The debate on whether to return to Nato’s permanent command structure that has recently been unleashed in France—43 years after Charles de Gaulle pulled his country out—has impassioned its political class much more than the wider public.
The opposition has seized the opportunity to attack President Nicolas Sarkozy on an issue where his governing centre-right party happens to be divided. But if one goes beyond the political calculations and ideological reflexes of this debate and considers the long-term strategic implications, what is at stake?
In the first place common sense requires that an anachronism be eliminated and that the appropriate lessons be drawn from the fundamental changes happening in today’s world, in the US as well as in Europe. By remaining a member of Nato without taking part in its integrated military structure France has first and foremost penalised itself.
Precisely because the future of Nato’s strategy is at stake and legitimate questions must be raised about the choices to be made regarding Afghanistan, France should assume its responsibilities inside Nato and thereby increase Europe’s weight in redefining western strategy. Only from inside will France be able to assert its own interests.
But the developments in the international environment make a change of France's status inside Nato seem even more advisable, indeed necessary. The world has changed profoundly; the west is no longer as dominant as it has been for two centuries, either economically or in terms of strategic importance. The economic crisis, though global in nature, is accelerating the historic shift from the west to Asia.
Moreover, Europe’s primary problem is no longer to define itself as distinct from, if not at times in opposition to, the US. That is an obsolete mindset. Today’s challenge is to form a common front by asserting our values, not against others but in co-operation with them and in recognition of an emerging multi-polarity.
Since the election of Barack Obama as president of the US these changes have been accompanied by a revolution: not only has there been a big change in the image of America in the world but the behaviour of the US vis á vis its allies has changed even more radically. Though it is too early to know whether President Obama will succeed in reinvigorating the US economy, it is not too early to support his measures and efforts to relaunch multilateralism with strong action taken by our two countries.
The French population as well as the Germans—we remember the enthusiastic crowds that cheered him in Berlin—strongly support Mr Obama. France should seize the hand extended by America. Its return as a full member of Nato would constitute a strong symbolic and political act, sealing a historic reconciliation of two allies that are willing to put their common challenges above the quarrels and prejudices of the past.
Europe itself is changing before our eyes. There is no contradiction between the desire to advance European defence and to "normalise" France’s status inside Nato; on the contrary, France’s position thereby would come closer to that of Britain and Germany. A stronger France inside the alliance would strengthen the European defence effort. The return of France to Nato is not a guarantee of a successful European defence, but it certainly is a necessary precondition.
This becomes all the more true considering the new challenges facing Europe such as the return of Russia, now seeking a more powerful role in the international system. We should not allow Russia to exploit potential differences between Europe and Nato. But at the same time we must seek to open a dialogue with Russia on the necessary reopening of arms control negotiations in Europe, hopefully building a new partnership. These negotiations require strong and harmonised positions within Nato.
The authors of this article have devoted an important part of their lives to Franco-German rapprochement, which they consider to be a key to European unification. They regard the complete return of France to Nato as a logical step towards the European goal.
They are convinced that General de Gaulle, with his pragmatic and realist vision of the world and of a Europe based on the Franco-German relationship, would be shocked to hear that his name is evoked today to oppose an adjustment that he himself would have considered natural, given the profound changes that are happening in the world.
NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine is not a realistic possibility, no matter what the Atlantic alliance may say about their potential in principle, as it did at the last two summit meetings. That alternative has been closed, not because some NATO members—notably France and Germany—fractiously
opposed an unpopular Bush administration in its enlargement drive, but for deeper structural reasons.
First, domestic conditions speak against membership. The reckless engagement with a superior Russian military by Georgia's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, although he had been thoroughly briefed by the United States about the Russian potential, demonstrated to NATO how bad leadership in combination with a very old conflict can drag the Atlantic alliance into a war it does not want.
In Ukraine there is no majority support for membership among the general population; indeed, in the eastern part of the country there is strong opposition. If ever the leadership were to force this issue it would risk a deep split, with potentially disastrous consequences for the integrity of Ukraine.
Second, contrary to the expectations at the end of the Cold War, large-scale conventional warfare in Europe has reappeared as a threatening possibility. The worst possible scenario for NATO would be that the alliance would be unable to defend an ally under Article V because of lack of political will (even now the majority of people in some NATO countries do not support going to war over Central European members), or for military reasons—as would be the case for Georgia and Ukraine under the present circumstances. This would expose NATO as a paper tiger and cause it to loose the essence of its credibility and meaning.
Third, Russia's relations with the West have reached their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. The enlargement of NATO, the breakdown of strategic and conventional arms control, the installment of missile defenses in Central Europe, and the West's failure to consult Russia on issues it considers vital to its interests, have created a concoction of resentment and perceptions of not being treated as a major power.
