Sobering up on both sides of the Atlantic

21. September, 2003


Girts Salmgriezis


Everybody concerned has learned the lessons and is going through a kind of ‘hang-over’, if you like, after the excessive emotions and divisions we had earlier in the year. On both sides of the Atlantic, I feel a sobering up.

The Director of SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Alyson J. K. Bailes, in an interview with Girts Salmgriezis from Radio Free Europe.

Currently, a new situation has developed in international politics. Soon, the expansion of both the EU and NATO will come to an end. Thus, an important topic is what the co-operation between these two organizations will be?

I think that the co-operation between NATO and the European Union might be entering into a good phase. In the last months, the two organizations have, for the first time, tried out the formula for co-operation, which was first agreed on in 2000 but was then delayed for nearly two years due to political differences. Now the way is open for the EU to borrow assistance from NATO in the form of planning, command structures and special assets. It will do exactly this when it takes over the operations in Macedonia and, in the last few days, it has been suggested that the two organizations could co-operate in exactly the same way to let the EU take over the SFOR operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Now I think that trying out this formula will have many benefits apart from the good operations that could result. It will help NATO and the EU better understand each other. At a time when NATO is having problems and people have asked what use it may have, I think it is quite good to have the EU coming as a customer saying, “We need NATO’s services. There is something in NATO that we cannot get elsewhere.” That might do something for the confidence of the alliance that may be beneficial.

A philosophical question – where do the borders of NATO and the EU end?

This is the eternal question. It is impossible to answer because the ambitions of both organizations are shifting. What we are seeing at the moment is that both of them are becoming more interested in global security. Last year, NATO adopted doctrines that allow it to intervene anywhere in the world there are terrorist threats or threats to essential interests. This year, the EU adopted a security strategy which states that the front line for defending our interests is abroad.

In principle, you might say that these organizations are going to go out and duplicate each other. In practice, I do not think that this will happen, both for political and practical reasons. One political reason is the arrival of the new members in NATO and the EU. All are Central European states, plus Cyprus and Malta. At least in the case of the Central European states, these are countries who have always seen NATO and the EU as friends, two sides of the same coin and carriers of the same western values. Those states will simply stop any effort to adopt foolish policies that might duplicate NATO and the EU or set them against each other. That is a political change, which I think is very hopeful.

The practical point is that NATO and the EU are very, very different animals. It is not stupid to call them Mars and Venus. Venus can also carry a weapon, but Venus has other seductions and strengths. The EU has commercial strength; it has aid money and believes in international law. It has interesting models of multi-national co-operation, which the United States does not really know anything about. It also has historical responsibilities and context. The EU, when it goes out in the world, will be able to choose from all of these instruments and will often use them rather than military instruments. When it uses military instruments, it will probably be on a small scale in a supplementary way just to control things so that the EU can come back with a bigger, peaceful contribution. NATO only has the military instrument. Mars has nothing except his skill at fighting, but he is damn good at that. This difference will not go away.

Why is the EU, which is by nature an economic organization, thinking about its own security policy?

Well, it is a reaction to the events of the 11th of September and a reaction to the way that the United States has behaved ever since. To some extent, in adopting this more serious security strategy, the EU is following what the US has told it. The US has told it that we are now facing new international threats from terrorism, proliferation, criminals and rogue states, which break down all borders, attack the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak. Europe cannot close its eyes to those dangers. So the EU is saying, “Okay, we haven’t closed our eyes. We will have our own strategy for dealing with these things in our own way; not necessarily the way the US wants.”

The other point is that, in the last years, there have been a lot of disputes between the US and Europe. Not so much about the threats, but about which are the most important ones, how quickly one should strike and what sorts of instruments should be used – whether to strike preemptively, whether to use just military force or something else. Just as some previous crises across the Atlantic, this has actually made the Europeans more aware that they do have their own style of doing things. They do have values, which perhaps overlap with America but in some respects may be different. Therefore, it is wrong, and even in a way shameful, if their whole activity in the field of security is just to criticize the US or agree with the US, but always act on the basis of what the US has said. I think that in light of the latest events, everybody in Europe – and I would include Britain and Central Europeans, even quite pro-American countries – is saying, “We must also stop and think for ourselves what we want. We must sometimes have the chance to take action on our own and in our own way on things that we believe in and interests that hit us particularly but do not hit America.”

I think that this is the dual nature of the new EU strategic thinking. It supports the US by recognizing the same security agenda, but it also signals a wish to be independent from the US sometimes in making decisions on how to deal with that agenda.

One often hears the opinion in Latvia that NATO is like a security umbrella the small Baltic States can hide under. The question is – is it possible that this umbrella is finished and does the US even want to hold it?

