Peace Matters index




working together


ONLINE contents

- smart procurement
- working together
- preservation order
- arabian connection
- conversion a faded ideal
- breaking the silence


SECRETARY of State for Defence, Geoff Hoon, speaking to the parliamentary select committee on defence during its recent enquiry into ‘the lessons of Kosovo’, said he had told his fellow Nato defence ministers, ‘we need to work together to ensure that we are better prepared as and when there is a next time.’

We might have expected that, after 50 years, Nato members would have learnt to work together; but more disturbing is the clear assumption that Europe’s many conflicts are potential ‘Kosovos’ for which intensive military preparedness must start now. Geoff Hoon left no doubt that the main ‘lesson of Kosovo’ for the Ministry of Defence is ‘... that Europe as of today is not able to mount the scale of operations that Kosovo required ... without resort either to Nato assets or, frankly, to the United States.’

This ‘confession’ exposes a dilemma which has long plagued the Nato alliance: on the one hand, Nato’s European members have, in varying degrees, been hankering after ‘independence’ in military matters from American dominance in Nato while being unable to compete with the United States in sophisticated weaponry, or resist political pressures at home for reduced defence budgets; and on the other hand, the United States, while wanting to control Nato as an instrument of its own national interests, has been pushing its European members towards greater responsibility (without ‘independence’) for European ‘security’ as a way of putting onto them more of the financial costs of Nato.

These differences have surfaced at intervals throughout the post-war period, leading to bewildering rethinks of Nato’s structures and ‘mission’ and even, since 1989, to widespread questioning of its role and functions. But Nato’s position as ‘senior’ institution of the Atlantic alliance of Western Europe and the United States has been maintained to the detriment of other ‘security’ institutions in Europe, notably the Western European Union (WEU) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

WEU was established by the Paris Agreements in 1954 which amended and expanded the Brussels Treaty to enable the German Federal Republic and Italy to join Britain, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg in a system of mutual military assistance. It was the only forum in Western Europe where both foreign and defence ministers met, yet was largely moribund until 1984. The revival of WEU partly expressed a growing unease about the role of the United States in Europe and a sense that Europe needed its own ‘defence identity’.

During and after the Bosnian crisis, the relationship between WEU and Nato came under scrutiny. Because Nato, as an organisation of ‘collective self-defence’ had problems with missions ‘out of area’, i.e. not involving the defence of Nato territory, such as Bosnia, a new structure, ‘separable but not separate’ was evolved. This enabled WEU (i.e. the 10 EU members who are also in Nato) to run a task force if the US chose not to join an operation. As WEU, however, doesn’t have the resources to do much on its own, Nato would lend equipment, such as transport planes, spy satellites and communication systems out of Nato’s stores; much of it would inevitably be American. This new structure offered the US the possibility of passing a greater proportion of the cost of defence onto its European allies while offering those allies a degree of independence from American control of Nato.

The shambles of Kosovo, however, has inevitably led to a further rethink. The decision of the EU summit in Helsinki last December to absorb the WEU and to create a European rapid reaction corps of 50,000-60,000 by 2003 for operations such as peacekeeping and regional crisis management, indicates the EU’s determination to become a serious security organisation. But, needless to say, it also raises problems. What to do, for instance, about the ‘neutral’ members of the EU, who are not members of WEU, i.e. Austria, Finland, Sweden and Ireland? Of more immediate concern to EU citizens is the fact that absorbing WEU into the EU will formalise the militarisation of the EU, and can it be coincidence that Javier Solana, the former Nato Secretary General is now Secretary General of the Council and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Police of the EU? Nor will it reduce the dependency of European ‘security’, viewed as a function of the military, on the US.

In his statement to the defence select committee, Geoff Hoon agreed that even with 50,000-60,000 personnel in the field, backed up with similar numbers in training and resting, ‘even then we would not be in a position, given the capabilities we are setting out in the headline goal, to be able to conduct precisely this kind of operation [Kosovo] ... because very many of the assets, particularly in the air campaign, are simply not assets that European nations for the moment have available.’ However, ‘Across Nato there is a consideration that allies must do more and that we should not be dependent solely on the United States supplying that kind of equipment.’ This, of course, is the pressure behind recent stories of the over-extension of British armed forces, their desperate need for new equipment, and the calls for increased defence spending. We can expect a lot more publicity about recruitment, re-equipping, the quality of our armed forces and the vital role they play in providing us with ‘security’.

