For some reason, there is hardly ever any NATO coverage on this blog, despite the fact it’s the other pan-European institution. The Euro-Atlantic alliance is having a summit next month, to be held in Riga. Now, one of the main topics for this gathering is the long-running one of adapting NATO to challenges other than that of defending the North German plain from the Red Army. Role-of-the-week is, of course, fighting terrorism. A wider view might point out that the so-called “emerging security threats” predate the War On Terrorism, and that many of the capabilities required for “fighting terrorism” abroad are equally applicable to regional peacekeeping or even expeditionary warfighting.
Anyway, it’s long been thought in some circles that NATO’s radius of action ought to be increased. During the Cold War, NATO was quite intimately connected with other Western allies outside the North Atlantic, both via the Americans and also other multilateral mechanisms. The overlap between NATO, the EU, and other security communities and economic areas has often, then and now, been seen as a sort of “community of democracies” or (as Raymond Aron put it) “world of order”. On the other hand, E.P. Thompson savaged what he saw as a sick complacency in the face of nuclear dread and capitalist exploitation on the part of the “Natopolitans” in an article entitled Inside the Whale, and today’s rabid right wants to have a “Democratic Union” made up of NATO and EU states, Japan, India and Australia – but not France, naturally. NATO, meanwhile, has expanded in Europe and taken on a mission to Afghanistan, which is well out-of-area in NATOspeak.
The latest proposal was supported by the US and UK, and foresaw regular bilateral meetings between NATO and allied states outside Europe, with a shortlist of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. In a sense, it would have brought a sort of “secret NATO” or “virtual NATO” into the tent – the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have separate alliances among themselves and with the US, including the UKUSA, CAZAB and Echelon intelligence cooperation agreements, ANZUK and ANZUS.
So what happened?
Well, in the traditional pre-meeting meetings among officials, it looks like the proposal has been kiboshed by the French government. Defence Minister (and new presidential candidate) MichÃ©le Alliot-Marie explained why in an article Le Figaro carried on Monday (link). Now, the standard discourse is quite clear. This is simply an example of a Gaullist French government being NATO-sceptic, or if you are stupider, the cheese-eating surrender monkeys selling out American boys to the sociosexual dhimmicrats or whatever.
But Alliot-Marie’s official explanation is rather different. She refers to the possible appearance of such a move in terms of “clash of civilisations” (since when were Holland and Japan in the same civilisation?), but this is thin. More importantly, she claims to be concerned that NATO’s purpose may be diluted and the political will to maintain the Atlantic alliance strained if it is given further ill-defined missions. There is some point to this.
The most interesting question, though, is that it’s not as if France doesn’t participate in global-security tasks in cooperation with the US and NATO. The Washington Post reported not so long ago about a major CIA-run counter-terrorist coordination centre, “Alliance Base”, operating in France. The French navy is one of the founder members of the Proliferation Security Initiative, this highly anglo-saxon effort to check shipping for WMD components at choke points worldwide. And French forces have been participating not just in the NATO-run peacekeeping effort in Afghanistan, but also in the US-led terrorist hunt, Op. ENDURING FREEDOM. None of these are NATO tasks, but are instead “coalitions of the willing” with the Anglo-Saxons and their “intelligence special relationship.”
Personally, I would rather see more of these brought into the NATO orbit, and so should anyone concerned about US adventurism – NATO operates by unanimity, after all. And you would think the French government, if you assume its goal is to frustrate US unilateral activities, would want to bring these things into NATO for the same reason. Neither would they want to participate.
But the assumption that NATO or the EU is inactive against terrorism is not supported by facts. In fact, just as MAM’s officials troll-rated the Riga proposal, Sarkozy’s were signing off a new agreement on cooperation between EUROJUST, the EU judicial cooperation agency, and the US. In order to share information on drug traffickers and terrorists, as well, no doubt, any one of you and me who happens to crop up in their Big Database.