Free, independent, weekly direct action newsletter from Brighton, England

Back to SchNEWS Home Page

Back to Bilderberg Home Page

[Page 41]

NATO's Future

THIS discussion was overshadowed by two events: the continuing peace talks in Kosovo; and the European Union's announcement that it wanted to set up a defence body of its own. The panellists tended to view both these developments as broadly positive for both NATO and the western alliance. But there were still plenty of doubts raised -- particularly about Europe's relative lack of technological clout and political unity.


The European Union has always had a defensive component. The notion of politics and security was there at the beginning of the European enterprise; and there have been questions ever since about things like nuclear deterrence. As the European Union enlarges and becomes more integrated, its membership will become ever more similar to that of NATO, and the relationship between the two bodies will change.

The underlying issue is whether the aspirations correspond with the reality. The aspirations of the European Union are not clear. Indeed, the very fact that the European Union seems to be in the process of trying to define its identity shows that it does not have one. There are also neutral countries within the European Union. When the Berlin Wall came down, the first aspiration of many of the Eastern countries was to join the European Union; instead NATO expanded first.

There are two realities that matter. The first is that the European Union, as it becomes larger and more integrated, will become a military power, whether it wants that role or not. Indeed a common defence policy will correspond with the aims of the defence lobbies; budgets may only be justifiable if a country is contributing to a common EU force. The other reality is that

[Page 42]

America has to be involved in the Continent's defence. Once you accept those realities, you can look at issues such as what the new contract between NATO and the European Union ought to be. That debate should start now.


In an earlier discussion, another panellist suggested that Slobodan Milosevic might be the father of European integration. Kosovo has crystallised thinking about defence. This is a good process for the European Union to go through -- even though it is not clear that it currently has the necessary political or technological ability.

Kosovo leaves us with various lessons: that American involvement is essential; that an integrated military structure is the only way to win a serious war; that, although NATO is a defensive organisation, it must still maintain an offensive threat. The question now is why we would want to change the roles of NATO and the European Union. One of the main answers is that we need to do so in order to keep America involved: we cannot expect America to police our backyard.

The new force is not an attempt to duplicate NATO, but to give Europe the capacity to act in a more limited way, and to put in place a decision making structure. This will strengthen the European Union, but only if it has the means to reach these ends. Most of Europe's governments are weak. The convergence on the centre-left could help cohesion. But there still has to be more discipline. In terms of operating procedures, the new force should follow the same ones as NATO; it should intervene only after it has given peace a chance and when the military objectives are clear.


There has been a predictable series of delays at the border in Kosovo. But some kind of treaty looks likely. The next phase is bound to be difficult. The KLA is likely to pose problems; the Serbs will inevitably play games. There is the moral dilemma for the West of what to do with the war criminals, and the financial one of how to pay for reconstruction: the lion's share of the reconstruction will come from

[Page 43]

Europe. This will count as a big achievement for NATO. Only a few years ago many people would have considered an operation like Kosovo impossible -- particularly with three new members.

NATO's first 50 years were about ensuring stability in northern and central Europe, and bringing together Germany and France. The next 50 years may well be about southern central Europe. The cold war succeeded only in hiding the nationalist impulses in the region. It will take a long time for the wounds to be healed.

The Clinton Administration was wrong to set time limits in Bosnia. Now it should recognise that Yugoslavia and the Balkans is NATO's new patch, and that the commitment there will be neither short-term nor cheap. And, needless to say, this environment will impact both the enlargement of NATO and how the organisation deals with the emerging EU defence force.


The Finnish president's peace mission has been a great success. The prospect of a peace agreement gives a new perspective to the war in Kosovo. We are now returning to a multilateral European foreign policy, with, hopefully, the United Nations playing a prominent role and Russia not being excluded.

The immediate problem is the Kosovar refugees. But the only long-term guarantee of stability in the region will be when all the countries concerned become members of the European Union. In the meantime we have to concentrate on bringing these countries into a series of proper contractual relationships with each other. There also needs to be a stability pact for south-east Europe. This should be built around things like a basic respect for human rights, democracy and a functioning economy.

One conclusion is that two roads stretch in front of NATO. One leads to a new division of Europe, where the continent returns to its ethnocentric ways. Under this scenario, the UN is fairly powerless, Russia and China are excluded, and NATO is little more than an enforcer. The second road is a little closer to nineteenth century Europe, with all the great powers -- not just America and the

[Page 44]

European Union but Russia, China and Japan co-operating. The first road leads to Clausewitz; the second to Jean Monnet.


A persistent theme throughout the discussion was a sceptical desire to know more -- both about the new European defence force and about the continuing repercussions of the war in Kosovo. The first speaker set the tone by asking how the new European force would fit into NATO'S command structure. Others followed with questions about where the force would operate and on what scale. One panellist insisted that the European Union and NATO should not be rival organisations. The current process was all about the European Union developing a force to deal with small, local crises in Europe before they became big ones. NATO had a much wider global parameter, in his view, and it concentrated on problems between countries, rather than ones inside them. But another panellist thought that NATO could never become a world-wide organisation. It was hard to imagine it intervening in Rwanda, even though the killing there had been on a much more savage scale.

Another set of questions were inspired by the apparent growing technological mismatch between the two continents. One speaker from the Netherlands explained that Europe's total defence budget is around $290 billion against America's $370 billion. But in terms of effectiveness, the gap is much larger. Europe's true spending is probably a third of America's. Like several other speakers, he argued that there must be more transatlantic integration both of defence forces and of defence companies. Some of the panellists though that much of the gap between America and Europe could be bridged by more effective spending.

One international participant argued that, on the evidence of Bosnia and Kosovo at least, the mismatch in hardware might be smaller than the software mismatch. America, he pointed out, wanted to use air power and also had the necessary offensive (as opposed to defensive) aircraft to do it. The Europeans seemed more comfortable with putting troops onto the ground. This mis-

[Page 45]

match he argued might help even out the hardware disadvantage. But an American participant was much less confident. He did not think that NATO had begun to work out how it needed to be restructured for the current world. There was no longer a clear enemy. Refugees were likely to be one big challenge; another was nuclear proliferation. It was not just a question of changing weapons, but also changing bureaucracies.

A few speakers worried about how these changes within NATO were going to rebound within the UN system. One panellist argued that the UN needed to be restructured, but he also argued that it was a vital piece of international architecture. The UN was the only place where global power could be legitimised. Another panellist agreed, though he immediately pointed out that one of the lessons of Kosovo and Bosnia was that the UN could not close deals, but NATO could.

An American participant echoed many other speakers when he asked precisely what precedent had been set in Kosovo. One panellist argued that the precedent in general was a positive one. It would be easier to do again. He also thought it marked the beginning of a new role for NATO, encapsulated in Vaclav Havel's claim that Kosovo was "the first human rights war". That was an exaggeration; there were security issues involved. But human rights had plainly become an issue too.

Several speakers worried about what the events in Kosovo meant for NATO and European enlargement. One panellist argued that enlargement should go ahead. The best guarantee of peace in Europe was the idea that all the region's countries could eventually become members of the European family. Another Frenchman argued that NATO's health should be judged by how closely Europe and America stayed together. The show of unity during the war was good, but NATO could not always rely on people like Slobodan Milosevic to unify it so perfectly. One of the panellists preferred to end on a more optimistic note. The European Union and the United States were together: with NATO, it was question of how, not whether.