The Deadly Antlers
NATO, the EU and the New Kids on the Block

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Written: June 22, 1999

The Irish Elk roamed the earth 10,000 years ago. They had the largest pair of antlers ever grown - 3.6 meters (12 feet) across. Every year they grew new antlers from nubs prominently displayed on their heads. They were awesome to behold. They fought ferociously. They seemed eternal.

Then the weather changed. The earth shed its forests for a new Tundra attire. The Irish elk ignored this creeping revolution. It continued to grow its antlers and, by doing so, to deplete its own reserves of calcium and phosphorus. Drained of vital minerals, unable to find enough food to restore themselves they died out, their magnificent antlers intact.

NATO has emerged from its Pyrrhic victory in Kosovo shell shocked and riven by internal strains. The European Union (EU), in the name of "Euro-Atlantic Structures", hurries to join NATO in the minefield it so unwisely occupies. Both are in danger of growing antlers too big for their own survival. There are three pairs of lethal antlers involved:

(a) Europe and Uncle Sam

The misnomered Operation Allied Force employed little force (much less than during the Gulf War) and tore the alliance apart. NATO has split into a nascent European military structure (the former defunct West European Union which was officially absorbed by the EU a fortnight ago) - and an American (rather, an Anglo-Saxon) avuncularly benevolent umbrella. Europeans have yet to recover from the detached, callous and off-handed manner of the mismanagement of the whole crisis by the amateurs in Washington. Their trust in America's insight, foresight and sagacious hindsight has been shattered by American strategic mistakes, intelligence errors, diplomatic gaffes and internal squabbling in a poll-orientated administration. The Europeans emerged with a "never again" pledge. America is not likely to be invited to Europe's parties any time soon. Europe is too much of a China shop and America - whether Republican or Democratic - too much of an elephant. As it were, there was no love wasted between these two constituents of NATO. Now they are effectively divorcing or, at least, going through a phase of not so amicable separation.

To this one should add the conflicting interests of members in this uncomfortable menage a 19.

Greece (aided and abetted by Iran) is already fighting proxy wars with Turkey throughout Central Eastern Asia (the Asian Republics of the former USSR), in Cyprus and in the former Yugoslavia. France is uneasy with the German-British Third Way and what it regards as a rapprochement between the two which threatens its privileged status in the EU. The poorer countries and the EU regional aid beneficiaries (not always the same group) are dead set against EU enlargement to the east. The list is very long.

(b) Central Europe

Disgusted by what they regarded as a superfluous and unnecessarily brutal war - the Central Europeans had the rudest awakening imaginable. They were forced to participate in a war effort within what they believed to be a defensive alliance. They joined NATO the introverted giant - and woke up to NATO the agile, hyperactive and violent neighbourhood cop. Hungary was forced to risk its ethnic kinfolk in Serbia's Vojvodina region. The Czechs engaged in bruising internal verbal fistfights. It was not a seemly sight. The new Central European entrants joined the likes of Greece and Italy and recoiled from assisting the war effort in any meaningful way. The shock waves are likely to reverberate for longer and transform NATO's commitment in Central Europe. It is not inconceivable to end up with a two-tier NATO: the fighting goons and the battle-shy, logistics-only allies.

This uneasy co-existence is made even less cosy by the clear reluctance of the EU to absorb the poor relatives to its east and south. Entry deadlines are habitually postponed, bureaucratic hurdles gleefully presented, sadistic reports about the Central Europeans' lack of progress periodically issued. No wonder the six eternal candidates feel rejected and abused. This humiliating misbehaviour on the part of the EU resulted in a turning of the tide. Opinion polls show growing opposition to the idea of Europe (in the Czech Republic, for instance) - unthinkable just two years ago. The countries of the Balkan area - the "New Associates" - constitute ominous competition for funds, attention and orientation, as far as the current future members are concerned. The Lucky Six (the Visegrad Trio, Slovenia, Cyprus) are likely to be relegated to the backburner now that the EU found a new toy, the Balkans. This will engender great bitterness and enmity between the EU and Central Europe and between Central Europe and the Balkanians. Hardly a recipe for orderly transition, for democracy, or for market economy.

(c) The Balkan Sore

The EU is known for its verbal pyrotechnics, its unlimited pool of enticing vision and its great spinning and marketing techniques. This arsenal is fully employed now to bedazzle the Balkan natives into happy submission to the seductive harmonies of the common market. The EU is dangling a cornucopean promise of eternal economic bliss in front of the bleeding, limb-torn statal rumps which comprise the former glory of Yugoslavia. But the targets of this brainwashing will do well to look to their Central European neighbours for an antidote. The "New Association" status offered to the likes of Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria and Romania and, later, Montenegro and perhaps, post-Milosevic Serbia is an ingenious piece of camouflage, a fata morgana, devoid of content. It is an evocation of hitherto repressed desires and it leads to self-delusion but it will amount to no serious attempt at integration by the EU.

The economic disparity between the aspirants and the current members is numbing. The average GDP per capita in Macedonia is c. 2000 USD per annum. This is the GDP produced by a Slovenian in 10 weeks, by a Greek and Portuguese in 8, by a German in 3 weeks. There is no convergence to talk of - the gap is increasing, not decreasing, especially following the Kosovo debacle. The legal system in these countries is biased against the individual, antiquated and totalitarian. Human and civil rights are foreign implants, inflammatorily rejected by the body politic. The economy is corrupt, nepotistic and cronyist. Crime organizations constitute a big part of the trading activities and maintain a heavy grip upon the political class. The media is mostly government-owned and manipulated. The Balkan simply is not European. It is Byzantine, Ottoman, Eastern, Orthodox. It belongs to Turkey and the Middle East, not to Frankfurt and Paris. It is closer to Moscow than to Leningrad. It will never be successfully subsumed by the West. Turkey has been trying for decades now and has been consistently (and perfunctorily) rejected by the EU. And Turkey is an important member of NATO and a country much more developed than the likes of Macedonia or Albania.

As these unpleasant truths emerge, the bitterness, resentment and disillusionment will grow and a backlash will develop. It might wear the guise of internal strife, of isolationist policies, of wounded retreat, of terrorism - all weapons of the deceived and trampled upon underdogs. It was wrong of the EU to promise what it can never deliver and couch it in deceptively ear soothing phrases. It will pay the price in added instability and ruin.

The Euro-Atlantic structures are evolving, assuming ever more ambitious and comprehensive goals, growing ever more impressive antlers. They roam the whole earth, administering human rights and free marketry. They impose their will. They are awesome to behold. But from within they are being depleted and consumed by their very own incoherence. It is the eternal cycle of prowess and vanquishment. NATO, struggling to redefine itself and perpetuate its totally superfluous existence. The EU struggling to secure peaceful markets to its east and south. Europe struggling to assert itself. The USA struggling to secure its superiority in an emerging multi-polar, multi-ethnic, fractured world. All are fighting losing battles, wagging their antlers to and fro.

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