Monday, April 09, 2018

It's Time to Re-Think NATO

One of the great geopolitical blunders of our era was Western Europe's and NATO's march east in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The
European Union and NATO eagerly flung open their doors to newcomers from the former Warsaw Pact without giving much scrutiny to the merchandise.

Now newbie members such as Poland and Hungary and would-be prospects such as Turkey with their open embrace of authoritarianism and illiberal democracy are giving the EU a wicked case of indigestion.

But what about NATO which with immense arm-twisting by the Bush/Cheney regime likewise enrolled these doubtful prospects?  From The Atlantic:

Speaking days before an election most observers thought him sure to win [which he did in a landslide], a long-serving Eurasian strongman railed against human rights, malevolent western powers, and rapacious “international speculators.” If delivered a fourth term in office, he vowed, vengeance against enemies of the state would be swift. His ruling party would achieve “satisfaction” against its adversaries, both foreign and domestic, he pledged in language that sounded both threatening and heartfelt.

This could easily have been Vladimir Putin, but it wasn’t. It was the leader of an American treaty ally. Under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who faces an election this weekend, Hungary has become an increasingly autocratic and pro-Russian state—and it’s one that also happens to be in nato.

In addition to the threat of Russian adventurism, nato is facing a new menace, and the enemy is within. The alliance of 29 states bound by a pledge of collective defense has, particularly since the conclusion of the Cold War, defined itself by a set of common values and a membership composed of human rights-respecting democracies. The accuracy of this self-conception preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall was at times debatable. Today, it may be falling apart.
...Russian interference in elections on both sides of the Atlantic, and particularly its recent alleged poisoning of a former spy in the United Kingdom, may have had the unintended consequence of drawing many nato allies closer. Yet divisions emerging from democratic backsliding by nato states may have the effect, over the longer run, of contributing to Russian aims.

Start with Hungary, once considered a post-Cold War democratic success story. Since coming to power in 2010, the government led by Viktor Orbán has enacted far-reaching changes to the country’s constitution, election laws, and courts. The effect has been to politicize virtually all elements of national government to advantage Orbán’s Fidesz party, and to facilitate blatant crony capitalism
Orbán  has ...focused a stream of invective against migrants, Muslims, the European Union, and George Soros, while repeatedly flirting with anti-Semitism. These messages are delivered via a once-independent media that has largely been captured by the prime minister’s allies. Civil-liberties groups in the country, under legal attack for years, are bracing for increased hardship if not outright elimination by a leader who has publicly praised Putin’s illiberal state. 
Not content to simply emulate the Russian model domestically, Orbán has also adopted an increasingly pro-Russian foreign policy, and, in the words of a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee minority staff report, “has taken no discernable steps to stop or even discourage Russian malign influence.” Orbán has been explicit in his criticism of Western sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Multiple reports, meanwhile, indicate that Russian intelligence services may be using Hungary as, in the words of a former U.S. embassy official, “an intel[ligence] forward operating base in nato and the EU.”
Since coming to power in 2015, Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party has maintained the country’s longstanding antagonism toward Russia, and welcomed nato forces (including those of the United States) into the country. Bound by a common platform of nationalism, euroskepticism, and anti-migrant sentiment, Warsaw has also emulated and protected Hungary’s illiberal turn within the EU. The party led by Jarosław Kaczyński, a former prime minister, has followed Orbán’s Hungarian model at an accelerated pace—undermining independent courts, curtailing the ability of non-governmental organizations to operate freely, and impairing the country’s media. 
Most recently, in February, the Polish government absorbed international opprobrium, including from the State Department, for enacting legislation that criminalizes speech related to the involvement of the Polish government or people in the Holocaust. The EU, criticized for failing to stop Hungary’s illiberal slide, has responded to these actions by invoking the EU Treaty’s Article 7 procedure, or so-called “nuclear option,” which would ultimately strip Poland of its voting rights within the bloc. 
The chances of such an outcome, however, are slim. Orbán and Kaczyński have made clear that they will ride to each other’s rescue, creating an emerging “axis of illiberalism” within Europe. The nato alliance thus faces a problematic odd couple. On one hand is a leader whose government openly seeks closer ties with the Kremlin. On the other is a Russia hawk whose government hosts one of four multinational “battlegroups” on nato’s eastern periphery, yet may be strengthening Russia’s hand in the long run by hollowing out his country’s institutions and backing his southern neighbor.
For all of these troubling aspects, the parallel assaults on rule of law in Hungary and Poland pale in comparison to those in Turkey. Since an attempted coup in July 2016, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government has maintained a state of emergency under which an estimated 60,000 people have been arrested, with many tens of thousands more losing their jobs. Earlier this year, Freedom House downgraded the country from “partly free” to “not free” in its annual survey. According to human rights groups, Erdoğan’s government is engaged in disappearances and torture, and has begun prosecuting its citizens for critical posts on social media. 
Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism has coincided with a worsening diplomatic relationship with the United States. On March 13, Turkish prosecutors indicted American pastor Andrew Brunson on charges related to the failed coup, seeking life imprisonment. Brunson has been held in pre-trial detention for 18 months in what some analysts describe as a hostage-taking related to Turkish requests for the United States to extradite cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for the failed coup. The Brunson indictment follows the conviction in February of dual Turkish-American citizen and nasa employee Serkan Golge, who was sentenced to 7 and a half years in prison in a trial the U.S. embassy in Ankara alleged lacked credible evidence. 
In addition to tensions over the coup attempt and its aftermath, Washington and Ankara have long differed on fundamental aspects of policy concerning the conflict in Syria. Today, the two allies stand perilously close to confrontation over the Kurdish-controlled Syrian town of Manbij. And, like Orbán, Erdoğan has sought closer ties with Russia, with Turkey recently announcing that it would buy the Russian S-400 long-range air and anti-missile defense system instead of a nato interoperable system.

