Saturday, April 4, 2009

Is NATO still relevant? It is but ...

This weekend, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization celebrates its 60th birthday with a summit in the twin cities of Strasbourg, France and Kehl, Germany. That in itself says something -- two countries which fought multiple wars against each other over centuries have not only been in peace for so long but have also effectively abolished the border between them (although Strasbourg itself was in fact once German). Many have said that the organization really is no longer relevant. I disagree.

First: At a town hall meeting yesterday, Obama got huge praise for saying that America can be relied on again by Europe as an ally, but he did warn them that Al Qaeda's next major hit may not be in the United States but somewhere in Europe; which makes NATO more relevant than ever.

I think he's got a point. Frankly, eight years after 9/11, security at some key installations in and around the US remains a total joke. No one seems to be protecting nuclear plants, chemical factories, agri-food businesses, oil and gas pipelines. But the fact is, no one seems to be doing that in Europe either. In an area about half the size of the US and nearly 60% more people, one sees some of the most intensive concentrations of industry, agriculture and service providers. Sure, one sees much more reliance on CCTV but that can only cover so much -- you can't have eyes everywhere. And of course, the open borders which are a boon for the law-abiding are also an advantage for those who want to spread ill and fear.

We all know that Afghanistan has proven to be a fiasco and no matter how much Obama pleads with his allies there will be general reluctance to deal with AQ with both Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially with the growing economic crisis. But NATO needs to switch to a new focus, deterring terrorists from coming into their zone -- whether this means money, troops or just disrupting intelligence. Obama would of course like more in terms of military strength but he'd take more cooperation on the other fronts as well -- it certainly wasn't forthcoming with Dubya.

To deter on such a massive scale requires a coordinated effort at the military level. On the off chance they make it into the "red zone", that is home turf, neutralizing them before they have a chance. In this case, it then switches to civilian police forces, also coordinating with each other. For that, however, there needs to be better communication between military and civilian authorities.

While it is important to respect national sovereignties, one also needs to recognize terrorists of any religion have no boundaries and recognize no country's right to exist at all. They do not recognize freedom of religion, freedom of thought and freedom of movement. Certainly, most do not recognize the rights of women either.

Second: The main reason why NATO was created, to deter the Soviet Union may be gone; but its successor state, Russia, is still a very significant threat to Western security. Note that it has consistently objected to the Warsaw Pact countries as well as the Baltic States from joining NATO. It has made a very illegal incursion into Georgia, has made no secret of the fact it wants the Crimea back from the Ukraine, and it is effectively suzerain over the dictatorship Belarus. It also continues to chafe at the fact that one needs a special permit from to travel to and from the exclave of Kaliningrad (since doing so one crosses over the open border zone in the rest of the Europe).

Over the last few years, it has retaliated the only way it was able to -- cutting off gas and oil supplies and forcing the rest of Europe into embarrassing concessions. But the time of games may be coming to an end, and the threat much more than just one of resources. It will become one of weapons, again. There may come a point where both the European states in NATO and the European Union (whose memberships are not entirely contiguous) will say enough is enough.

The fact is, for all intents and purposes, Russia is a democracy in name only. There is no more perestroika, no more glasnost. It is, in point of fact, a dictatorship and desires nothing less than to impose its style of dictatorship throughout Europe and the Middle East. While I do not believe that it will lead to a cataclysmic event as some doomsday televangelists do with their Bible and newspaper waving, I think someone has to put their foot down. In my opinion, NATO has to do this as a collectivity. Now with France fully back into the command -- and with it, their nuclear deterrent -- a message needs to be sent that the West will not put up with the crap. The open borders of Europe, the free economy and freedom of thought are there to stay, permanently and it will not tolerate the sable rattling. Of course, one must never use a nuclear launch as a first strike option -- the goal should be total nuclear disarmament -- but if Russia wants to push it to a regional war then the West should be ready for it at all times.

Of course, Canada and the US will have to find some way to reconcile Europe's wish to have its own common defence policy. That is fine, of course, but there should also be agreement that we stand with free Europe in their desire to stay free. We also need to say to Russia as we hold the line against them that terrorism is just as much a threat to them as they are to us -- and there will be peace only as long as they help us track down and neutralize the evil-doers once and for all. At the same time, we expect a move back to genuine democracy and the changes so permanent that they become irreversible and the possibility of a personality cult impossible.

Then and only then -- when all of Europe is free and when terrorism no longer exists -- will NATO no longer be relevant.

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