Ausgabe 14/2009

The Reluctant Globocop What Is NATO's Role?


Part 2: The War in Afghanistan 'Can't Be Won Militarily'

BRUSSELS, NATO HEADQUARTERS, BOULEVARD LEOPOLD III. A large, ugly building on the outskirts of the city. Security is tight, in light of the constant fear of an attack. The building's interior houses a small city, complete with supermarket, cafés and banks, as if to say that anyone who enters the alliance headquarters should not have to leave again to satisfy the banal needs of everyday life. Long corridors lead to austere offices and sterile conference rooms.

The only art to be seen is outside the office of the secretary general: a watercolor of flowers, a photo from Afghanistan depicting a NATO soldier helping a sick person and a sculpture that is a copy of a Roman original in the Vatican Museum. The alliance has 5,200 civilian employees and an annual budget of about €2 billion ($2.7 billion). No fewer than 320 committees attend to the infrastructure of this bureaucratic Moloch, which includes managing the roughly 60,000 troops currently deployed on combat missions around the world.

The French, who withdrew from the military command structure 43 years ago, are currently demonstrating the extent to which jealousies are tied to the principle of proportionality. Now Paris, under President Nicolas Sarkozy (whose NATO nickname, in a reference to his celebrity wife, is the "Sultan of Bruni"), is returning to the fold in full force, and in the process is fiercely bargaining for every post. Skeptics say that even the position of NATO secretary general is consistently a search for the lowest common denominator. Dutchman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who has held the position since January 2004, is seen as one of these relatively weak compromise candidates. Long ridiculed as an unforgiving advocate of the Iraq war and as the "poodle" of former US President George W. Bush, he has since managed to adopt a more independent stance toward Washington.

In a conversation with SPIEGEL, Scheffer, who has just returned from Afghanistan, is surprisingly self-critical. The war in Afghanistan, he says, "can't be won militarily." Instead, he adds, the goal should be to capture the "hearts and minds of the people." According to Scheffer, "we must be careful to avoid civilian casualties while battling the insurgents," and to achieve this, cooperation with Iran is needed. The secretary general believes that NATO needs a new strategy. "Ten years ago, it took a tank division to impress a country. Today this can mean sitting down in front of a computer to launch a cyber attack or turning off the gas supply."

And should NATO take charge when these incidents occur? The secretary general raises his hands defensively. "No, not everywhere. Just where we can offer added value. NATO has neither the money nor the capacity to become a sort of globo-cop. But if Pakistan asks us for help, as it did after the earthquake in late 2005, should we say no? The same applies when our ships are patrolling in areas where pirates are up to no good. Taxpayers nowadays expect more from us than the defense of territory."

Scheffer says that he is proud to be able to say: "I have learned new things in my position." He is leaving his position in July, at 61. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 56, is considered the favorite to succeed him.

The Obama team can be credited with generating a new sense of confidence in the alliance in the wake of the crippling Bush years, in which solidarity within NATO was systematically destroyed. Vice President Joe Biden has visited Brussels, as has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But no one knows yet whether the new approach in Washington really represents a new direction or simply a tactical rapprochement. And despite all of NATO's self-adulation as an "instrument for preserving peace," some would like to see a critical review of the history of the alliance.

By the spring of 1947, the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union had cooled into the beginnings of the Cold War. Then-US President Harry S. Truman announced his doctrine, which called upon every nation to choose between democracy and communism in the future. But the defense pact that was later signed in Washington was not just directed against the socialist East, but also against the Germans, who were still perceived as a threat at the time. The first secretary general, Britain's Lord Ismay, said that NATO should "keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down."

The articles of the NATO charter, while making reference to the UN Charter, obligate members to "settle their international disputes by peaceful means" and prohibit NATO from engaging in wars of aggression. In the highly significant Article 5, an armed attack on a single member is defined as an attack on all members, and it obligates the remaining members to come to the aid of the member under attack. A new feature in the history of alliance systems is the economic and cultural cooperation the partners impose on one another to defend a free, democratic "way of life."

From its very beginnings, NATO has violated its principles when it saw fit to do so. Under the alliance's criteria, Portugal, under then-dictator Antonio Salazar, should never have been allowed to be one of the founding members, but Lisbon's strategic importance prevailed. The acceptance of Greece and Turkey, which are still at odds over the Cyprus issue today, was done primarily as a deterrent to Moscow. The first phase of NATO was completed with the accession of Germany on May 6, 1955. While the West cooperated with the West Germans to protect itself against its enemies, which also included East Germany, the East responded by forming the Warsaw Pact, barely two weeks after Bonn's acceptance into NATO.

The stabilization of the status quo -- in the form of the doctrine of "mutual assured destruction" achieved through both sides having nuclear weapons -- became the principal goal of the alliance. However this policy came at the cost of people risking their lives to fight for their rights on the other side of the Iron Curtain -- in East Berlin, in Budapest and, in 1968, in Prague. The major military blocs battled each other behind enemy lines with dirty secret operations, with the CIA and NATO deploying their "Gladio" agents to address the KGB's provocations. But live ammunition was only used in the proxy wars in which the ideological rivals engaged in what was then termed the Third World.

The United States and Europe grew apart for the first time in the days of the Vietnam War. West Germany, as a country bordering the Warsaw Pact, continued to benefit from NATO guarantees and, as global détente began to emerge, it was able to launch its new policy toward the East known as "Ostpolitik," or "change through rapprochement." The signing of the Helsinki Accords at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975 represented an important step toward breaking down the two blocs.

But one year later, when the Soviet Union began to deploy mobile SS20 mid-range missiles west of the Ural Mountains, the East-West conflict came to a head once again. Then-German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt warned against a strategic imbalance and urged the alliance to take retaliatory action, a request that was well-received in Washington and developed into the NATO Double-Track Decision and new rearmament efforts. This prompted hundreds of thousands of people in the peace movement to take to the streets.

It is still a matter of dispute today whether the policy of strength demonstrated with the Double-Track Decision forced the Warsaw Pact to its knees, or whether the Soviet bloc was simply doomed to fail because of its lack of economic flexibility.

The Warsaw Pact states collapsed like a house of cards. The Soviet Union disappeared from world history, not with a bang but with a resigned whisper.

As a rule, alliances also perish after they have won. Massive changes in the international order required either the disbandment of NATO or radical modification of its purpose: a redefinition of relations with Moscow and its tragic hero of change, Mikhail Gorbachev.


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