Georgian and Ukrainian membership in NATO represents a red line that gives them disproportionate
significance. The West has to take this into account if it wants to improve the situation in Europe and regain Russia as a partner in global affairs.
Georgia and Ukraine deserve and will get substantial aid from NATO and the European Union. But it makes little sense to address their long-term security problems separately since they are part of the necessary overhaul of the West's Russia policy that the Obama administration has promised and the
European Allies eagerly await. Such an overhaul would have to include, among other things, strategic
arms control, a nonproliferation policy and missile defense.
As far as Georgia and Ukraine are concerned, two items are central to the alleviation of their problems. First, a general dialogue between the West and Russia is necessary in order to review the problems of European security and develop approaches that could improve the overall situation. Presidents Dmitri Medvedev of Russia and Nicolas Sarkozy of France have supported such an idea with the quiet and explicit approval of many European governments.
Second, the military security of both countries can be addressed by reviving the Treaty on
Conventional Forces in Europe. The treaty was concluded in 1990 and adapted to changed
circumstances with an additional agreement in 1999. It has the advantage of providing for upper limits
to conventional forces in geographic zones, for the destruction of equipment, for inspections, and rules
for stationing foreign troops.
To be sure, the treaty is now blocked by linked conditionality of NATO and Russia and has been suspended by Russia, and is, of course, no panacea. Problems left to themselves for two decades must be dealt with. But reopening conventional arms control in Europe offers a chance to address the concrete security problems of Georgia and Ukraine (as well as of other European countries) and become part of a hopefully constructive redefinition of the West's relationship with Russia.
Just like Europe in the late 19th century, east Asia is experiencing a period of extraordinary industrialisation, economic growth and arms build-up. Warships have been deployed to mark positions on territorial disputes, chauvinism and national stereotyping abound and crucial countries fail to deal adequately with—or learn from—the past. In Europe such developments ended in disaster. Is Asia repeating Europe's mistakes?
Europe overcame its war-prone past through the process of community building and today has established internal peace by working in unison towards two goals. The first was economic integration, an approach that Asia has emulated with extraordinary success, resulting in unprecedented intra-regional trade, transnational investment and networks of multinational production. But this economic interdependence is no guarantee against disastrous escalation of conflicts. Given the region's present economic interdependence, war in Asia would be even more disruptive and costly than it was in 20th century Europe. Will that prevent governments from unleashing a military conflict? Remember that the first world war broke out amid Europe's most advanced international trade integration and that, as Europeans know all too well, chauvinism is capable of drowning all rationality.
Europeans put their relations on a radically different footing by basing their policies on three premises: first, every nation must honestly and credibly face its wrongdoings and failures of the past; second, a clear distinction must be made between the actual guilty parties and the nations they came from; and, third, between the guilt of the perpetrators, now mostly dead, and the surviving generation who are responsible for preventing a repetition. It is perhaps understandable that facing historical facts is painful for some, but it is hard to understand why the honour and memory of people long dead is more important than the future of the living and their chance to live in peace and prosperity
The reconciliation between France and Germany and later between Germany and Poland paved the way for others to follow. Much was done jointly, for example by establishing common commissions to review schoolbooks, organising youth exchanges, or promoting city partnerships. Demonstrative gestures and credible acts of asking for forgiveness were crucial. In this respect China, Japan and Korea should play a role similar to that of France, Germany and Poland
What mattered particularly in Europe and what is missing in Asia now is a transnational consensus among governments and societal elites to combat nationalism as it existed in Europe. On the contrary, nationalist tendencies are being fostered by governments. In a mistaken belief in the short-term gains in such policy, they neglect the long-term cost of conflict they are likely to induce. Europeans owe their success partly to governments choosing to ignore extremist voices in partner countries as expressions of minorities that should not derail co-operation and reconciliation.
Moreover, as Europe has shown, the process of reconciliation and political co-operation is not a one-way street. Positive gestures should be acknowledged and rewarded by the other side. On the 60th anniversary of the end of the second world war, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan did not visit Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's war-dead. Instead, by attending a secular ceremony with Emperor Akihito while apologising to Japan's wartime victims, he did exactly what many Asians had hoped and asked for. But this gesture will only work if the outstretched hand is seized and neighbours such as China and South Korea react positively.
Using the leeway gained from his recent poll victory, Mr Koizumi could now make a courageous step in this direction. Though his visit to Yasukuni Shrine this week took place in a semi-official manner, it has regrettably pointed in the opposite direction and unleashed the predictable cycle of accusations and resentment. Asia's achievements towards economic integration and interdependence are now threatened by rising political tensions and nationalism in the region. Acts of reconciliation and co-operation by governments and elites are therefore urgently necessary to strengthen community building. As Asia becomes increasingly important to global peace and the international economy, the world can only hope for such a development.