Revisiting NATO's Raison d'etre
During the Cold War, nato served to keep peace in post-WWII Europe by “keep[ing] the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,” in the famous telling of its first secretary general. With the raison d'etre of territorial defense essentially nullified by the collapse of the Soviet Union, nato has until recently largely justified itself through so-called “out-of-area” operations in places like Bosnia and Afghanistan, and by the presumed power of the alliance to bind its members around respect for democratic values and institutions. In 2016, the leaders of nato member states went so far as to say that its “essential mission” was “to ensure that the Alliance remains an unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security, and shared values, including individual liberty, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.”
...Ultimately, alliances rely on trust, and shared values are one of the core reasons that treaty members can trust one another. Illiberal turns can have direct consequences for intelligence-sharing and defense cooperation. Turkey’s pending acquisition of the S-400 air defense system is case in point. 
And while the North Atlantic Treaty contains no provision to suspend members deemed to be operating in contravention of its principles, member states can challenge offending governments. Congress and the administration are already taking halting steps in this direction. 
Even stronger measures—more funding for civil-liberties groups, say, or even targeted sanctions—are unlikely to reverse illiberal trends in Turkey, Poland, and Hungary in the near term, particularly when the president of the United States evinces authoritarian tendencies of his own. Still, such steps can send a strong signal to audiences within these countries, and to populist leaders elsewhere in Europe, that the United States (minus the commander-in-chief, perhaps) considers backsliding on democracy within the world’s premier democratic alliance a matter of national security. A nato alliance grounded in respect for human rights cannot, over the long term, abide chronic abusers of human rights. Nor can it effectively counter the likes of Vladimir Putin with Putinesque leaders in its midst.


rumleyfips said...

You left out the poisonous British Tories whose authoritarian bent has stirred the trouble pot since Thatcher first attacked.

rumleyfips said...

Silly me, I forgot Blair. A reactionary even though he didn't admit to Tory, he was responsible for more deaths than Putin has been.

Nice friends we have in Nato; Uk, USA, Turkey et al. And so are one of the good guys ?

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with sending back economic migrants so they can work hard on improving living standards in their own home communities (instead trying to improve only his/her in the West).

There is nothing wrong with sending back refugees, men of military age, so they can fight themselves for the future of their respective countries (instead sending our troops to do the bloody job); a thought expressed by the President of a Czech Republic, Miloš Zeman.

There is nothing wrong with punishing the use of a phrase “Polish death camps”, as those were Nazi death camps operated and staffed by Germans on an occupied Polish soil.

And, finally, there is nothing wrong with preserving one’s own cultural heritage, customs and traditions in a home country.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, when I see someone make ridiculously declaritive pronouncements, one atop the other, about "there's nothing wrong" - with anything - I know that person is a fucking bigot. Absolutism is the native language of bigotry and fascism. There was a time we had to kill people who thought just like that. My daddy had to take care of a few all by himself. His men took care of a lot more. So fuck off you fascist piece of shit.

Karl Kolchak said...

You gotta hand it to The Atlantic and its inside-the-Beltway myopia saying that the concept of NATO's "membership composed of human rights-respecting democracies" MAY be falling apart when that ship sailed for good back in 2003. No organization whose membership bombs, invades and destroys other nations that are no threat to it while pledging total support to another power that does the same thing effectively under its protection has any business lecturing ANYONE regarding human rights.

No doubt Putin is an authoritarian thug, but his crimes pale in comparison to those of the US and UK in particular. And just yesterday we had the laughable spectacle of Israel bombing Syria in retaliation for a supposed chemical attack on civilians which, even if the story is accurate, was no less heinous that what the Israelis themselves are currently doing to civilians in Gaza.

NATO should have been dissolved in 1991 when its reason for being evaporated. But like any governmental and especially military organization ever created and allowed to grow unchecked, it became an out of control monster far more dangerous to humanity than even the original threat it was designed to combat. Its day of reckoning is coming when the American empire finally collapses under its own weight--I just hope humanity can survive it.

Anonymous said...

I agree the time to dissolve NATO was after the collapse of the USSR. NATO’s role during the Cold War was to counter the Warsaw Pact nations. However, to dissolve itself would have meant that hundreds, thousands? of good paying jobs would be dissolved too. Well, no rational thinking bureaucratic empire is going to do that so they simply repurposed themselves, invited in former WP nations in and voila, they are good for another century. Tensions are then ramped against Russia just like in the good old days. Mission Accomplished. Military-Industrial complex running on all cylinders as required. Mac

crf said...

Turkey has been a member of NATO for a long time.

The Mound of Sound said...

That's obviously true, Chris, but Turkey's participation was markedly different when the nation was constitutionally secular, prior to Erdogan's authoritarian takeover. It's this sea change that causes me to see New Turkey versus Old Turkey as two distinct entities.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, you want to be an apologist for alt.right garbage take it somewhere else. I don't tolerate that nonsense or those who rally to defend it. You're out.