Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Lost without a MAP 2

The response to the response.


Dear Gerd,

thanks for your response. To address your last question first: yes, we do want Georgia in NATO. You worry about its stability, and the potential for conflict over the secessionist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and rightly so: this is precisely why NATO is needed in Georgia as a guarantor of peace and territorial integrity. NATO has played such a role in the past, welcoming in the western half of a divided Germany in 1955 and seeing it through to unification 35 years later. The commitment of NATO members to collective self-defence made the 'salami tactics' which the Soviet empire had used to absorb much of eastern Europe virtually impossible after 1949; membership for Ukraine and Georgia would send a clear message that the open world continues to be prepared to defend like-minded states today. The events of even the past fortnight have demonstrated that not only is such a message clearly needed, but that Russia responds positively when the open world presents a united front.

Since failing to secure MAP status at the Bucharest conference, Georgia has found itself under increasing pressure on its northern frontier, most recently evinced by the shooting down of an unmanned Georgian spy plane over Abkhazia on April 22nd. Russia had already taken steps to secure Abkhazia and South Ossetia within its economic orbit, offering hefty subsidies to the breakaway regions, ending decade-old sanctions against them in March and counting Abkhazian companies as Russian when seeking tenders for the construction of sites for the Sochi Olympics. It went a step further last week when it moved to establish official links and recognise certain Abkhazian and South Ossetian documents. The open world responded with belated if commendable vigour to these attempts at formalising de facto annexation, with both the EU and NATO weighing in to express their concern. Russian President Vladimir Putin was compelled to soften his stance, and decree that the 18 month-old postal and visa restrictions on Georgia should be brought to an end, and that talks should be held on similarly winding down a Russian embargo on trade. The lesson is clear. Moscow is conciliatory when the open world acts in unison, but will act to destabilise and dismember Georgia if it thinks Tbilisi is isolated and weak. Just as NATO's promise of collective security prevented war between Germany and Europe's western and eastern halves for the duration of the Cold War, so NATO represents the best hope of avoiding conflict between Georgia, its breakaway regions and their northern backer. A credible NATO deterrent is the best guarantee of Georgian peace and stability. The open world faces a direct challenge. It is one at which it should not baulk.

You rightly argue that Moscow is ruing its lost influence, and searching for a post-imperial role in its 'near abroad'. But if this is to be benign, Moscow must cease deliberate destabilisation and recognise the right of other governments to determine their own foreign policies. It is in Russia's own long term interests for the open world to take a firm line now, and demonstrate that its future lies in co-operation with its neighbours, not confrontation. You are right that open values are suffering from a crisis of legitimacy within Russia; but this is no reason to simply abandon our principles, or, indeed, our security. You go on to argue that missile defence in Poland and the Czech Republic is aimed at Russia. It is not. The handful of inceptor missiles envisaged by the system does not even begin to undermine a Russian nuclear deterrent composed of thousands of warheads which can be fired from land, sea or air. America's offer to delay activation of the system until a concrete threat emerges, and its invitation to Russia to station liaison officers at each site, appears to have soothed the concerns of President Putin, who has toned down his rhetoric since the NATO summit and now talks instead about building "transparency and trust". There is no longer any question that this is a system aimed at rogue states such as Iran, and not a mere anti-Russian provocation as you assert. The open world is not, and should not, back Russia into a corner. But it cannot allow Moscow a veto over its defence.

You also mischaracterise NATO is a 'soldier-for-hire' without purpose. Its geographical extent may be a relic of the Cold War, but its commitment to defend the open world remains as relevant as ever. Much of western Europe may feel safe beneath its defensive umbrella, having not fought a war on home soil for over half a century, but the open world and its values remain under threat. NATO was called upon in the Balkans and Afghanistan, and the chances are that it will, sadly, be called upon again. Potential new member states such as Ukraine and Georgia have an important role to play in providing the manpower NATO needs to meet its commitments; Georgia has already put existing members to shame with its willingness to deploy troops in Afghanistan. Full membership is the logical reward for helping to bear the burden of our mutual defence.

