Cooperation despite Differences is a Guarantor of Peace
After 45 years of dependence on the United States, Europe has partly emancipated itself from the political dominance of the U.S. While Europe grew stronger and consolidated economically, the U.S. changed its approach to international security threats and shifted its focus away from the Europe. As a result, the previous power structure, and with it the entrenched perceptions of the other side, have started to erode. The implications for the Euro-American relationship and for NATO in particular are diverse. Unified approaches between the U.S. and Europe over security policy become more and more challenging in areas where Europe publicly emancipates itself from the leadership of the United States. The latest incidents around U.S. intelligence activities in Europe, Germany in particular, will certainly not help initiatives focused on the joining of forces for IT-infrastructure and cyber-security.
Furthermore, traditional security policy will remain a field of political tension. Neither will European nations expand their military capabilities and engagements to a level hoped for by the U.S., nor can Europe politically afford the same approach to international crises. In other areas, the transatlantic partnership excels. Common historic beliefs, moral standards, and the belief in democracy boost chances for success. Europe traditionally prefers strong international organizations, as they reduce the costs of politics. After a decade of extensive engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. might concur with the belief that returning to institutionalism pays more than unilateral case-by-case decisions. With the much needed reform of international institutions like the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the U.S. and Europe are given the chance not only to tackle competing approaches of the BRICS, but also to strengthen the links between foreign, development and security policy. NATO can only profit from these coordinated efforts.
Those two major tendencies affect NATO. And while developing comprehensive security strategies is affected by the evolution of Western Europe, a costly extension to Eastern Europe and a strategic shift of U.S. policy away from Europe, the practical capabilities of NATO took a tremendous hit by the inclusion of countries that formerly belonged to the USSR, resulting in significantly limited joint defense capabilities to oppose conventional threats. So what is NATO supposed to be? It is not a “One-Voice” community that embodies one global actor. Also, it has limited capacity to project common defense to all of its territory. NATO, in the twenty-first century, primarily must overcome the traditional understanding of security policy being conducted by militaries. NATO takes seriously its role as a political guarantor of democracy and peace in the Northern Atlantic region.
Despite the quarrels in recent years over the missing strategic direction and the costs of including new members, stable and sustainable developments in countries like Poland or the Baltics affirm the value of this role. Embedded into an international framework of institutions with concerted strategic efforts, NATO might be able to project more of its values on other regions, which could contribute to peaceful and stable developments in areas like the Middle East.
Christoph Schmid is a Program Assistant of Urban and Regional Policy at the German Marshall Fund.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.