Question Everything

This blog post is based on remarks I prepared for a NATO discussion at the Congress of the Mouvement de la Paix in Paris on 10 November. The discussion was quite broad and included questions about how to change French engagement in NATO back to being solely political. The co-presenters during my panel were Lucas Wirl of IALANA (Germany) and Ludo de Brabender of Vrede VZU (Belgium). Rather than include the full text of my presentation, I want to highlight some of the key points below.

Will NATO survive an honest defense and deterrence posture review?

Not if it fully considers the desire of its publics. The challenge raised since 2009 to the continued basing of U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe requires NATO to take a long, hard look at itself. No longer half of a global super-power divide, NATO is now the world’s biggest military spender- alone. The Aliance conventional weapons capabilities are overwhelming. The question that is not asked though is who is NATO’s enemy? What is all of this military buildup for?

‘Clan Dyken’ an American folk band raised the issue that NATO is grappling with in their song ‘In Search of Enemies’. While Clan Dyken was referring to the U.S. military industrial complex, the same could be said of NATO as a whole today.

This military political alliance does not have a clear opposing force. Loathe to name Russia (even if some allies might want to) and increasingly hesitant to name any other state threat, NATO instead focuses its attention on threats to energy or cyber security, and raises the spectre of non-state actors. None of these can be dealt with by the same deterrent tactics the alliance has used until now.

Who does NATO wish to deter, really?

That is a key question, a fundamental one, that should be the primary focus of the current DDPR. While it may seem like this is the starting point for discussions – to outsiders- asking the question inside NATO Headquarters elicits blase responses. Deter future threats and unknown capabilities. Retain the ability to hedge against future enemies. These are some things that I’ve heard, and, to be honest, they’re not really well formulated. It almost sounds like something that Dick Cheney would say- deter the unknown unknowns. It would be laughable if it didn’t mean that NATO will try to keep the nuclear status quo against the will of many of its populations.

NATO claims that it is an alliance of shared values, and touts itself as an alliance of democracies. What the DDPR has shown us to date is that NATO isn’t actually ready to accept full spectrum democracy. The failure to declassify the DDPR Terms of Reference, and the likelihood that the final DDPR may remain classified is a demonstration of NATO’s failure to accept the democratization of security.

Is this an alliance of democracies, or an alliance of militaries? That question too should probably be addressed by a DDPR, but likely won’t.

NATO has the chance to prove itself as a democratic alliance, by making itself a bit more transparent instead of only calling for transparency in others. The DDPR is likely to retain the nuclear status quo, but we, as supporters of real security must step back and ask whether NATO will be able to live up to its promise of promoting democracy- and security- across the North Atlantic or if it will instead hide behind classified doors. Now is our chance to question everything- Who is NATO? What is NATO for in today’s security climate? Who does NATO wish to deter? How do nuclear weapons fit into that picture? We must question everything, for if we, as democratic societies do not- who will?