Finally, you worry that NATO should not be used to 'export' our values. I agree: it should not. Certainly, no government should be forced to join a military alliance. But Ukraine and Georgia have found their own way to the open world, and, having made it there, and with both governments looking to NATO for support, we should not turn them away. As we approach parliamentary elections, due on May 21st, Georgian democracy remains troublingly flawed, with question marks over media freedoms and judicial independence, but this should be a call to action to help foster Georgian development, not to abandon it in the face of Russian aggression. As I mentioned in my last letter, MAP status itself entails democratic benchmarks, but of course the first function of NATO is military; there are other organisations which are better placed to encourage institution building, such as the EU, and I would gladly make the case for EU expansion in another debate. For now, it suffices to note that NATO has proved a bridge into the other structures of the open world in the past, notably for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic who joined the alliance in 1999 and the union in 2004, and I see no reason, save a lack of political will among EU member states, why it should not do so again. Ukraine and Georgia are nascent members of the open world and they should be defended as such. MAP status should be granted as soon as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours truly,

Benedict J. White

Monday, 21 April 2008

Good Old Nato

Gerd Watzenig replies:

NATO needs to arrive in the 21st century before expanding in “enemy territory”


Dear Ben,

Thank you for your letter, I received it and read it with great interest and greater amusement. It is a nice and well formulated approval that both the Ukraine and Georgia should join the NATO rather sooner than later. Your argumentation sounds solid and the call for the defence of “embryonic democracies “and “Western values” is very touching. But I was stunned by so much a quixotic approach. Let us bring things in order and see how things are rather than how they ought to be, shall we?

What is NATO? NATO is a military alliance and a tool for the collective self-defence of nations. At the time of its establishment in 1949, the Western world was concerned about its security and sought a vehicle to oppose the new threat in the east: the USSR. This happened rightfully so, as Stalin's ambitions to see soviet tanks at the Atlantic coast were known only too well. The sole purpose of the Atlantic Charter therefore is to oppose one enemy: the USSR and its allies. The enemy collapsed in 1989, the threat evaporated, but NATO remained unchanged and the organisation has been in a deep identity crises ever since. Whom to fight if there is no enemy? Yes, NATO is in Afghanistan and Kosovo as a soldier-for-hire but that only camouflages the fact that NATO does not know where it is going. Until this identity crisis is resolved, its old purpose remains and this purpose is to counterbalance (Soviet) Russia.
For the time being therefore Russia will perceive NATO for what it is, a military alliance posed against it. And why should it not? The last expansion brought the old enemy closer to its boarders, the new missile defence system can protect only against Russian missiles. A defence Russia cannot counter, thereby overthrowing the MAD principle. Russia is pushed and poked on the international scene where ever possible, sometimes rightfully so, sometimes not.

Russia too is in a crisis. The lost empire, the collapsed economy which only slowly recovers, the ruling of the country by a dubious political elite, the deteriorating armed forces, and many other internal problems lie heavy upon the shoulders of the Russian people. They are aware of the problems and challenges they have to face, but they are also aware that many of their problems are a result of the botched democratisation and economic reformation of the 1990s. A failed process the West greatly encouraged and is therefore not perceived as a friend. And the West keeps pushing, damaging its image with the Russian people even further. But even a weak Russian bear will bite if it is cornered.

The next question is, do we really want a country like Georgia to be in the NATO? This has nothing to do with the Georgian people but Georgia is anything but stable. Two of its provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, declared themselves unilaterally independent in the 1990s. The people living there, many Russian from origin, are heavily dependent on Russian support to survive, which Russia is gladly providing. Georgia has not recognised the independence of the two provinces and neither has Russia. Too weary is she of similar problems within her own borders. But the newly independent Kosovo will cast its shadow there as well. A NATO membership does not offer solutions to an unsolved internal conflict but it will force Russia to an even more aggressive stand. If violence should brake out in within Georgia, than it is the obligation of the United Nations and not the job of an international mercenary to find a suitable solution.

