EU and NATO - The Competing Alliances

By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

Also published by United Press International (UPI)

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Written October 2002

Updated March 2005 and April 2008

I. NATO's Bucharest summit

As the negotiations between Macedonia and Greece regarding what has come to be known as "the name issue" failed, NATO has authorized its Council of Ministers to invite Macedonia to join the alliance at any time, conditioned upon a resolution of its bilateral bone of contention with its much larger neighbor.

The "name issue" involves a protracted dispute over the last 17 years between the two Balkan polities over Macedonia's right to use its constitutional name, "The Republic of Macedonia". The Greeks claim that Macedonia is a region in Greece and that, therefore, the country Macedonia has no right to monopolize the name and its derivatives ("Macedonian").

Moreover, the Greeks feel that Macedonians have designs on the part of Greece that borders the tiny, landlocked country and that the use of Macedonia's constitutional name internationally will only serve to enhance irredentist and secessionist tendencies, thus adversely affecting the entire region's stability.

Macedonia retorts that it has publicly renounced any claims to any territory of any of its neighbors. Greece is Macedonia's second largest foreign investor. The disparities in size, military power and geopolitical and economic prowess between the two countries make Greek "fears" appear to be ridiculous. Macedonians have a right to decide how they are to be called, say exasperated Macedonian officials.

Moreover, the Greek demands are without precedent either in history or in international law. Many countries bear variants of the same name (Yemen, Korea, Germany until 1990, Russia and Byelorussia, Mongolia). Others share their name with a region in another country (Brittany in France and Great Britain across the channel, for instance).

NATO's Bucharest Summit (April 2-4, 2008) was pivotal. It sealed NATO's commitment to encompass and extend its security guarantees to Southeast Europe (the western Balkans, notably Macedonia, Albania, and Croatia, aka the Adriatic Charter Group) and, thus, to completely surround a belligerent Serbia, peeved as it is by Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence.

The Summit failed to cement NATO's drive into Russia's borders (by inviting Ukraine and other former Soviet satellites to join the alliance's much vaunted "Partnership for Peace") and may well herald the Second Cold War. It enshrined the two-tier structure of NATO: active, combative members, such as the USA, UK, France, and Holland - vs. passive members confined to roles of logistical support (e.g., Germany).

II. The European Union and NATO

The Spanish recently (2005) endorsed the draft constitution of the European Union (EU) and a modified document was adopted in the Lisbon conference three years later. But such a smooth ride is rare.

The vote in October 2002 in Ireland, for example, was the second time in 18 months that its increasingly disillusioned citizenry had to decide the fate of the European Union by endorsing or rejecting the crucial Treaty of Nice. The treaty sought to revamp the union's administration and the hitherto sacred balance between small and big states prior to the accession of 10 central and east European countries. Enlargement has been the centerpiece of European thinking ever since the meltdown of the eastern bloc.

Shifting geopolitical and geo-strategic realities in the wake of the September 11 atrocities have rendered this project all the more urgent. NATO - an erstwhile anti-Soviet military alliance is search of purpose - is gradually acquiring more political hues. Its remit has swelled to take in peacekeeping, regime change, and nation-building.

Led by the USA, it has expanded aggressively into central and northern Europe. It has institutionalized its relationships with the countries of the Balkans through the "Partnership for Peace" and with Russia through a joint council. The Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary - erstwhile EU candidates and now its newest members - have been full scale members of NATO since 1999.

The EU responded by feebly attempting to counter this worrisome imbalance of influence with a Common Foreign and Security Policy and a now rather defunct rapid deployment force. Still, NATO's chances of replacing the EU as the main continental political alliance are much higher than the EU's chances of substituting for NATO as the pre-eminent European military pact. the EU is hobbled by minuscule and decreasing defence spending by its mostly pacifistic members and by the backwardness of their armed forces.

That NATO, under America's thumb, and the vaguely anti-American EU are at cross-purposes emerged during the recent spat over the International Criminal Court. Countries, such as Romania and Macedonia, were asked to choose between NATO's position - immunity for American soldiers on international peacekeeping missions - and the EU's (no such thing). Finally - and typically - the EU backed down. But it was a close call and it cast in sharp relief the tensions inside the Atlantic partnership.

As far as the sole superpower is concerned, the strategic importance of western Europe has waned together with the threat posed by a dilapidated Russia. Both south Europe and its northern regions are emerging as pivotal.

Airbases in Bulgaria are more useful in the fight against the insurgency in Iraq than airbases in Germany. The affairs of Bosnia - with its al-Qaida's presence - are more pressing than those of France. Turkey and its borders with central Asia and the middle east is of far more concern to the USA than disintegrating Belgium. Russia, a potentially newfound ally (or, in the wake of the Western-orchestrated Orange Revolution in the Ukraine, an old adversary), is more mission-critical than grumpy Germany.

