It was Lawrence Eagleburger, the former US secretary of State, who had predicted that once the ‘cold war’ was over, it would be sorely missed. Astonishing as this admission from a senior official of one of the leading members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was, it meant that the ‘cold war’ was, in reality, a fraud. It was designed to provide a rationale for massive arms spending to keep critics in check by invoking the fear of a mythical enemy.
With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the raison d’etre of NATO has vanished. Even NATO’s counterpart - the Warsaw Pact - has disappeared, ending the last lame excuse for NATO’s existence.
Yet the military alliance not only continues to exist, the cold warriors, many of whom reside in Washington, have conceived of an even larger role for it. They feel NATO must prepare for some future, undefined war because the US may be ‘threatened’ by an as yet unknown enemy. There is far greater justification for building a vast canopy to protect the US from the debris falling from the sky than any imagined threat from another country.
Soon after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, it was felt, especially in Washington, that NATO must expand and take in the Central European States under its protective umbrella before a resurgent Russia re-imposed its hegemony. Another reason was to pre-empt any nationalists taking control in those countries by exploiting the pent-up rage of the disenchanted masses over the socio-economic chaos that would ensue with the introduction of the free market system.
This latter is in fact the most credible argument advanced so far. Free market reforms have brought nothing but misery to the vast majority of people throughout the former Eastern bloc countries, including Russia where for the first time in decades, famine and starvation are distinct possibilities.
Communism failed to deliver the goods but the free market system has been no less a failure. Only a handful of people have struck it rich while the vast majority are afflicted by unprecedented misery and suffering. The promise of freedom and instant riches has turned out to be a cruel joke. People are hearing the all-too-familiar refrain: have patience while the system is re-oriented to complete the transformation to a market economy. The goodies will follow. Most of them have been there before, during the days of communism. Such promises do not put food on the table.
Amid capitalism’s failure to deliver the goods in the new free market economies of Central Europe, the US has decided to find a new, even more expanded role for NATO. During last month’s meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels (December 8-9), US attempted to broaden NATO’s role. It, however, came up against a thick wall of resistance from its European allies.
The Americans went to Brussels with grandoise plans for a new ‘strategic concept.’ This included revising NATO’s role to develop the capacity to react to crises anywhere in the world if they have ‘implications for the defence of common interests.’ Under the new doctrine, NATO would act collectively to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, for instance.
US secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in her typical bellicose style, said the prospect of rogue States getting their hands on chemical or biological weapons was now as much of a threat to the allies’ security ‘as a Warsaw Pact tank was two decades ago.’ The Europeans did not fall for such gross over-simplification especially when the analogy of the ‘Warsaw Pact tank’ was also not grounded in reality.
The unease felt by the Europeans is real. They see Washington’s initiative as designed to make NATO an adjunct to US role as a global cop, permanently hitching it to the defence of US strategic interests around the world. With the exception of Britain, the other European States are also wary of Washington’s gunboat (or missile) diplomacy.
US actions against Iraq are a clear example of this type of behaviour. The Americans say they will seek UN approval wherever possible for such action; but they will also go it alone if needed, to protect their ‘interests.’ In other words, the UN should simply endorse every US policy otherwise Washington will do as it pleases.
It is this attitude that irks the Europeans, especially the French, who have been the most vocal critics of American behaviour. In fact, the French have expressed undisguised contempt for the brash manner in which the US throws its weight about globally. This covers the whole spectrum from politics to culture. The French have also been upset at the hollywood (non)culture being imposed on them.
In Brussels, French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said NATO could not adopt a ‘too elastic’ interpretation of common interests. ‘NATO is the north Atlantic alliance, not the north Pacific alliance,’ adding that any mission involving the use of force must always be under the authority of the UN.
Albright tried to put a positive spin by stating that NATO would continue acting in accordance with the UN charter and international law. But she insisted the alliance had to retain the right to bypass the UN security council, where both China and Russia have a veto, if circumstances demanded. This is precisely what the US did during the December 16-19 missile strikes against Iraq.
British foreign secretary Robin Cook said NATO must retain the ‘flexibility to respond to the real problems we recognise as real challenges to our security, but that cannot be a purely open-ended commitment.’ His response must have disappointed Washington when he said, ‘We cannot have an unlimited commitment for NATO.’
Equally worrisome for Washington was German foreign minister Joschka Fischer’s veiled attack on US attempts to suppress any debate over the new German government’s call for the alliance to commit itself to no first use of nuclear weapons. As the only State in the world to have used nuclear weapons (against Japan during the second world war) and to have come close to using them again in 1962 in Cuba, the US felt quite uneasy about the proposal. American hypocrisy was apparent. It accuses others of being irrational but it is American behaviour that is based on paranoia and irrationality.
America’s anxiety is heightened by the alliance’s 50th anniversary summit in Washington in April. It would like to have NATO hitched to its policies before then to present clear proof of the US’s paramount position in international affairs, among enemies, now banished, as well as friends.
As a self-proclaimed ‘sole superpower,’ America demands acquiescence, not discussion, even from friends.
Muslimedia: January 1-15, 1999