The next point that NATO is not a cultural export centre. It is a military alliance, not more, not less. Trying to promote Western values through NATO is like promoting “don't drink and drive” while driving a tank under the influence. It is not very believable. Until NATO has not made up its mind, where it is going, extensions should not proceed, especially not if they are provoking the old “enemy”. NATO is still fighting a war, it has long won. But even a defeated foe will keep on fighting if the winner does not realise it has already won.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Lost without a MAP

The first in a series of letters between myself and my colleague, Gerd Watzenig, on the subject of NATO expansion, to be published in the forthcoming edition of the DA News Review. I'll post Gerd's response as and when I have it.


Dear Gerd,

Ukraine and Georgia are embryonic democracies whose future lies in the structures of the open world. Backed by the United States and many of NATO's Eastern European members, they hoped to be granted a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the recent NATO summit in Bucharest, but, after misgivings from Germany, France and Britain, they have had to be content with a promise of eventual membership and a commitment for foreign ministers to look again at MAP status in December. MAP would be the next stage of these countries' entry into NATO, obliging them to submit annual reports on democratic and military benchmarks. It would cement their fragile progress towards open democratic norms and be a guarantee against malign external interference in the affairs of their democratically elected governments, a boon not only for their people, but also for the open world as a whole. They should be granted MAP status without delay.

Let us not be coy here. It is time to bring the big brown bear lurking in the corners of the last paragraph centre stage. Russian pressure is the reason Ukraine and Georgia are not today the proud owners of a pair of MAP's; the reason that the powers of Western Europe, who protest that they must rub along with Russia as best as they can, felt compelled to insist upon delay. “The entry of Georgia and not the right response to the balance of power in Europe and between Europe and Russia”, opined French Prime Minister Francis Fillon. “What is the rush?” asked a senior German official, loath to drag Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president-elect, into a fight with NATO even before he had taken office.

Spheres of influence undoubtedly exist in the world. But where they are asserted against the wishes of democratically-elected governments they should be opposed wherever practicably possible. We are no longer living in the 18th century, or indeed in the Cold War, and a putative balance of power should have no part in considerations concerning accession to a democratic-military club. Ukraine and Georgia should not be kept waiting for risk that they turn away from democratic reform. Russia's future too should undoubtedly lie in the structures of the open world. But delay this time around has sent Medvedev the message that pressure pays, and that Europe will buckle when Russia works its ursine charms. Better to grant both Ukraine and Georgia MAP status as soon as possible, and encourage Russia to pursue its legitimate interests in an open and transparent manner without the implicit threat of military force that keeping its neighbours out of a defensive military alliance entails.

It is easy to take for granted, from the comfort of Vienna, the stability, peace and progress which NATO membership for the former Eastern Bloc-countries who joined in 1999 and 2004 has brought Europe as a whole. If we wish to see our values entrenched we cannot be afraid to offend our partners, however valuable. The defence of the open world begins in Kiev and Tibilisi. May it one day extend to Moscow.

I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours truly,

Benedict J. White

The sweet fruits of EU expansion

This is the text of a speach I made against the proposition "EU exapansion: too much, too soon" in the first DA debate of 2008 earlier this year:

A fortnight ago, Janez Jansha, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, as his country assumed the rotating EU presidency. This is how his speech began (and, please forgive me, my Slovenian is a little rusty):

"Today is a historic day. Slovenia is presenting the priorities of its EU Council Presidency in the European Parliament as the first new Member State, as the first member from behind the former Iron Curtain, and as the first Slavic country to lead the EU Council.

This would have been impossible without the profound changes that have occurred on the European continent in the past quarter of a century. They have enabled Europe to become united, in a Union of peace, freedom, solidarity and progress. All this was unthinkable for millions of Europeans only 20 years ago."

Mr Jansha was right. The past 20 years have seen dramatic changes across the continent of Europe, changes for the better. 20 years ago the European Community consisted of just 12 countries, and much of Europe lay behind the Iron curtain. In the 1990s, Austria, Sweden, and Finland were welcomed into the Union, and the process began of admitting states from the Mediterranean and the former Communist world, a process which culminated in the accession of 10 new countries in 2004, and a further two in 2007. In is on these latter enlargements since 2004 which we will concentrate today.

