Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Oh, Never Mind. What Was I Thinking?

Hard times are coming. In such times you need to know your real friends, those you can count on. This is as true for nations as it is for individuals.

The West, as we know it today, was a group of friendly nations that were bound by shared values, foremost among them an embrace of democracy. That was certainly true for the West's military alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, and it served the West well for decades.

With time and shifting circumstance, NATO was transformed from a relatively close-knit group of like-minded countries willing to go to war in defence of the others into an expanded club that was less defensive and increasingly more geopolitical in outlook.

Hate to say it but NATO dropped the ball - and its standards - after the collapse of the Soviet Union, especially during the Bush/Cheney era.

NATO chose to expand right up to Russia's doorstep, in the process drawing into its ranks some pretty sketchy nations from the old Warsaw Pact days.

Now some of those old WarPac countries are reverting to their bad old days, flirting with authoritarianism. Among the worst are Turkey, Hungary and Poland. Why should Canadian men and women be in jeopardy of having to defend any of those increasingly undemocratic states? Why should they even be allowed to remain members of NATO?

Oh, never mind. What was I thinking? If a commitment to liberal democracy was a prerequisite to membership in the North Atlantic Alliance what would we do with today's post-democratic, increasingly authoritarian, United States of America?


BJ Bjornson said...

Um, Turkey has been a member of NATO almost from the start, and while I won’t argue that Erdogan is moving the country in an authoritarian direction, it wasn’t like it was a liberal democracy when it joined NATO, and it had at least three military coups during its first 30 years with the alliance. Its neighbour Greece also had its little “Regime of the Colonels” period despite remaining a member in good standing with NATO the entire time.

Basically, I’m not sure where you got this idea that NATO was ever that committed to liberal democracy. It was an anti-Soviet alliance, morphed into an anti-Russian alliance. Democracy, let alone liberal democracy, was never a prerequisite so far as I can see.

The Mound of Sound said...

The founding members of NATO were certainly democracies. They united as a mutual defence bulwark against Communist totalitarianism.

As for Turkey, yes there is a history of military intervention and coups but in aid of what? Latin America is legendary for military coups but many of them led to the ouster of the Latifundia clearing the way for democracy to take hold. How many of Turkey's coups were in defence of the secular state?

'The military has long seen itself as the "guardian of Turkish democracy", which it defines as the staunchly secular state created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic. It has directly intervened three times in Turkish politics, and in 1997 it carried out what some scholars describe as a "postmodern coup".'

BJ Bjornson said...

Is that the “destroy the village in order to save it” philosophy? Yes, the military in Turkey consider themselves the protectors of Ataturk’s legacy, but that doesn’t make their actions any more democratic. Maybe having the military acting as a “guardian of democracy” by overthrowing civilian governments not to their liking was the best that Turkey could hope for. But maybe having the military constantly overthrow the will of the people led to a greater resistance to the legacy they claimed to defend.

I don’t really know the answer to that, but I can’t see myself calling it a liberal democracy when the military can walk in and overthrow any government they disagree with. And its not like their treatment of ethnic minorities such as the Kurds looks too good in human rights terms either, and that’s also part of the legacy of Ataturk they claim to be defending.

The Mound of Sound said...

No, BJB, the military never sought to implement democracy in Turkey. They saw their role as avoiding a reversion to either a neo-Ottoman or a religious state, neither of which would embrace democracy.

I always find it useful when discussing democracy and the Muslim world to recall that it was eight centuries between Runnymede and the advent of universal suffrage. It took us eight hundred years and yet we deign to measure the democratic experiments of the Middle East that have been underway for barely a century during which our governments have often colluded with despots to thwart democratic movements. We're real shits on that score.

BJ Bjornson said...

I did say that the military overthrowing multiple governments may be the best Turkey could hope for, and if you think they aren’t ready for Western-style democracy, then that doesn’t say much for your contention that NATO was a group of like-minded democracies.

NATO was and is a military alliance, premised on their opposition to communist controlled eastern Europe. I agree they did drop the ball when the Soviet Union fell and the Eastern bloc collapsed and the stated reason for NATO disappeared. They won, and then needed to find some other reason to justify their existence. That’s when “democracy” became their new buzzword, even though they never really moved much beyond anti-Russian animus.

Part of the problem is that we tend to conflate “democracy” with the rule of law, human rights, protection of minorities, and other such things that define what we think a “free” country is supposed to look like. The last few decades and places like Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere are teaching us (or should be teaching us), that such things don’t actually go hand in hand, and even that the latter pieces are usually more important than the "democracy"part.

The Mound of Sound said...

Democracy is a complex institution, Bjorn. While its roots go back to ancient Greece, we've never known anything resembling Athenian democracy. Modern democracy evolves out of a process dating back to Magna Carta. It's been a very lengthy process with a good many reverses along the way before we reached universal suffrage.

We don't "conflate" democracy with rule of law, human rights and the other trappings. Those are all incidents of constitutional or liberal democracy, the essence of which is the restraint of state power in deference to the rights of the individual. In fact the right to vote is not determinative of the existence of any real democracy. There is a rich history of states that held elections without free and fair voting. Totalitarian states often stage elections.

Like the rise of liberal democracy, the decline into illiberal democracy and outright authoritarianism is often evolutionary.

BTW, I wouldn't lump Iraq in with Turkey, Hungary or Poland. Its history and circumstances tracing back to the toppling of the Ottomans put it in an entirely different position.

As for your remarks on Turkey, you're putting words in my mouth. Turkey was always the exception, NATO's toe hold in the Muslim world. Still it was for decades on the path to Western democracy.

I appreciate your genuine interest in democracy. Years ago CBC's Patrick Watson did a multi-episode documentary on the subject in which he explored how the term meant quite different things to different cultures and societies. I recently explored democracy as part of a war studies course put on by King's College, London. The dynamic is quite interesting.