September 19, 2004

"Old Europe Is as Good as New"...

...was the contrived soundbite that new Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero had all teed up for the love-in summitry with French President Chirac and German Chancellor Schroder this past week:

Calling himself and his guests "fervent pro-Europeans," Zapatero said that Germany, France and Spain had agreed to jointly begin a public-awareness campaign on the EU constitution and are committed to building a strong and unified Continent.

But in many ways symbolism appeared to be more important than substance on Monday night.

The 44-year-old Spanish prime minister summarized the talks by referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's characterization of France, Germany and other nations opposed to the Iraq campaign as "the old Europe."

"If I had to describe the atmosphere of this meeting in just a few words, I would say 'the old Europe' is as good as new," Zapatero said during a joint press conference following the talks.

Chirac pointed out that none of the three leaders intended to change their position on Iraq. "We have opened a Pandora's box in Iraq that we are unable to close," he said. "The situation is very serious and it is not getting better."

Put aside Chirac's naseauting statement (the disingenuous evocation of the royal "we"; the schadenfreude-laden Pandora's Box reference, the obligatory it's serious and getting worse hand-wringing, and the, just in case you were wondering--we don't plan on helping any with this big Anglo-Saxon generated mess).

Focus instead on what else these three estimable leaders (who seemingly hadn't deigned to invite Tony and Silvio to their little shindig) were cooking up last Monday. Well, this, for one.

Speaking to reporters at the EU meeting, France's defense minister restated Paris' doubts about training Iraqis in Iraq.

"We in France continue to believe that this training should be done outside Iraq," Michele Alliot-Marie said. "Iraq has to find its own sense of identity and I don't think the addition of more foreigners in uniform will help that."

Diplomats said French concerns focused on whether U.S. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who commands the American training operation in Iraq, also could head the NATO mission under a "double-hat" arrangement allowing him to report back to alliance headquarters.

French diplomats last week expressed concern about the alliance operation becoming "subservient" to the U.S.-led coalition.

Belgium mostly was concerned about how to share the costs of the mission, wanting more of the expenses to be covered by participating allies and not common NATO funds.

Belgium, France, Germany and Spain have said they will not send instructors into Iraq.

However, German Defense Minister Peter Struck said German military experts would instruct Iraqi military engineers and vehicle maintenance units in the United Arab Emirates. He said further training on mine-clearance likely would be conducted in Germany.

Think about all this for a second. Germany, quite disingenuously in my view, is trying to play a more 'transatlantic friendly' policy by training a few vehicle maintenance units in the environs of Dubai (see, we are being more helpful than the French!) Spain votes for nada help in Iraq. France quibbles about chain of command issues (surtout pas de 'subservience'!) and wants to avoid any NATO 'flag' in Iraq. And Belgium, incredibly, is quibbling over a few Euros regarding whether funds for such a training mission would come from national budgets or pooled NATO funds.

I have to say, even as a pretty committed trans-atlanticist, this gets me pretty steamed. Bear with me, just for kicks, and take a brief moment to recall all the U.S. assistance to Europe in the past odd century. The Doughboys in St. Ettiene during WWI. The shores of Normandy in the Second World War. Think about the almost five long decades of the Cold War as the Soviet Union loomed over Berlin. Think about the horrific carnage in Bosnia that the European governments couldn't solve until the U.S. intervened. Think about the mammoth Marshall Plan and the lead American role in NATO which, lest we forget, served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism for these long decades too.

Now recall the death of 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania three years back. Think also about, if 3,000 had been slaughtered in Berlin or Paris, how their leaders might have reacted. Might not, even a feckless figure like Chirac, thought of potentially employing preventive means against an enemy that had tried to kill one of his predecessors, had used WMD against his own people, had started two wars in a region critical to his national interest, had ties with terror groups (even if no operational ones with the group responsible for the immediate massacre), had not expressed any regret about said attacks and was thought to possess stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that might be transferred to terror groups? Might not, for argument's sake, it be possible that Germany or France might have, just maybe, gotten a little 'carried away' after such a national trauma in their leading city and gotten deeply involved in a country like Iraq?

Look, whatever you make of the Iraq mission, it is beyond doubt that success there is critical to the stability of the vastly important Middle Eastern region and beyond. This is a point Tony Blair made forcefully today during Iyad Allawi's visit to London. And, of course, training and equipping a viable Iraqi Army is a major component of trying to make the Iraq project successful. Can we not expect more from our European 'allies' in assisting this effort?