But this isn’t the only onward lurch back into a world at the mercy of spy satellites, bombers and missiles. Although the latest test of its National Missile Defence (NMD) interceptor failed, the US is very unlikely to be discouraged in its pursuit of a defence shield against the nightmare of missile attacks by ‘rogue’ states (or ‘states of concern’), especially if George W Bush becomes the next president. Our immediate interest in this fantasy is that the US would expect the British government to agree to an upgrading of Fylingdales to act as a special radar site for the NMD. So far the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office have been worryingly ambiguous in their public responses to this prospect, but in view of their tenacity in clinging to Trident, resistance to an American request seems doubtful.

But the future of Fylingdales is not the only issue at stake. The NMD would be in direct breach of the 1972 ABM Treaty which limited each side’s ability to shield itself against missile attack, so giving each added confidence that the other would not be tempted to strike first. Both Russia and China have protested against NMD, warning that, if American plans go ahead, they will both feel under pressure to update and extend their own missile programmes. The US is trying to negotiate a compromise with Russia but makes clear that, if no agreement is reached, a technical breach of the ABM Treaty will be avoided by the simple expedient of withdrawal from the treaty. The consequences would be far-reaching, including increased tension and destabilisation in Europe and, since any increase in China’s nuclear capacity would have repercussions in India, an intensification of hostility and nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan.

The NMD project is said to be directed against ‘rogue’ states, named as North Korea, Iraq and Iran in particular. But it must be said that, in the league of ‘rogue’ states, the US itself is at the top of the list. Consider the following:The US Senate has recently refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty signed in 1996 and which bans all underground testing of nuclear weapons in addition to all the bans imposed by previous treaties. To come into force, the CTBT must be ratified by all 44 countries with a nuclear weapons capacity. Only 26 (including Britain, France and Germany) have so far done so; India, Pakistan, Russia, China and North Korea are unlikely to do so unless the US does.

American refusal (and British and French) to give up nuclear weapons makes a dead letter of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and destroys any hope of India, Pakistan and others signing it. The recent NPT review has made no progress in this.

The US has not ratified the Land Mines Treaty.

The US refuses to accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over American citizens.The US behaves unilaterally in military engagements, sidelining the UN and acting outside the framework of international law (Kosovo being the latest example). It has also fired cruise missiles unilaterally and without any justification in international law at targets in Afghanistan and the Sudan, following the bombing of US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.

The urgency of opposition to these latest developments of US aggressive policy in the increasing militarisation of Europe is underlined by the comments of Condoleezza Rice, foreign policy adviser to George W Bush. Ms Rice considers that defence spending in Europe is ‘near collapse’ and must be increased even, it is clear, at the expense of existing government social spending. The danger, as Ms Rice sees it, is that ‘European militaries will not do enough, not that they’ll do too much.’ So we have been warned of the pressures to come from a possible Bush administration.

Such irresponsibility is put in its place by retired General Sir Hugh Beach. On the expansion of Nato he wrote: ‘What sticks in the gullet is the choice of a military alliance as the agency for celebrating and encouraging the fruits of peace, an alliance whose stock in trade is guns, tanks and aircraft, and whose preoccupation is with threats and planning for war.’ And for killing an ‘enemy’ for creating fear and destroying all real security. It isn’t even as if we don’t have suitable agencies to encourage peace and real security in Europe. We do, and they have been working on it for many years – the Council of Europe since 1949 (exactly as old as Nato) and the OSCE since 1975. The United States is not a member of either but both have been deliberately starved of resources.

Despite this, both have shown something of what can be done to establish a culture of peace based on non-military security, or ‘democratic security’ in Council of Europe words. The EU should devote its resources to encouraging and extending the work of these two organisations in preventing and resolving conflicts and in building a civil society based on respect for human rights, democratic government and the rule of law. We might then be able to deal with ‘rogue’ states and then ‘rogue’ leaders – even with the United States.

Florence Assie


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