Thus, enlargement serves to enhance the dwindling strategic relevance of the EU and heal some of the multiple rifts with the USA - on trade, international affairs (e.g., Israel), defence policy, and international law. But this is not the only benefit the EU derives from its embrace of the former lands of communism.

Faced with an inexorably ageing populace and an unsustainable system of social welfare and retirement benefits, the EU is in dire need of young immigrants. According to the United Nations Population Division, the EU would need to import 1.6 million migrant workers annually to maintain its current level of working age population. But it would need to absorb almost 14 million new, working age, immigrants per year just to preserve a stable ratio of workers to pensioners.

Eastern Europe - and especially central Europe - is the EU's natural reservoir of migrant labor. It is ironic that xenophobic and anti-immigration parties hold the balance of power in a continent so dependent on immigration for the survival of its way of life and institutions.

The internal, common, market of the EU has matured. Its growth rate has leveled off and it has developed a mild case of deflation. In previous centuries, Europe exported its excess labor and surplus capacity to its colonies - an economic system known as "mercantilism".

The markets of central, southern, and eastern Europe - West Europe's hinterland - are replete with abundant raw materials and dirt-cheap, though well-educated, labor. As indigenous purchasing power increases, the demand for consumer goods and services will expand. Thus, the enlargement members act both as a sink for Europe's production and the root of its competitive advantage.

Moreover, the sheer weight of their agricultural sectors and the backwardness of their infrastructure can force a reluctant EU to reform its inanely bloated farm and regional aid subsidies, notably the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). That the EU cannot afford to treat its new members to dollops of subventioary largesse as it does the likes of France, Spain, Portugal, and Greece is indisputable. But even the controversial phase-in period of 10 years burdens the EU's budget - and the patience of its member states and denizens - to an acrimonious breaking point.

The countries of central and eastern Europe are new consumption and investment markets. With a total of 300 million people (Russia counted), they equal the EU's population - though not its much larger purchasing clout. They are likely to while the next few decades on a steep growth curve, catching up with the West. Their proximity to the EU makes them ideal customers for its goods and services. They could provide the impetus for a renewed golden age of European economic expansion.

Central and eastern Europe also provide a natural land nexus between west Europe and Asia and the Middle East. As China and India grow in economic and geopolitical importance, an enlarged Europe will find itself in the profitable role of an intermediary between east and west.

The wide-ranging benefits to the EU of enlargement are clear, therefore. What do the new members stand to gain from their accession? The answer is: surprisingly little. All of them already enjoyed, to varying degrees, unfettered, largely duty-free, access to the EU much prior to their membership. To belong, a few - like Estonia - had to dismantle a much admired edifice of economic liberalism.

Most of them have to erect barriers to trade and the free movement of labor and capital where none existed. All of them are forced to encumber their fragile economies with tens of thousands of pages of prohibitively costly labor, intellectual property rights, financial, and environmental regulation. None stands to enjoy the same benefits as do the more veteran members - notably in agricultural and regional development funds.

Joining the EU would deliver rude economic and political shocks to the new members. A brutal and rather sudden introduction of competition in hitherto much-sheltered sectors of the economy, giving up recently hard-won sovereignty, shouldering the debilitating cost of the implementation of  reams of guideline, statutes, laws, decrees, and directives, and being largely powerless to influence policy outcomes. Faced with such a predicament, some countries may even reconsider.

Historical Note

Prior to 1945, Europe's history was bipolar. It was marked by a permanent tension between Bismarckian "balance of power", Berlin Congress-like, alliances - and, when these failed, armed conflict. In the decade following the end of World War II, the continent - both West and East - was under foreign military occupation (Soviet and American).

The Cold War was an alien geopolitical agenda, imposed by the United States and the USSR on a Europe devastated by two horrific conflagrations. The USA deployed its pecuniary prowess (the Marshall Plan, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund-IMF) and its formidable army to create NATO, almost single-handedly and often against the express wishes of a Europhobic Britain and an Americanophobic France.

The demise of Communism signaled the end of this aberrant and unprecedented phase in European history. Post 1989, continental politics is back to normal. Europe's nation-states are furiously at work forming supranational political and economic alliances intended to offset Germany's dominance either by co-opting it - or by deterring it.

The foreign policy of the kernel of continental Europe (France and Germany) has significantly diverged from that of its erstwhile ally, the USA. Most Europeans are also busy creating an alternative to NATO, now merely a long arm of the US military. NATO's bases are shifting to the former Soviet colonies. No longer a defensive pact, it provides logistical support and peacekeepers to overextended American troops abroad.