Well, not much; not much at all (though ultimately they will likely concede enough to allow a de minimis NATO train and equip effort in and around Iraq). Instead, it's pretty clear what's going on. Germany is offering up a 'vehicle maintenance' program to curry favor with naive Washington players who think Berlin is playing nice-nice to France's inglorious repudiation of any responsibility in trying to resuscitate the imperiled Iraq project. Belgium, as Eurocrats are wont to do, is busy pinching pennies (sorry, Euros). Zapatero is playing young, poster-boy puppy to Gerard and Jacques to rejuvenate Old Europe with a breath of Spanish 44-year old (and quite underwhelming) panache. And Chirac is rubbing Bush's nose in the Iraq imbroglio--fighting a rear-guard action to try to help Kerry get in. If Kerry does prevail, Chirac will receive him regally in Paris ("I have been to Paris" the Senator will doubtless solemnly intone again). Paris will finally offer up some cosmetic assistance with more alacrity--some gendarmerie will be trained in a neighboring country or (even!) Iraq itself perhaps. There will be talk of rapprochment in the air.

You know, rather than have our Ambassador to NATO have to endure this cheap and disheartening carpet-bazaar bartering process in Brussels--perhaps his time would be better spent focusing instead on pushing through a dramatic overhaul of NATO. The Soviet Union no longer menaces Western Europe, of course. The new perils of this century are that of asymmetric warfare, global terror, rogue nations and transnational terror cells. Sure, anyone has the right to disagree with the merits of the Iraq war--but no one can seriously deny that international terrorists like Zarqawi are now operating there. A serious French leader (like Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance) would understand this and put an end to this tedious 'will we, won't we' debate on the minute NATO assistance being offered up on training of Iraqi forces.

In the absence of real help and while a reinvigorated NATO is forged, we should query the French (and Belgians) regarding whether they really wish to remain in the alliance. The HQ in Brussels, after all, can be moved to Warsaw, Milan, or hell, Manchester. And those who might choose to remain in the soi disant alliance, like the Germans, would have to offer up a little more than vehicle maintenance units and such.

After all, many are likely happy to see NATO wither away into irrelevance it seems:

...NATO has failed the most important test, namely to ensure that its members continue to see its success as essential to their interests.

That they no longer do so is deeply disturbing. It reflects less on the shortcomings of the organization than on the shortsightedness of its members. True, their security from military attack is currently no longer at stake. But NATO is more than just a defense pact.

Like no other institution, NATO embodies Atlantic cohesion, something that remains essential for any Western effort to promote a degree of international order. NATO links Europe to the world's most powerful country and uniquely ties the United States to a common procedure of consultation and cooperation. Moreover, it is the only organization capable of generating international military operations for the many stability-building tasks that lie ahead.

European governments, therefore, are crazy not to support NATO. To watch it wither is at best frivolous, at worst dangerous. Instead of blaming the Bush administration and hoping for a change of government in the US, European members need to make NATO their own concern again. This does not imply kowtowing to every American view and whim or foregoing efforts to strengthen European defense cooperation. It does mean undertaking to make NATO again the place where both sides of the Atlantic develop a common approach to the dangers of this world.

Unfortunately, most European governments merely shrug their shoulders when the issue is raised. That dangerous indifference is the most serious sign of NATO's crisis.


Look, allies, like good friends, have occasional disagreements. But they do not try to block at every turn. Yes, it's true--we didn't want NATO to come into Afghanistan initially. We had just lost 3,000 of our civilians--and speed was of the essence. Friends, of course, might understand this. Now speed is less critical in places like Afghanistan where we are engaged in a long-term nation-building exercise. And so, yeah, we'd love to have a greater NATO presence there now--preferably without needing to have the NATO Secretary-General beg for every other helicopter or extra troop contingent with cup in hand. Or beg for a few trainers to teach Iraqi police (let alone army) recruits. At some point, enough is enough--you have to call a spade a spade. If some in Europe want to relegate NATO to irrelevance--perhaps we should help the process along. A 'new and improved' NATO, leaner (sans the likely candidates) and more attuned to the panoply of threats confronting us in the 21st century might be a good start.

Or, people need to get serious, and fast. Assuming basic alliance responsibilities would be a good start. After all, two alliance members alone have about 150,000 troops on the ground in Iraq right now. And NATO, to date, has only assisted with some logistical support to a Polish-led multinational contigent. That's just not going to cut it. If key NATO country leaders don't get this--we should give them a last chance to better understand the dynamics at play--and what all of us in the Atlantic Community lose if they don't better assume their responsibilities. If they aren't willing to help, or don't care, well (and with regret), we'll have to draw the obvious conclusions and move along. History, and alliances, are always in flux. As Palmerston said, "there are no permanent allies, only permanent interests." Perhaps the interests of Brussels in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 era simply are no longer those of Washington (ironically, post-Beslan, anti-NATO Russia's are likely closer to Washington's than the likes of Belgium's are...).

NB: On a slightly different topic, I'll have more on growing U.S.-Russian cooperation (including the potential perils thereto) in the security sphere soon.

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at September 19, 2004 06:04 PM
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