Monday, April 06, 2009

# Posted 4:10 AM by Patrick Porter  

THE FUTURE OF NATO As a NATO agnostic, it was great to read Amanda Kempa's latest article in Financial Times Deutschland. Amanda is a long term friend of Oxblog.

She has an interesting take on how France historically reinvigorated the military alliance, and can do again.

Here's the link. And here is the English translation:

France can revitalize NATO, again

France is back in NATO – and, not surprisingly, it’s with a bang, not a whimper. This week's NATO summit in Germany will mark both the organization’s 60th anniversary and France’s rejoining of NATO’s integrated military structure. The French clearly do not want this step to go unnoticed. It has been reported that French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened to boycott the gathering unless diplomatic protocols were changed so that he would be seated at the head of the summit table. After frantic talks, a new arrangement was worked out that will place the French president next to NATO’s Secretary General whenever television cameras are in the room.

The episode may prove to be prescient, as France’s return to NATO presents the organization with the opportunity to reform more than just seating protocol – it could jump start discussions critical to the future of the Atlantic Alliance.

Ironically, this is precisely what happened when Charles de Gaulle withdrew France from NATO in 1966. The act is generally remembered as having triggered the most serious crisis in NATO’s history, which it did. But what is often overlooked is that, ultimately, French withdrawal revitalized the stagnating organization.

No longer able to respond to situations in an ad hoc manner and remain viable, the USA and its European allies were forced to confront deep divisions within the alliance. An overarching vision for NATO that included both military and political objectives was agreed upon, and a more equitable division of labour among its members was worked out to realize it. A similar re-assessment for today’s NATO is long overdue. And current alliance leaders would do well to examine three key areas that were addressed in this period – Russia, arms control, and defence capabilities; though much has changed in the last four decades, these three issues are still at the core of NATO’s long-term viability.

The first topic alliance leaders were forced to address was the changing nature of relations with Russia. Shortly after the withdrawal, de Gaulle travelled to the Soviet Union to pursue bilateral relations between Paris and Moscow. The move galvanized NATO. Fearful that France would take the lead in East-West relations. the allies countered with a comprehensive re-assessment of their own policy toward the Soviet Union. This resulted in agreement on two issues: 1) to remain relevant, NATO had to move beyond its military functions and address broader, more political issues such as détente and arms control, and 2) these initiatives would be pursued collectively rather than unilaterally – and that included the United States. In the 21st century, a resurgent Russia necessitates the same commitment to clearly articulated objectives and collective action. Multilateralism has been essentially shunned for the past eight years by Washington, but France’s reintegration coinciding with the new American administration presents a unique opportunity to begin the hard work of rebuilding it.

This is particularly urgent in the other area Alliance leaders focused on after French withdrawal: arms control. Progress here was viewed as critical not merely to increase European security; forging an agreement on non-proliferation with the East was hoped to be the basis for pursuing non- proliferation on other continents as well. In terms of Russia, it was hoped that working constructively with Moscow in this area would lead to broader dialogue on other further issues.

The strategy worked. The allies’ unity during arms control negotiations with the USSR proved essential to concluding the most durable arms control treaty of the 20th century, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and jump started talks on human rights and territorial integrity, culminating with the Helsinki Accords. Today, Russia has suspended the Treaty on Conventional Forces and discussions in this area have halted. Both Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy, however, have publicly supported the idea of opening a dialogue, including arms control, to review European security. Once back in NATO, Sarkozy will hopefully actively pursue this, and France is well positioned to work toward coordinating NATO and EU policy on the issue. Moreover, with France’s added diplomatic weight, the West will have a much stronger, more unified hand in negotiations.

Finally, the loss of French troops and territory served to remind Alliance leaders that NATO's credibility was rooted in its defence capability. Thus, modernizing and further integrating the allies’ defences was seen as essential to revitalizing the organization. This is equally imperative today -- and not necessarily a matter of vastly increasing spending. Alliance members can tangibly strengthen their military integration by purchasing weapons and technology from each other, consolidating duplicated systems, and developing new systems jointly. As the European country with the highest overall expenditure on defence and the only continental West European country with nuclear weapons, France's involvement in this area is vital. Deepening integration on the operational level in this way will do far more to strengthen NATO than the issuing of joint communiqués or the creation of ever more institutional structures.

Forty years ago, France’s withdrawal from NATO threatened to end the most successful alliance in military history. Ultimately, however, it revitalized it. Today, if France spurs the Atlantic Alliance to confront issues that are critical to NATO’s future, its reintegration could revitalize it once again
(1) opinions -- Add your opinion

I'm not a NATO agnostic. I think they should have declared victory and gone home after the Warsaw Pact collapsed. What we've seen since then is haphazard mission creep and unnecessary foreign policy sand traps. I don't know why NATO still exists and they don't seem to either.

That said, it's pretty ballsy, and all too typically French, for Sarkozy to demand the seat at the head of the table simply because he's walked in the room. France has been ignoring its international responsibilities for far too long to make a claim like that. It's nice that they're back, but let's not flatter them by acting like they are more important than they are.
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