Gradually, as NATO is being Americanized, the European Union (possibly with a corresponding military wing) emerges as the only truly European forum. Euro-Atlanticism seems to have served its purpose. The Europeans' main concern now is not Russia but a resurgent Germany, replete with its re-acquired hinterland (namely the new members of the EU in Central Europe).

It is back to the 19th century. Britain is steeped in glorious isolation. France, wary of Germany, is trying to harness it to the common project of the EU. Germany, aware of its economic might, is reasserting itself diplomatically and militarily. The enlargement of the EU eastwards is the price that France had to reluctantly pay to keep Germany inside the European tent.

The EU is not the first common market in the continent's history - neither is the euro its first monetary union. All previous attempts at unification and harmonization ended in failure. There is no reason to assume that the fate of the current experiment will be any different.

The assertion that Western Europe has seen the last of its wars defies history and geography. It is only a matter of time before another European conflict erupts between the big four: Russia, Britain, France, and Germany. The USA will again be forced to intervene, no doubt.

Georgian Lessons for Small Nations

Small nations can learn seven important lessons from Russia's invasion of Georgia in August 2008:

1. The West, led by the USA, is militarily over-extended, politically fractured, and its European members - notably, Germany - are heavily dependent on the uninterrupted delivery of Russian energy. It can provide no effective security guarantees - and is not inclined to do so even when it could. The USA is far and Russia, in many cases, is a next door neighbor. For the former components of the USSR (the New Independent States) and for most formerly socialist countries, a "non-aligned" foreign policy makes eminent sense nowadays.

2. Russia, under Putin, is resurgent: economically, militarily, and geopolitically. True to historic form, it again resorts to the use of proxies in order to project its influence and flex its muscles in parts of the globe that it deems of vital interest (especially the Near Abroad, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Balkans). It does not shy from luring current NATO members (such as Greece) with access to energy products and pipelines. Unable to efficaciously act on Kosovo (owing to Serb capiulation), Russia is demonstrating its newfangled prowess, clout, and might in Georgia. It is hellbent on rolling NATO back from its borders and former colonies; on preventing the erection of a missile shield which it - rightly - regards as offensive, not defensive; and on establishing a Russian sphere of influence throughout Europe, east and west alike.

3. Realpolitik is back. Might is right - and only might is right. Forget about idealism, international law, human and minority rights. These are all so 1990-ish. To pedict the outcome of international conflict, one should merely gauge the size of the militaries involved; the GDP of the contestants; their industrial capacity; ability to project power and materiel; and their pivotal or marginal role in the global economy and, especially, in the energy markets.

4. Youth, enthusiasm, governance-by-gesture, public realtions campaigns, and popularity are poor substitutes for experience, strategizing, planning, and acting reasonably and with rigorous discipline. Alas, the leaders of the countries of the former Soviet Bloc are all inexperienced and rely too much on media manipulation. They have no substance. They believe that having public opinion on one's side is tantamount to running a successful state.

5. Amateurism in diplomacy may prove dangerous to one's health. Diplomacy is the art of the possible. An experienced diplomat knows how to give an take and realizes that he can never control the other party to the negotiations, or even predict the opponent's moves. Escalation is always on the cards. He, therefore, treads lightly, carefully, and patiently. Inexperienced hands are jingoistic and more attuned to their own domestic scene that to the wishes, priorities, and red lines of their adversaries.

6. National goals and interests compete for national resources and pose different risk to reward profiles. They must, therefore, be prioritized. National leaders must have the courage to delay the gratification of the cravings of their constituents and even to sacrifice certain rights, aims, and interests for the sake of the greater and longer good. Faux patriotism, used to raise and sustain popularity ratings, is the sign of the bad and dangerous leader.

7. In bilateral disputes, the deep involvement of foreigners and third parties guarantees instability. It motivates the parties to attract attention and score points by escalating the conflict. Countries like the USA and Russia are likely to abuse the locals as pawns on the global chessboard. Thus, the interlocutors in an internationalized bilateral dispute are likely to suddenly finds themselves embroiled in faraway standoffs in which they have no interest. Example: Russia has probably invaded Georgia because the West ignored its wishes on Kosovo. As Georgia placed itself in the American camp, it constituted a perfect target and a conduit to send a message to the USA. Similarly, the United States has refrained from extending help to Georgia, even as it was being ravaged by brutal Russian forces, because it needs Russian support and help in North Korea and Iran.

Also Read

Left and Right in a Divided Europe

Europe's Four Speeds

Switching Empires

Transition in Context

Germany's Rebellious Colonies

The Concert of Europe, Interrupted

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