Address given on Monday, August 29, at the international conference Central Europe, the EU and the new Russia at the Czech Parliament in Prague.
More than two decades after the end of the Cold War, NATO is an obsolete and harmful anachronism. It has morphed into a vehicle for the attainment of misguided American strategic objectives on a global scale. Its mutation from a defensive alliance into a supranational force based on the nebulous doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” started with the air war against Serbia in 1999 and was completed with the Libyan intervention in the spring and summer of 2011. NATO in its mature form is beyond redemption or reform. It should be disbanded.
The Soviet Union came into being as a revolutionary state that challenged any given status quo in principle. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, Russia has been trying to articulate her goals and define her policies in terms of traditional national interests. By contrast, the early 1990’s witnessed the beginning of America’s attempt to assert her status as the only global hyperpower. Instead of declaring victory and disbanding NATO in the early 1990’s, the Clinton administration successfully redesigned it as a mechanism for open-ended out-of-area interventions at a time when every rationale for its existence had disappeared.
Following the air war against Serbia, NATO’s area of operations became unlimited and its “mandate” self-generated. Another round of NATO expansion came under George W. Bush. In April 2007, he signed the Orwellian-sounding NATO Freedom Consolidation Act, which extended U.S. military assistance to aspiring NATO members, specifically Georgia and Ukraine. Further expansion, according to former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, was “historically mandatory, geopolitically desirable.” A decade earlier, Brzezinski readily admitted that NATO’s enlargement was not about U.S. security in any conventional sense, but “about America’s role in Europe—whether America will remain a European power and whether a larger democratic Europe will remain organically linked to America.” Such attitude is the source of endless problems for America and Europe alike.
President Obama and his foreign policy team have failed to grasp that a problem exists, let alone to act to rectify it. There has been a change of officials, but the regime is still the same—and America is still in need of a new grand strategy. The threat to Europe’s security does not come from Russia or from a fresh bout of instability in the Balkans. The threat to Europe’s security and to her survival comes from the deluge of inassimilable aliens within the gates and from collapsing birthrates. These problems are due to the moral and cultural decay, not to any shortage of soldiers and weaponry.
More than three decades after the occupation of Prague in 1968 the USSR was gone and the Warsaw Pact dismantled, but the principles of the Brezhnev Doctrine are not defunct. They survive in the neoliberal guise. No “interests of world socialism” could beat “universal human rights” when it came to determining where and when to intervene. The key difference is only in the limited scope of the Soviets’ self-awarded outreach. It applied only to the “socialist community,” as opposed to the unlimited, potentially world-wide scope of “responsibility to defend.” The “socialist community” led by Moscow stopped on the Elbe, after all. It was replaced by the “International Community” led by Washington, which stops nowhere and constructs as it goes along a self-referential framework for the policy of permanent global interventionism. It precludes any meaningful debate about the correlation between ends and means of American power: we are not only wise but virtuous; our policies are shaped by “core values” which are axiomatic, and not by prejudices. The foreign policy community in Washington remains oblivious to the fact that, after a brief period of American mono-polar dominance (1991-2008), the world’s distribution of power is now characterized by asymmetric multipolarity. It is the an inherently unstable model of international relations.
The doctrine of global interventionism has been given an updated form in NATO’s much-heralded “Strategic Concept” (SC), adopted at the summit in Lisbon almost a year ago. Last week liberal interventionists and their neoconservative twins on both sides of the Atlantic were jubilant as Libyan rebels took over Tripoli. From now on, “[t]he right question for the United States and its allies isn’t whether to help oppressed people fight for freedom, it’s when,” declared The Washington Post on August 24. Yet again NATO has intervened militarily in pursuit of formally stated goals which had little to do with its hidden agenda and which produced results “objectively” detrimental to Western interests. As the country braces itself for the second half of the double-dip recession, the Balkan Syndrome of the 1990’s has been transferred to a grander, strategically more significant scene.
In the meantime the key strategic issue, NATO’s attitude toward Russia, remains unresolved. The Strategic Concept asserts that “NATO poses no threat to Russia,” with which it seeks “a true strategic partnership.” President Barack Obama greeted President Dmitri Medvedev in Lisbon as “my friend and partner.” It was left to Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, to articulate Moscow’s misgivings: “The NATO gamekeepers invite the Russian bear to go hunting rabbits together. The bear doesn’t understand: why do they have bear-hunting rifles?” We’ve heard statements like Obama’s before: In 1997 Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin signed the NATO-Russia Founding Act, which was soon violated by the Kosovo war in 1999 and NATO’s eastward expansion.
In Lisbon Russia was invited to cooperate with NATO in missile-defense development, but only after the plan was completed in Washington and Brussels. Russia is expected to provide transit of NATO supplies to and from Afghanistan, but she has no say in shaping the mission itself. Moscow is asked “to increase transparency on its nuclear weapons in Europe and relocate these weapons away from the territory of NATO members,” but no corresponding commitment is made to the relocation of NATO’s missile-defense system away from Russia’s own borders. Russia’s involvement is indispensable to the European missile defense which lacks feasibility without integrating Russia’s radar stations. Furthermore, Russia as a permanent Security Council member still retains an important role when NATO launches operations requiring the UN approval. At the same time, NATO is not offering Russia anything practical in return. A strategic or any other serious partnership between Russia and NATO stands no chance. Russia and NATO have inherently divergent interests that cannot be resolved merely by bombastic press releases. NATO remains at the top of the list of external threats Russia faces today.
On the plus side, Ukraine and Georgia are no longer serious candidates for membership. The financial crisis makes the further reduction of European military budgets inevitable. Whatever new NATO missions are conjured in Washington, the lack of political will in “Old Europe” to sign on will be coupled with the material inability to do so in a meaningful way.
Also on the plus side, it is in the interest of European stability that Vladimir Putin will declare his candidacy, and next year will get elected President of Russia yet again. Western Russophobes on both sides of the Atlantic are hoping that this will not happen, and a new round of Putin’s demonization is already under way in the U.S. media. In fact, any scenario other than a new Putin presidency is not only unrealistic; it is also harmful to European stability because it would create the impression that Russia is divided and that it can be manipulated and reduced to the impotence of the Yeltsin era. False impressions and false hopes, but as we know political misconceptions based on erroneous assumptions may have serious consequences.
NATO is devoid of a coherent mission and strategic purpose. Between 1949 and 1991 it was successful in providing security against the threat of a hostile totalitarian power. Today, it is detrimental to the security in Europe and irrelevant to the security of its members. It should not be reformed; it should be abolished.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, Foreign Affairs Editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.