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NATO: a “friendship” whose functioning must be reviewed

(B2) NATO is seeking a new existence. Again ! Taken by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Euro-Atlantic Organization had redefined a strategy and aimed to deploy its capacity for action in the world, as a force of democratic support, of all-out intervention. . She considered her action globally. Direct military action, training and restructuring of armies, aid to the police, civil security, etc., there seemed to be few areas that escaped its vigilance. The organization has also expanded physically, through successive enlargements, reaching almost all the states of the European continent (and even elsewhere, “Partnership for Peace" helping). And she was about to “nibble” on truly “Russian” lands by preparing the accession of several ex-Soviet states.

And suddenly came Georgia... Russia's coup in Georgia marked a halt, like a return to reality, to very pragmatic limits. What is the point of intervening 5.000 km from the heart of Europe, to stabilize a distant country? If we are not capable of intervening, either politically or militarily, at the borders in relation to a country perceived as a “threat” by several members of the Organization. We must not hide, in fact, that, faced with this Russo-Georgian conflict, in a country candidate for membership, NATO remained with its weapon at its feet. Some political statements have been made publicly. But nothing more. It was, in fact, the Americans who decided to send their boats for deliveries “humanitarian".

And then the question of Afghanistan came back hauntingly.
Because no one dares to admit it. But, in Afghanistan, NATO's global strategy (largely driven by the Americans) is starting to look like a global failure. And the Allies find themselves bogged down in a country, the full complexity of which we are only beginning to understand. Unable to withdraw, because the Afghan army and police do not seem capable of taking over. Reluctant to send reinforcements, especially knowing that the price (budgetary, human, political) can very quickly exceed the capabilities of the allies, and especially their will. Especially since the results are far from convincing. With the increase in military deaths and civilian losses, the intervention in Afghanistan – the organization's only major operation (along with Kosovo) – is turning into a nightmare. Several reasons lead to this, relating to the terrain itself, strategic unpreparedness and too much certainty in its objectives – wanting to bring about democracy by force of arms is always risky! The Organization has sometimes discussed all of this internally, but never publicly.

As France rejoins NATO, it is legitimate to ask ourselves some questions. Which, I hope, can not only be debated during the informal council of Defense Ministers in Krakow (Thursday and Friday) but in a public manner. Not only in France but in several European countries.

1) Is it useful? Without a doubt. What for ? The question deserves to be asked.

2) What is the objective, the scope of action? And where should NATO act? Refocus on territorial defense, organization and cooperation between allied armies or continue to remain an operational armed arm, with variable geometry at the global level. Reason, like efficiency, would incline to the first objective, more reasonable but undoubtedly more “development".

3) Doesn’t this military organization deserve to review its functioning? Perhaps among the 16.000 agents who work in its offices and in its headquarters, it is a little disproportionate compared to the current situation and at a time when the economic crisis is hitting budgets hard? And for what yield? All this deserves questioning. To avoid – as a high-ranking French official recounted: “NATO is the perfect place to improve your golf score... ".

4) Finally, and above all, we must reconsider the very status of NATO. This organization, born from the Cold War, of a purely military nature, this “club” of allies where the predominance of the United States was not only natural but desired, was gradually transformed into a pluralist political organization. Without adapting its structures, its essence, its status to a modern, more demanding world. Today it continues to function as a “friendship” whose decisions are taken in an opaque manner (rather in an “informal manner” * as we like to repeat at NATO headquarters). It is not subject to any real political control (no election or appointment procedure) and above all to no real democratic control. There is no assembly that authorizes or controls expenditures or operations. There is no competent court to which one can challenge the legality of one's actions. There is no official journal that publishes its standards and decisions. In fact, in the name of “defense secrecy” – today misused to cover a whole series of activities, often legitimate, sometimes questionable, NATO is quite simply an organization with a dubious existence from a legal point of view. , outside the “rule of law”. This needs to be urgently resolved...


(*) The most obvious example is the appointment of the Secretary General who does not obey any rules, as someone familiar with the organization told me. “This is an informal procedure. The decision is taken by consensus at the level of ambassadors or ministers at a given moment when we agree on a candidate. For the moment there is no declared candidate“. In fact we “wait for someone to declare themselves. It is not good to be a candidate too early. But above all, we do not know the position of the American administration“. And it is clear in everyone's mind that “American opinion will count a lot to know if this candidate has a chance of being admitted” or not… Who will endorse this nomination? Person. Not an assembly. Not an official Council. Person. When we compare with the European procedures for appointing the President of the European Commission (or the High Representative – Lisbon version), so often criticized, but which are overall much more democratic (with hearing before the European Parliament, etc.), we is there between day and night.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).