Geopolitics: EU and NATO in a tail spin
15 April 2011
The military operations in Libya have shown that NATO is no longer able to control the course of world events. And the EU is incapable of taking over for the same reasons: faultlines among its members, and American reluctance to get involved.
Flying on autopilot. If no one takes a quick leap into the pilot’s chair, the ground will soon be coming up to meet us. We’re on a collision course with the rough terrain of a changing world, and the turbulence buffeting Europe is of a kind not seen for more than 20 years. But back then we had a steady pilot – the United States – and a course to steer by.
Not one single international call to resolve the Libyan crisis isn't split by dissension. Yesterday [13 April] at the first meeting of the so-called Contact Group, held in Doha (Qatar), the differences that divide Europe became readily apparent, with France and Britain on one side and Germany on the other. The disagreement this time was over channelling funds and weapons to the rebels, just as in the Security Council there had been dithering over the resolution to allow military intervention to halt Gaddafi’s advance on Benghazi.
The Cold War ended at a time when we had an efficient and conscientious driver at the wheel: the United States. During the wars in the former Yugoslavia, the wheel was still in Washington’s hands. Clinton was instrumental in stabilising the Balkans and defeating Serbia, while the Europeans left to themselves were unable to solve a thing. The current Arab crisis exposes the cruel reality of the rudderless world we live in, given vivid expression by Washington’s stepping back into its new bystander role, leaving NATO to direct the operation to restrain Gaddafi militarily.
The Atlantic alliance is now engaged for the first time ever in a military operation without the leadership of the superpower that created the organisation and that remains its raison d'être. And we mustn’t fool ourselves: a NATO without U.S. leadership is no longer NATO, but something quite different. No wonder it is damned for doing and damned for not doing: France and the United Kingdom condemn it for its lack of resolution, while Germany and Turkey harp at it for the civilian casualties caused by the bombing.
The non-doctrine doctrine
A NATO riven by such conflicting voices and such distinct practical positions looks like a twin of the European Union. So why do we need a NATO that carries on like the EU, when we already have the EU? If the EU had been ready and willing to take command the talk would be over. It was the chance to step forward. A wave of change across the Mediterranean that needs everything from humanitarian relief to military action to financial and political support for the transitions was the chance for a common European foreign and defence policy to emerge at last. It probably won’t turn out like that, and out of this huge crisis will stagger just another couple of political corpses: NATO, which will never go back to what it once was, and the EU, which will never again be the sole body able to give any significance to what it still is.
Washington initially took action and committed itself at the urging of France and the UK. Without that decision by Obama, Gadhafi would have run amuck by now and the rebellion would have been crushed. But afterwards Obama buckled under to domestic pressure, which discouraged him from getting involved in a third war, quickly qualified from America as a choice and not a necessity; pressure to defend values, and not interests. The confusion in his strategy is colossal. Richard Cohen, a columnist for the Washington Post, calls the new orientation the “Non-Doctrine Doctrine”: Obama has no international strategy at all, and this is his strategy. Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group think tank explains that the world is now being governed by the “G-Zero”, which is taking over from the G-8, G-20 or G-2 (U.S. and China) clubs that are supposed to represent the economic leadership of the world. In other words, no one is in charge.
All this is of great interest in understanding the new world passing before our astonished gaze. But then there is a more practical and urgent problem that geopolitics will not resolve, because it is the responsibility of policy to do so. How do we end for once and for all this war that is bleeding Libya and destabilising the entire Mediterranean area?
Translated from the Spanish by Anton Baer