NATO must be subordinate to the UN

29 March 2019

NATO must be subordinate to the UN

With NATO in decline and an independent EU military force seemingly still far off, a new alliance is needed, one that could better monitor and protect global peace and security. The United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) can play an important role in this.

By Guido van Leemput

President Trump's America First policy has major implications for international politics. The US president has suggested privately on many occasions that his country should leave NATO. So far this hasn't happened,but during the NATO summit in Brussels in July 2018, he did demand that the annual amount paid by each member state into its defence budget should be doubled from 2% to 4% of the country's GDP. His main argument for this is that America is being sucked dry by rich west European members.

The American revolt is only one of the major internal questions with which NATO is struggling. The war in Syria has greatly weakened Turkey's position from the standpoint of NATO and its member states. These tensions too point to a crisis within the alliance, a crisis which is still growing as a result of China's increasing global economic power and Russia's military domination in the war in Syria. The big questions are whether this crisis will continue after Trump and/or if there will be a post-NATO era.

Values or interests?

NATO's supporters like to stress the values which the alliance officially represents, values which derive from the protection of the liberal, constitutional state. Countries like Russia and China don't share these values, because they operate authoritarian, state capitalist systems. This view of democratic values, however, completely ignores the interests involved. Interests in raw materials, cheap labour, markets and spheres of influence, interests which turn out in current foreign policy to be much more important than values. The NATO countries have never recoiled from taking up arms in order to seize or defend raw materials or spheres of influence. Ideological defence of values is too weak to stay on its feet. It's all about interests and whether these can be shared out in a peaceful fashion.  

For the EU the same values go as for NATO, but the EU, in contrast to the alliance, does not have a serious military force at its disposal and scarcely even has a foreign policy. The EU was once created to put an end to the Franco-German enmity which led in the Twentieth Century to two terrible world wars. For a longtime this seemed to work, but in recent years this EU friendship has come under increasing pressure. The militarisation of the European Union seems to have been the only project in prospect for the next decade capable of bringing the member states closer to each other. Not social Europe, not ecological EU policies, not an EU that is trying to narrow the contradictions between east and west and between north and south. No, just a military EU.

In common with NATO, the EU is attached to a number of interests. The EU is after all the successor to the former west European colonial great powers. The EU's plans, which now depend on a military policy, are also directed at defending its interests beyond its own territory. This naturally concerns raw materials and spheres of interest in the countries in Asia and Africa that were once colonised, principally by the French and the British.

The EU's own defence policy

There has been for a long time a militarisation of the EU in process. Since 2004 Frontex, the European border patrol and coast guard, has been responsible for monitoring the EU's external borders. The organisation has taken ever more military form and works on the southern borders to limit the number of refugees, while its budget is to be greatly increased over the next eight years.

In relation to a militarised foreign policy, 2016 saw the establishment of The EU Global Strategy. During the last eighteen months plans have poured in for filling in the substance of this strategy for the EU's own foreign and military policy: the European Defence Fund, the European Peace Facility and PESCO, the acronym for Permanent Structured Cooperation. The new EU plans are aimed at strengthening the arms industry so that it can strengthen in particular the west European industry in order to extend the region's spheres of influence and milit6ary interests.

These new EU plans, however, bring with them three problems. The EU was in the first place never intended to be a military power, but rather a means of preserving peace after the Second World War. Secondly, major differences of opinion exist within the EU as to how these plans should be carried out. In the third place they are, in any case, practically impossible to implement.

Major think-tanks the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik (DGAP) published a joint report in November 2018 on the state of affairs in regard to European military policy. The report states that the goals set out in 2016 in the Global Strategy for 2030 cannot be achieved. This means that the EU, despite the billions poured into the project, will be unable to establish an autonomous, independent military force in the next ten-to-twelve years.

This scenario includes the fact that among NATO members a major discussion will flare up over links with the US, the political meaning of EU militarisation, and – tentatively - over the vain possibility that it could be an alternative to NATO. This means also that there will be plenty of scope for a great many political tensions, and that the hope of building a new security organisation which will give more priority to democratic values than economic interests is small.

Major role for UN and OSCE

Exactly ten years ago the SP research publication Spanning published an edition on the occasion of NATO's sixtieth anniversary. In the leading article of that thematic number Harry van Bommel, at the time SP parliamentary spokesman on foreign affairs, advocated global cooperation to achieve and maintain world-wide stability, peace and security. The NATO alliance would have to be subordinated to the United Nations. The SP also wanted to see NATO drop its nuclear doctrine, on the grounds that this did not contribute to the maintenance and furtherance of peace and security. All American nuclear weapons housed on our soil must be sent back. The ten years since have not brought the plan for global cooperation for peace and security any closer. Quite the contrary, and this while tensions within NATO and among the various great powers are increasing, meaning that a world-wide system aimed at peace is more than ever required. If this does not happen, we will be threatened by huge catastrophe. Cooperation with great powers across the world must be guaranteed by, and laid down in, UN agreements. This implies what would have to be a decidedly reformed UN. In Europe the OSCE must serve as a basis for strengthened cooperation for security. Important steps could be taken to improve security in Europe. The extension of the OSCE can have consequences for a new 'Ostpolitiek' which would expressly seek a way out of the tensions with Russia. As was the case in the early 1970s, when the West German government under the leadership of the social democrat Willy Brandt followed the original 'Ostpolitiek', a period of détente with the Soviet Union and the GDR ensued, so now a political approach to Russia is of enormous importance and a new Ostpolitiek desperately needed if we are to guarantee peace and security in Europe.

Steps towards this which could be taken now include common actions in every western European country on whose soil can be found nuclear weapons, a common struggle against holding military exercises involving nuclear weapons, an end to Dutch participation in the permanent NATO war in Afghanistan, the freezing of NATO membership at its current level, and refusing to meet the 2% norm for defence spending. Ideally what's needed is a mass international peace movement which emphasises the realization of this programme, however far away such a movement may currently appear. Such pressure could offer an alternative to an eroding NATO and an EU beset by internal struggles.

Guido van Leemput is a defence and security policy advisor to the SP's parliamentary group. This article first appeared, in the original Dutch, in the SP research periodical Spanning.

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