brzezinski even writes in this article, "The decisive military victories in the 1991 and the 2003 campaigns against Iraq firmly established the United States as the sole external arbiter in the area." It's jarring now to read material from later 2003 which refer to US victory in Iraq as an accomplished reality.

NATO has never been free of conflict among its various partners. At some times, that conflict has been significant. NATO formally began with the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, constituted as a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union. For the first 52 years of its existence, until 1991, the Soviet Union also still existed. After the fall of the USSR, NATO became an alliance in search of a mission. Brzezinski's 2003 article focused on NATO as a force multiplier and essential partner for the United States. But partner for what?

At the beginning of the article, he forecasts, "For the next several decades, the most volatile and dangerous region of the world - with the explosive potential to plunge the world into chaos - will be the crucial swathe of Eurasia between Europe and the Far East." He describes that area as "the unstable region that currently extends from approximately the Suez Canal to Xinjiang, and from the Russo-Kazakh border to southern Afghanistan - almost like a triangle on the map. In the case of both areas, internal instability has served as a magnet for external major power intervention and rivalry." He also refers the triangle he describes as "the Global Balkans," a term that doesn't seem to have caught on.

And it's in managing the crises in that region in which he sees the mission of NATO consisting going forward from that point. He surveys other significant potential allies for that purpose, and explains why he sees them as less useful than NATO.

He writes that Israel and the United States have historically been close diplomatically and that it could "not only to be America's military base but also to make a significant contribution to any required U.S. military engagement." Israel does have the largest armed forces of any country in the region. And has nuclear weapons.

But, as he notes drily, "American and Israeli interests in the region are not entirely congruent." Brzezinski sees the US has having a strong long-term interest in decent relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), both of which Israel has no interest in strengthening. Although Israel can find common interest with the Kingdom and the UAE on issues like opposing the Alawite regime in Syria and regarding Iran as an adversary.

Brzezinski notes, though, that until there is a real settlement of the Palestinian issue, Israel's value as an active military ally to the US in the Middle East will be limited. Prospects for an Israel-Palestine peace agreement look considerably less optimistic in 2017 than they did in 2003.

He sees India's potential as a strategic ally limited by the intensification of both Hindu and Muslim sectarian politics. The increasing influence of Hindu nationalism in India since 2003 is part of this trend. He writes that "the more radical of the Hindu politicians tend to present" the "war on terrorism" as a war against Islam. This is problematic for reasons that should be obvious. But it does fit with the US Republican Party's understanding.

India also has long-standing tensions with its neighbors China and India. The conflict with Pakistan has the dispute over the Muslim-majority province of Kashmir, which is currently party of India at its center.

Brzezinski notes the trend, already strong in 2003, that "Russia has come to see its Muslim neighbors as the source of a potentially explosive political and demographic threat, and the Russian political elite are increasingly susceptible to anti-Islamic religious and racist appeals." Both of which are potentially factors that should theoretically facilitate an anti-Muslim-extremism alliance between the US and Russia. But Brzezinski also points to Russia's record in Afghanistan and Chechnya as a major factor in giving Muslim countries in the region a dim view of Russia. In addition, "the newly independent Central Asian states [which include many Muslims] increasingly define their modern history as a struggle for emancipation from Russian colonialism."

So Brzezinski saw the most promising ally of the US in promoting stability as being the nations of the European Union:

Only Europe, increasingly organized as the European Union and militarily integrated through NATO, has the potential capability in the political, military and economic realms to pursue jointly with America the task of engaging the various Eurasian peoples on a differentiated and flexible basis-in the promotion of regional stability and of progressively widening trans-Eurasian cooperation. And a supranational European Union linked to America would be less suspect in the region as a returning colonialist bent on consolidating or regaining its special economic interests.
And he states an essential condition for European-American cooperation:

European engagement will not occur, however, if it is expected to consist of simply following America's lead. The war on terrorism can be the opening wedge for engagement in the Global Balkans, bur it cannot be the definition of that engagement. This the Europeans, less traumatized by the September ll attacks, understand better than the Americans. It is also why any joint effort by the Atlantic community will have to be based on a broad strategic consensus regarding the longterm nature of the task at hand. [my emphasis]
The nuclear agreement with Iran is an example of what cooperation with the US and Russia can accomplish in that region. Brzezinski specifically cites the initiative taken by the EU at the time to get that process moving. It took over a decade to get it done. And it took a more cooperative arrangement between the US and Europe than the Cheney-Bush Administration practiced in 2003 and which the Trump Family Business Administration is clearly eager to jettison. Or, jettisoned: it may time to speak in the past tense about that.