I will argue, that the addition of 12 new member states to the European Union, has been an undoubted success. Far from being too much, too soon, this wave of expansion was both appropriate, and timely. It has been a blessing for the new member states themselves. It has been a blessing for the old European core. It has been a blessing for the European Union itself. And it has been a blessing for stability in the world as a whole.

Mr Jansha listed the benefits of the Union's expansion as solidarity, freedom, progress, and peace. Allow me to begin by elaborating on the latter three points. "Freedom" might be a loaded term in American discourse. But the EU, by initiating a process of expansion, has entrenched electoral democracy in the region. It has entrenched the rule of law, and empowered its people with a breathtaking array of rights. To take merely the most topical, the enlargement of Schengen in December last year, enabled the citizens of Poland, the Czech Republic, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, to travel west across the country without stopping at borders.

As for progress and prosperity, the region as a whole has seen breathtaking rates of economic growth, and millions lifted out of poverty. The Baltic countries have grown at an average of 7-8% a year for over a decade. The path towards open societies which these once transitional states have taken is of course one they have taken themselves. One cannot credit the EU alone with the rapid and vivid transformation of the countries of central and eastern Europe; it was a transformation effected in the first instance by their leaders and peoples.

But without the beacon of potential EU membership - without an open door welcoming them into the warmth of the Brussels hearth side, to whom, precisely, was the region was supposed to have turned? It is easy to take for granted the relatively stable and peaceful transition which the new member states made through the 1990s, and to forget that this was underwritten by the prospect of relatively speedy EU membership.

Take the example of Slovakia, which in the year before it formally applied to join the European Union in 1995 was placed by Freedom House, an American think-tank which regularly assesses global freedoms, in the 3rd tier down for Political Rights, and in the 4th tier for Civil Liberties. The process of accession to the European Union was instrumental in guiding Slovakia out of the semi-authoritarian years of Vladimír Mečiar, and aiding the government of Mikuláš Dzurinda in cementing Slovakia within Western European norms. Today, thanks in great measure to its European Union membership, Slovakia is ranked by Freedom House in the top-tier for both Political Rights and Civil Liberties.

The benefits of the recent expansion of the European Union for the old core have also been considerable, and go well beyond a sense of European solidarity. Western Europe, of course, has benefited geo-strategically through the expansion of the European Union through what was once hostile territory, and from the addition of new allies for Nato and EU peacekeeping missions. It has benefited from millions of motivated and educated new citizens to oil Europe's sclerotic labour markets - Britain alone has added an estimated 600000 eastern Europeans to its workforce. Western Europe has gained from the absorbsion of new consumer markets for European goods and investment opportunities - just witness the expansion of the Austrian supermarket Billa through much of the region.

The Union itself has been a beneficiary of its expansion. New member states forced the issue of institutional reform onto the table. 130 million new citizens have given the EU more clout on the global stage in securing trade deals and solutions to global conflict, and now, locked up within its borders, are some of the fastest growing economies in the world. This added clout bolsters its foreign policy, and it is the expansion itself which allows the EU to play what I would argue is its most important global role - its role of stabilising its neighbourhood. The EU is the vital adhesive which holds Bosnia together. The prospect of future Serbian membership, is the best hope we have of avoiding conflict over Kosovo. This would not be possible without the expansion of the EU over the last four years - had we cast into the wilderness those new member states who failed to live up to the highest standards, how could we now turn to to the Western Balkans and tell it "you, too, could one day be part of the EU". And without being able to say that, how many lives are we putting at risk? We cannot take for granted the stability which the European Union has guaranteed.

As Mr Jansha said, the last twenty years have transformed the European continent, a process which culminated in the accession of new member states in 2004 and 2007. It was imperative that the European Union adapt to these changes in a timely and appropriate fashion, and expansion of the last four years met these goals. To say that this expansion was too much, too soon, is to hanker after a divided Europe, a Europe of the past. Expansion has been good for the new member states, the old member states, the EU as an institution, and the wider world beyond. I'm with Mr Jansha, and for a Europe of Solidarity, Freedom, Progress and Peace. I trust that you, all, are too.

Thank you.