Collective defence in NATO does not mean what it used to mean in practical terms – not for Latvia, not for the Netherlands, and not for Germany or anybody else. NATO has to turn its military energy to threats outside of Europe. It has to move its resources away and redesign them. So, you do not have – on the territory of Central Europe in particular – these big joint military units and bases with big joint exercises going on all the time. The people of Latvia are not really going to see much of NATO in that physical sense after they’ve joined. But neither will people anywhere else.

This does not mean that the guarantee is dead. Precisely because the US is developing new technologies that allow its forces to strike at a distance and to be more mobile, I have no doubt that, if Latvia or anybody else was threatened, the US could come to defend them and I see no reason why it would not come and do so. It is still in the US’ interests to have a free, democratic and united Europe to ensure the right kind of relations with Russia and for all the other obvious reasons. I think, myself, that in the field of territorial defence, NATO is strong as it has always been. Yet, that strength is reflected in a different way in day-to-day circumstances.

Now, there is another part to the answer to this question. When you ask, “Where is Latvia’s security coming from,” which bit of security do you mean? If you mean being secure against criminals or terrorists or diseases coming across your borders, that is not NATO. That has never been NATO. The EU, through its internal security policies, its border controls and its animal health policies, will be able to give you a lot of help on those issues. Moreover, it needs your help because you are now the border of Europe in those dimensions. So, there is a large portion of the security agenda that can be best handled through the EU. The EU is getting better at handling it, but it does not hurt NATO. These are not things that NATO ever tried to do and they are perfectly compatible with what NATO still does do.

Before the war in Iraq, there was a serious difference of opinion between the US and the EU. Have these differences been ironed out and what is the situation like today?

I think that everybody concerned has learned the lessons and is going through a kind of ‘hang-over’, if you like, after the excessive emotions and divisions we had earlier in the year. On both sides of the Atlantic, I feel a sobering up, a moving away from extreme positions, more acknowledgment of each other’s point of view and more acknowledgment that both sides can make mistakes. It is very obvious that the United States made a lot of mistakes in Iraq; they know that themselves. It is obvious that, if we in Europe leave them to deal with their own mistakes, we could get into a most disastrous situation. I think that, much more than before, there is a mood in Europe, in EU institutions and individual countries, that we have to walk back towards the United States and, in a good multilateral framework – whether it be the UN or, in some cases, it could be other frameworks – find a way to use our strengths together to solve that situation in Iraq.

Now I know that it may not look 100% like this today. There are problems, as we speak, on the possible Security Council resolution. The usual people, the French and the Russians, seem to be holding out and wanting further US concessions. But let’s not get this out of proportion. This is a small difficulty and a small part of the picture compared to March of this year when there seemed to be total disagreement between the US and the EU and among different Europeans.

What is Russia now like as an international actor within NATO processes?

I think that Russia can potentially play a large and a good role in NATO in the traditional crisis-management operations like those NATO is still carrying on in the Balkans. As we found in the 1990s, it is very uncomfortable to try to carry those on against the will of Russia and that having the Russians in there is quite helpful in things like keeping the Serbs quiet. Although that seems like an old story now, it is a job that is still going on and we should be quite glad that the Russians are in there.

The other point is that the Russians are important in fighting the new threats produced by the proliferation of terrorism and surplus weapons, nuclear accidents and pollution. All these things could happen just beyond our borders not because of Russian ill will but because of inefficiency, lack of control and so on. Now some of this is being addressed through NATO. There is a dialogue between NATO and Russia on these new threats. The EU is also going to talk to Russia.

The question is well put. There are some useful roles that Russia could play. Potentially, there are some bad roles Russia can play if it might just laugh at the division between NATO and the EU and try to sharpen those divisions. The Russians did play that game to some extent in the spring of 2003 when they got together with France and Germany to oppose America. Personally, I thought that was very unpleasant and very frightening. It reminds one of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, of these powers getting together over the heads of Central Europe and with disregard for other European democracies. It was fairly short-lived as an experiment and, interestingly enough, the first one of those three to go crawling back to the United States saying, “Hey, don’t be angry with us, we didn’t mean it,” were the Russians. I think that, as time goes on, the Russian understand that they have even less power when they try to make trouble than when they try to work with the West.

What is the main security guarantee in the world?

I think that the main guarantee is yourselves. I think that the main guarantee is the democratic transformation that has been carried out in these countries, which has qualified you to join the EU and NATO. That is what makes you the good guys. If the bad guys mess with the good guys, all the other good guys in the world are going to come to your help whether they happen to be your EU partners or your NATO partners. I think that Latvia has essentially made itself safe. That is the philosophical answer I would give. raksts

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