Transatlantic Relations: A crisis, but not a rift

I was very critical of Germany when it announced that it would not send its forces to Iraq under any circumstances. In diplomacy and politics it is very important to keep one’s options open. On the other hand, I did understand the Latvian reaction. I can understand some of the leading politicians, who – based on their personal biographies – felt that an autocratic leader should be disciplined.

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Dr. Helga Haftendorn, Director of the Center on Transatlantic Foreign and Security Policy Studies at the Free University of Berlin, Germany, in an interview with Ieva Raubisko, Radio Free Europe.

Some weeks ago, we saw a very controversial mini-summit of four European countries - France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg - who called for a new independent defense force and a new European headquarters to coordinate military action independent of NATO. How seriously should these plans be taken?

I think they should be seen in context. The European Union (EU) has for a very long time been working on a common European security and defense policy, but recently there has been a very strong focus on terrorism - Afghanistan and then Iraq. I think the four countries wanted to take some initiative, but it was not for the creation of an independent force, not at all. The four suggested that the EU take up the issue, and it was discussed at the EU foreign ministers meeting in Greece where the officials decided to ask (EU foreign policy chief) Javier Solana to make some preparations and present his ideas at the EU summit in June.

Don’t you think these activities contradict previous discussions on the common European security and defense policy?

No, I don’t think so. The four couldn’t have their day against the others. In order to make a decision in the EU, you have to reach consensus or, on some specific issues, you have to have a majority. And you have to take along Great Britain, Spain, Italy and quite a number of other countries.

NATO has had deep divisions in the past, and many now talk of yet another split the alliance is experiencing at the moment. What could be the best way out of the crisis?

There is some kind of crisis, but I wouldn’t call it a split. First, we have to ask ourselves what are the origins of this crisis. The origins are twofold. Since the end of the Cold War, the general picture of the world has changed. If you look at the international system, you have one very dominant power, the United States. It has no competitor at all. Russia, which was the old enemy, is now a player within the system. In America, there is a tendency towards unilateral measures or telling others what they are supposed to do. I remember after 9/11, it was NATO, which suggested invoking Article 5, the military assistance clause. The Americans said, “Hey, wait a moment, that’s very nice of you, but we’ll tell you whether we need this.” And they called others when they needed partners for peacekeeping, not for fighting terrorism, although quite a number of countries, including my own country, Germany, were prepared to do so. It is this trend towards an American hegemonic attitude that doesn’t go very well with a number of European countries.

Of course, the two leading countries, which are in opposition to the United States, are France and Germany. France was a world power. For a very long time, it found it very difficult to just follow the Americans. Already de Gaulle in the 1960s wanted to have an international role, so he withdrew French forces from NATO. But I think France is in basic agreement with the United States as far as fighting international terrorism and preventing the distribution of weapons of mass destruction goes. The French just don’t want the Americans to tell them what to do.

It’s a bit different with Germany, but there are similarities. Germany was a very dependent country until 1990 – it was divided and its security depended on the United States. We were the frontier state; the Warsaw Pact was right at our border and occupied part of the country. We somewhat managed to have the Americans as a very benevolent hegemony. We were loyal followers and at the same time preserved some of our own ideas. Our power was limited to veto power.

Now all the restrictions are gone, and there is a different generation in government - a generation that got its socialization in the 1960s during the Student Revolution. They say, “Hey, why should we always bow to the United States? We are a normal country, and we want to be asked in a decent way to go along with them.”

Some fear it will be very difficult to reconcile the conflicting thoughts on both sides of the ocean. Amid these concerns, there have been calls for a review of NATO strategy.

Just be careful – it’s not a rift between the United States and Europe. There are different groups within Europe. Right now, as far as NATO is concerned, there are three different interests in the alliance. Firstly, there is the very strong interest of the new members and the aspirants of Central and Eastern Europe to maintain NATO as a military alliance for military defense. Secondly, there is a majority of Western European countries, including France, Germany and Britain that don’t feel threatened militarily. They want to keep NATO as a collective security organization for political coordination. Finally, the United States views NATO as an instrument in its global security strategy. These three things require different sorts of forces, different strategies and so on. This has not been worked out, but in Prague last year three very pragmatic decisions were taken. One is to have a joint common NATO response force that should be used for international interventions. Second is the commitment by member states to improve their military capabilities by modernizing their forces. The third task, which NATO has stated explicitly, is not to limit its actions to the NATO guideline area, but to operate in much broader territories. We do have strategic guidelines, but we will increase the cohesion of the alliance if we cooperate on specific projects.

NATO is likely to be involved in the stabilization of Iraq. If so, this will become its second specific project outside the traditional operational area, first being the decision to take over peacekeeping in Afghanistan. There have been suggestions that NATO should, among other tasks, promote democratization in territories outside Europe. Do you think this is a role for NATO?

No, I don’t think NATO can do it because it doesn’t have the means for democratization or even political stabilization. When NATO was in charge of Kosovo, it had to call in EU experts for police duties. NATO soldiers couldn’t satisfy these needs as they had their own mission, plus they had been trained just for fighting and peacekeeping. I think we should limit the alliance to military jobs and stabilization that supplement military actions. NATO can cooperate with other organizations – the EU, OSCE, and, of course, the United Nations in order to perform other duties.

Where do you see the place and role of NATO invitee-countries that have also been invited to join the EU? They have found themselves in a tricky position trying to keep a fragile balance between NATO, dominated to a large extent by the United States, and the EU, haven’t they?

There shouldn’t be a split between these two. The war on Iraq created an extraordinary situation. There will always be tensions, but I don’t think it’s a problem. The new members of NATO and the aspirant states are already doing a very good job. I can mention Poland as an example. The country has to manage two or three jobs at the same time. First, the Poles have to reshape their armed forces, which they are doing quite successfully. Second, they have to adapt to NATO procedures and learn the commanding language – English. On top of that, and that is the third remarkable thing, Poland is very active in peacekeeping and peacemaking. It will be in charge of one sector in Iraq, and I’m very happy about that. Some commentators in my country were asking, “Why should the Americans invite Poland to be one of the occupation powers?” Sure, they should! Because Poland is a big country; it has a very long relationship with Iraq; it was a trustee country for the United States when Washington didn’t have diplomatic relations with Baghdad. After all, it will be a good learning lesson for the Polish military and the civilians involved.

What do you think of the stance NATO aspirant countries took during the war on Iraq? For example, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga stated right from the beginning Latvia’s support for a military intervention. Was this a wise choice? The President and the government have been criticized for failing to do the necessary maneuvering.

I was very critical of Germany when it announced already on Aug 5, 2002 - when nothing had been decided - that it would not send its forces to Iraq under any circumstances. In diplomacy and politics it is very important to keep one’s options open. On the other hand, I did understand the Latvian reaction. And here in this conference I heard a very outspoken, pro-intervention reaction from the Estonian side. I can understand some of the leading politicians, who – based on their personal biographies -- felt that an autocratic leader should be disciplined.

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