George F. Kennan, diplomat, historian, writer, died on March 17. Excerpts from Karl Kaiser’s eulogy.
I am one of the millions of Europeans who benefited from George Kennan’s contribution, for I speak to you as a citizen of the peacefully united Germany, a democracy again, and the new Europe which is no longer divided into two hostile camps of communism and democracy, where the possibility of war has practically disappeared, and unprecedented unity is being created by the European Union.
It is this new Europe, for which George Kennan strove throughout his extraordinary life, as an analyst who frequently exposed its problems with surgical precision, as an advocate who was often ahead of his time, changing views and affecting policies, often misunderstood and criticized, ready to oppose what he considered wrong, always relevant.
Europeans remember him for his essential contribution to rebuilding Europe with the Marshall Plan and the Containment Policy as the two complementary centerpieces of U.S. policy. Containment, for which he laid the conceptual foundation, formed the basis of American foreign policy from the Truman Doctrine to the creation of NATO. The freedom of Berlin and of Western Europe is unimaginable without them.
It is true that Kennan later complained that containment was misunderstood and that the policy overreacted in military terms to the Soviet threat. But in 1967, NATO did exactly what Kennan had always advocated by adding to its goals a political dimension that sought dialogue and accommodation with the adversary. In the end, it was this combination of the military and political dimension, of deterrence and detente, which led to the demise of communism.
Kennan played a vital role in establishing the Marshall Plan, perhaps the most intelligent and forward-looking act of American foreign policy. It helped to rebuild Western Europe’s economy, supported the restoration of democracy and established the foundation for transatlantic economic interdependence.
Without the Marshall Plan and America’s continuous support of European integration with Franco-German reconciliation at its heart, we would not have Europe as an essential part of our Western community today, nor could that community continue to play a crucial role in this turbulent century without America actively supporting European unity.
Europeans also remember Kennan for his contribution to detente and to overcoming the division of Europe. Of course, that outcome is unthinkable without the contribution of the detente policy of American administrations from John F. Kennedy onward.
Nor is it imaginable that Gorbachev would have been able to release East Germany, the most important trophy of the world war unleashed by Germany, without the groundwork laid in the preceding decades by Western detente policy and German "Ostpolitik" which helped to rebuild trust and cooperation between Bonn and Moscow.
But Kennan’s views and voice played a crucial role in these processes by proposing alternative ideas for dealing with the East-West conflict and by offering interpretations of the Soviet Union which stressed the evolutionary potential of the country. Throughout his life, he preached patience when it came to fostering democracy in other countries and that statecraft should rely on and encourage the indigenous forces that could create it.
As I know from personal experience, Chancellor Willy Brandt revered him. In the early sixties, Kennan once came through Berlin on his way back from Moscow and gave Brandt his assessment of developments in Soviet leadership at the time. He told Brandt not to be afraid in pursuing new policies with the East. "Have courage," he said. His assessment and advice undoubtedly encouraged Brandt to develop a new approach, which later took shape as "Ostpolitik." Brandt met with Kennan repeatedly and always paid attention to his writings.
As a skeptic of human nature, Kennan considered nuclear weapons to be too dangerous to be put in human hands. As he put it: "War between great peoples in the modern age—total war—is a madness from which nobody can benefit." The destruction of Hamburg and Berlin, two cities he knew very well, shocked him profoundly.
As nuclear weapons became increasingly important in Western security policy, he constantly criticized what he called "grotesque deterrence," supporting and inspiring those critics in the U.S. and Europe who advocated arms control and disarmament in this field—a stance more important today than ever as these awful weapons may fall in the hands of jihad terrorists.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, it was not a forgone conclusion that the Cold War would end without a bloodbath. To be sure, the wise and prudent statesmanship of the leaders of that time was decisive, but they acted within an environment of trends and ideas that encouraged them to recognize a historical opportunity they fortunately grasped. Kennan’s contribution was vital in creating that very environment.
Today is therefore the moment for Europeans who now live in a free and reunited continent to express thanks to this extraordinary man. We Europeans honor him as an example of the very best in the American diplomatic tradition that proceeds on the basis of careful analysis, that seeks to understand the driving forces of other countries, in particular its adversaries, and that attempts to act as much as possible on the basis of a consensual and multilateral approach which respects international law and involves allies. As Germany’s Federal President Horst Koehler put it in a letter of condolence to Mrs. Kennan: "He remains an example to every young diplomat."