Last Alliance Standing? NATO after 9/11

Although these post–September 11 U.S. initiatives have met with mixed success, the crisis atmosphere that characterized the period leading up to the invasion of Iraq has faded. NATO has even undertaken a modest training

mission there. The primary fault line at NATO now is of older and more familiar vintage: the long-standing struggle between the United States, concerned as always to maintain strong U.S. influence in Europe through NATO, and France, just as determined to minimize that influence without actually breaking the transatlantic link. To be fair to France, Paris is prepared to use NATO in what it regards as appropriate circumstances. Bringing them along is almost never easy, but the French did approve the NATO takeover of ISAF as well as the NATO training mission in Iraq and have been vocal supporters of the NRF, although their interest here may well be driven in part by the hope that it will produce military capabilities that can be used by the EU. Nevertheless, just as the United States has sought to ensure that the ESDP remains firmly anchored within NATO, France has pressed for greater ESDP autonomy and opposed U.S. efforts to strengthen NATO or move it in directions that Paris believes are more properly the province of the EU. This has precipitated a tug of war both within the EU, as described above, and within NATO.

Although France is not without allies, most EU-member NATO allies seek a middle road. They favor a strong and autonomous ESDP and would probably
be prepared to go further in this direction than the United States would like, but they are generally not prepared to cross the U.S. redlines discussed above. This reflects an enduring commitment to maintain close relations with the United States despite the absence of any palpable military threat to their security. Yet, just as they are unwilling to go as far as the French would like in pushing ESDP independence from NATO, they are similarly disinclined to go as far as the United States would like in finding new roles and missions for the alliance, particularly if they conflict with perceived EU prerogatives, or in funding the NRF.

Not surprisingly, Franco-U.S. disagreement over the proper roles of NATO and the EU has complicated relations between the two organizations. Despite their overlapping mandates and the fact they have 19 members in common, there is only minimal systematic interaction, very little transparency, and even less coordination. The one exception was Bosnia, where the handoff to the EU when it did come was accomplished relatively smoothly, in accordance with Berlin Plus procedures. The lack of coordination between the two organizations,
however, is not simply a consequence of Franco-U.S. arm wrestling over which forum should predominate but reflects other rivalries as well. This includes long-standing Greek-Turkish animus, which has become even more complicated following Cypriot accession to the EU. There are also rivalries between the NATO and EU bureaucracies in individual foreign ministries as well as between the NATO and EU international staffs. For the most part, these frictions have precipitated little direct conflict because each organization has tended to focus on different missions. NATO has focused on larger-scale and more difficult peacekeeping operations, as in Bosnia (at its beginning), Kosovo, and Afghanistan, while the EU has taken on much smaller-scale or more settled peacekeeping operations and rule-of-law missions. That there is a potential for conflict, however, was amply demonstrated by the recent flap over who should provide air transport for African Union forces in Sudan, a controversy that generated much ado over relatively little.

Despite these dissonances, the United States has continued to press an ever more ambitious agenda on NATO. In Afghanistan, the United States has been steadily pressuring allies to broaden the envelope of risk they are willing to shoulder in conducting peacekeeping operations. To boost the flagging NRF, Washington is urging European allies to support a strategic airlift initiative that would provide the air transport and other logistical resources needed to help wean the NRF from its dependence on the United States. In the run-up to the Riga summit in November 2006, the United States has been proposing that NATO expand its contacts with non-European Western allies, such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea, which would give the alliance an even more global focus.

Washington has also supported the call of Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for enhanced political discussion at NATO. German chancellor Angela
Merkel picked up this theme herself in her February 2006 Wehrkunde Conference speech, in which she supported using NATO as a forum for discussing and possibly coordinating positions on a wide range of foreign policy and security topics, specifically mentioning the Middle East and Iran. The United States is also pressing NATO to take on a more substantial role in the Middle East and Africa by seeking to establish military training centers. Taken together, these initiatives map out an ambitious vision of an increasingly globally focused alliance taking on a progressively wider range of potential issues, activities, and missions, with the United States firmly in the lead.