But some of the issues on which he focuses are also reminders now of opportunities missed: promoting an Israel-Palestine peace agreement, stabilizing Iraq (a sadly forlorn hope in retrospect) and improving relations with Iran. The latter is something on which significant progress has been made. But Trump seems to be signaling - he sends so many confusing signals - that he's signing on to the Saudi and Israeli push for war with Iran. So it's not only on global climate change that the Trump Family Business Administration is veering away from common ground with the EU. "Active strategic partnership between the United States and the European Union would also make it more likely that Iran could eventually be transformed from a regional ogre into a regional stabilizer." But stabilization of Iran and the Middle East is the opposite of what Trump and his Defense Secretary "Mad Dog" Mattis want.

Brzezinski's article from 14 years ago is a reminder of the stakes involved in the US downgrading NATO and undermining partnership with the European allies. NATO since 1949 has been a power multiplier for the US and has generally supported US policy in the world. And, as Brzezinski points out, achieving a more stable and constructive situation in the "Global Balkans" triangle requires for now and the foreseeable future close cooperation between Europe and the US.

NATO survived the crisis provoked by the Iraq War, just as it survived the Suez Crisis of 1956 in the first decade of its existence. Part of the reason surely had to do with the Northern Atlantic economic crisis that started in 2007-8 and created serious problems for European unity, which obviously took a bit hit from the Brexit vote. The US and European partners also found a common interest in NATO Enlargement, as outlined on the official site (my emphasis in italics):

29 March 2004: Accession of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

21 April 2005: Launch of the Intensified Dialogue on Ukraine’s aspirations to NATO membership and related reforms, at an informal meeting of foreign ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania.

21 September 2006: NATO foreign ministers in New York announce the decision to offer an Intensified Dialogue to Georgia.

28-29 November 2006: At the Riga Summit, Allied leaders state that invitations will be extended to MAP countries that fulfil [sic] certain conditions.

2-4 April 2008: At the Bucharest Summit, Allied leaders invite Albania and Croatia to start accession talks; assure the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that it will be invited once a solution to the issue of the country’s name has been reached with Greece; invite Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro to start Intensified Dialogues; and agree that Georgia and Ukraine will become members in future.

9 July 2008[-] December 2008: Accession Protocols for Albania and Croatia are signed. Allied foreign ministers agree that Georgia should develop an Annual National Programme under the auspices of the NATO-Georgia Commission.

1 April 2009: Accession of Albania and Croatia.

4 December 2009: NATO foreign ministers invite Montenegro to join the MAP.

22 April 2010: NATO foreign ministers invite Bosnia and Herzegovina to join the MAP, authorising the North Atlantic Council to accept the country’s first Annual National Programme only when the immovable property issue has been resolved.

2 December 2015: NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels invite Montenegro to start accession talks to join the Alliance, while encouraging further progress on reforms, especially in the area of rule of law. In a statement on NATO’s “open door” policy, ministers reiterate decisions made at the 2008 Bucharest Summit concerning the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to undertake the reforms necessary for the country to realise its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and to activate its participation in MAP. Ministers also reiterate their decisions at Bucharest and subsequent decisions concerning Georgia, welcoming the progress the country has made in coming closer to the Alliance and expressing their determination to intensify support for Georgia.

19 May 2016: Allied ministers sign the Accession Protocol, following which Montenegro has ‘Invitee’ status and starts attending North Atlantic Council and other NATO meetings.

