Nowadays the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, in short NATO, is an organization worshipped by bureaucrats, respected and/or feared by any not pro-west country and whose purpose in this world is unknown for any normal citizen. However it is difficult to imagine a world without NATO. Since its creation in 1949 NATO has played a decisive role during the Cold War and in the absence of any credible alternative defence policy in Europe, once the threat from the East had disappeared, it has reinvented itself and become the armed arm of western interests in the world.
What crosses the mind of a citizen whilst watching the news and seeing that NATO forces are intervening in a way or another in Darfur, Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq? Who is NATO? Who do they represent? What are they doing in Afghanistan?
Different perceptions between the East and the West
A normal citizen from Western Europe or North-America might probably recall that NATO was the organization that was protecting the western alliance from the Soviet threat, yet this new kind of interventions in 2006 might appear surprising.
For a citizen from Eastern Europe NATO is a synonym of European Union, of progress, of capitalism, of security… In my visits to Eastern Europe I found out that very often NATO is often confused with the EU. This is a result of the pack that pro-western politicians presented to their citizens in the 90s; “in order to get away from the USSR orbit we need to join the EU and NATO”. The EU represented the idea of coming-back to Europe at socio-cultural, economical and political level; NATO offered them something that the EU could not – and still cannot – provide: security.
After the Soviet block collapsed, NATO went through difficult times in the 90’s when trying to redefine its role in the international scene. The face-lift was quite successful; nowadays NATO holds a new image; it undertakes peace-keeping and humanitarian missions, monitors anti-terrorist actions and works as a forum where USA, Canada and Europe can discuss their security concerns…
Yet, is NATO the kind of supranationalism that can be presented as democratic and fair to the world? To which extend is NATO used by the USA to get support for their endeavours and to by-pass democratic national controls? For instance, the USA alone decided to intervene in Iraq and it might be that NATO takes over the mission little by little – as it did with Afghanistan – when a clear majority of citizens in Europe and several states – members of NATO – were opposing the invasion. Of course the mission would be to stabilize the country and not to go to war; still, would this intervention be supported by European citizens if they were ever consulted ?
NATO - EU - UN
It is a fact that the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is still in it embryonic stage of the huge potential it can develop and also the UN’s intervention potential is just not relevant for the current world challenges. NATO is the only supranational structure effectively implementing military interventions in world conflicts, yet with the sole legitimacy of its members and sometimes under UN mandate. It seems like NATO is on the way of becoming the world’s policeman and some voices claim that China and Russia should be invited to join the club…
How safe, democratic, fair and stabile is this situation? Shouldn’t we prioritise the reform in the UN with the aim to create a situation where NATO is no longer needed because the UN can have the power – and legitimacy – to intervene in countries that after all will most probably be members of the same UN?
Democratisation of world politics badly needs reforms in the UN and an institutional change in the EU to allow the creation of a consistent CFSP...
How compatible are the existence of NATO and the development of the CFSP in Europe? In other words, would the pressure to create a European Army be higher if NATO didn’t exist?
Democratisation of world politics badly needs reforms in the UN and an institutional change in the EU to allow the creation of a consistent CFSP with its own army and the reform of NATO turning it into a forum of discussion between North-Americans and Europeans. Consequently the “stick” should then lie in the hands of democratic institutions and not in the hands of organisations of countries who will always decide according to their national interests.
NATO cannot and should not disappear overnight. Yet we should not install ourselves in the idea that NATO is here to stay because we need democratic global institutions having the monopoly of force at world level. Only then world peace will be at reach.