5 June 2017: Accession of Montenegro

Ironically, NATO's "out of area" interventions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Middle East, especially Libya, not only served as a common mission that also brought NATO back from the kind of internal strife the Iraq War produced in the alliance. But those actions also helped to tarnish the image of Europe in the crisis area Brzezinski called the Global Balkans.

Even more ironically, the enlargement of NATO membership has brought NATO's value for the Europeans back towards its original purpose. The eastward expansion of membership met with serious resistance from Russia with Georgia in 2008 and then Ukraine in 2014. It's safe to say that the aspirations for NATO membership of Georgia and Ukraine are effectively on indefinite hold. The 2004 expansion included not only more countries from the former Warsaw Pact, but also the three Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Those three had previously been part of the Soviet Union itself, as had Georgia and Ukraine.

Foreign policy "realists," including the late George Kennan and Stephen Walt, warned that in the normal calculation of the Russian government, whether it was Putinist or liberal democratic or whatever else in its orientation, could be expected to treat the enlargement as a national security threat and start to push back against it. Remarkably, though, NATO leaders, including the Bush and Obama Administrations, seemed almost Pollyannish about that warning. In particular, adding Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania committed all other NATO countries to defend those countries in the case of any Russian aggression. But it has never been thought necessary to fortify those three countries as though a Russian invasion might be a likely event, much less an imminent one. And Western policymakers probably seriously underestimated what a dim view that Russian leaders took of NATO military intervention in the Balkans, especially in the Kosovo War.

And Russian strategists much surely be thinking out scenarios in which Russia seizes all or part of those three countries as a way to test the seriousness of NATO commitment to them. Are the US France, Britain, France and Germany prepared to go war with Russia over some occupied strips of land in the Baltic nations? What the Russians did in Georgia and Ukraine, which were aspiring NATO members but not yet part of the pact, were similar actions to that scenario.

Yet both Democrats and Republicans seemed to see NATO expansion as having political and military upsides with relatively small risks on the downside. Cold War triumphalism dulled the collective judgment of our policymakers in many ways.

In the 2002-3 crisis within NATO over Iraq, Russia was actually a political ally of the US in supporting the Iraq War. Vladimir Putin was already President of Russia. But Russia was cooperating with the on the war in Afghanistan, as well. (I've always wondered if there was an element of calculation there in which the Russians thought, yeah, let's allow the United States to learn what an intervention in Afghanistan can be like.) There was still serious tensions over issues like installation of "missile defense" in eastern Europe.

But there was no serious split between the US and the European allies over the need for solidarity in the face Russian aggression directly against NATO members. That was probably in significant part because the prospect of that kind of Russian military aggression wasn't considered a serious possibility.

After the Georgia crisis of 2008 and the Ukraine crisis, the latter including Russia's incorporating the Crimea as its own territory, have shifted those perceptions and calculations in significant ways. Now European leaders have to take into account that the Trump Family Business Administration with its dubious entanglements with Russian interests and its seeming hostility to European unity may not be as committed to supporting NATO allies against Russian pressure. And that's going to affect their willingness to cooperate with the US on "out of area" military and political actions.

This post is part of my efforts to understand the direction that US-European relations in the Trump Era. There are a lot of what-ifs that are difficult to ignore in thinking about NATO. In practical terms, trying to preserve NATO after the fall of the USSR and looking for a new mission for it was probably inevitable. But in retrospect, I have big doubts about the Kosovo War, which I supported at the time. And I think the NATO enlargement was probably not a good idea. Incorporating the Baltic countries directly into NATO and inviting Georgia and Ukraine to eventually join were mistakes, done with far too little realistic consideration of the consequences.

But kicking out the Baltics, for example, would be a dramatically different thing than not incorporating them in the first place. If the US government wants to drastically redefine its relationships to Russia and to oppose rather than support European unity, to do that while minimizing the downsize risks would be a very difficult political and diplomatic task. The Trump Family Business Administration is clearly not capable of pulling off something that complicated while minimizing dangerous disruptions. I'm particularly interested in how the European allies will attempt to minimize risk and damage to themselves while the current US administration attempts to do such a thing. And to do it in what would surely be a blundering way.

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