We’re constantly hearing U.S. politicians crow about NATO being so essential and how Trump was an apostate for even suggesting during one of his transitory moments of lucidity some time back that maybe NATO was no longer necessary. You’ve heard this shibboleth trotted out several times during the Democratic primary debates. It would be unthinkable to question NATO and the U.S. commitment to it – all for one and one for all – especially in light of that dastardly Putin who’s just waiting for the right moment to swallow up the Baltics, Poland, Germany, France and maybe the eastern seaboard of the United States for dessert.
But how do many in Europe feel – the ones who would be most affected by a potential NATO conflict, especially with Russia? Well, as it turns out, according to a recent Pew Center Poll, many of them are not so gung-ho on that little detail known as Article 5 or the mutual security clause that states an attack on one is an attack on all. In other words, all NATO members are potentially obligated to jump into the fray if Russia and any other NATO member were to somehow end up in a military conflict. The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity reported:
Pew Research Center poll results released Sunday indicate that the majority or plurality of people in 11 of 16 NATO countries where individuals were questioned oppose their respective governments meeting this commitment, at least if the military adversary were Russia…
…When asked if their respective countries’ governments should use military force to defend a NATO ally country neighboring Russia with which “Russia got into a serious military conflict,” people living in the 16 NATO countries tended to answer in the negative. “No” was the answer for the majority of polled individuals in eight countries – France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Turkey. In three more NATO countries – the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland – a plurality rejected military intervention. Only in five countries – the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Lithuania – did more people (a majority in each case) support such military intervention than reject it.
For those of you who may have been surprised to see Poland included in the countries who had a significant percentage of their population showing skepticism of abiding by Article 5 in a conflict against Russia, there are even people in the Polish political class who are questioning the wisdom of continuing to nurse historical grievances rather than attempting a modus vivendi.
Earlier this month, ex-Polish president Lech Walesa – who lobbied for Poland to be included in NATO in the 1990’s – admitted that it’s time for Poland and Russia to work to bridge their differences, acknowledging that neither country can escape geography:
It is imperative for Warsaw and Moscow to improve relations, outlive the troubled past and move forward, ex-president of Poland Lech Walesa has said, adding that only a “third party” benefits from the discord.
While the relationship between Poland and Russia wasn’t particularly warm throughout recent decades, it can be unfrozen if both sides do their part, Walesa told Russia’s Sobesednik weekly.
“Even now, these relations can be made good,” the former president said.
When we quarrel, only third parties win. Warsaw was always closer to Moscow than to Washington.
As I explained in a previous post, Russia has no desire to invade or occupy other countries in Europe. It simply wants its security interests to be respected. Any further expansion of NATO should be publicly and officially taken off the table and the U.S. should gradually draw down on its military engagements and entanglements. No, I’m not arguing for isolationism – economic and diplomatic engagement with the world is fine, but militarism is not. There’s absolutely no justification for any country in the world needing 700 or more military bases throughout the planet. Given our geography and our nuclear arsenal, the U.S. is not going to be invaded.
Graham Allison in a recent article for Foreign Affairs said what many observers have noted for a while now – the U.S.’s moment in the sun of being the lone superpower is over:
“Unipolarity is over … For the United States, that will require accepting the reality that there are spheres of influence in the world today—and that not all of them are American spheres. … Yet because many U.S. analysts and policymakers still cling to images of China and Russia formed during this bygone era, their views about what the United States should and should not do continues to reflect a world that has vanished.”
Russia is a major power on the other side of the world that has interests that are not going to be the same as the U.S. Indeed, no two countries’ interests are ever identical. Challenges will come up in relations between countries, especially those who are or perceive themselves to be major powers. Russia will likely be a competitor of the United States for the foreseeable future. But a competitor does not have to be an enemy.
Serious and sustained multilateral diplomacy can lead to a new security architecture in Europe that does not require Russia to be an enemy and does not require the U.S. to play big daddy. Putin proposed an outline that can be used as a starting point for this years ago but was rebuffed out of hand. More recently, he has called for the 5 permanent members of the UN Security Council – all major nuclear powers – to hold a summit to cooperate on peace and other pressing global issues. France 24 reported on the proposal last month:
Speaking in Jerusalem at an event marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Putin argued that the countries that created a new global order after World War II should cooperate to solve today’s problems.
“The founder countries of the United Nations, the five states that hold special responsibility to save civilisation, can and must be an example,” he said at the sombre memorial ceremony.
The meeting would “play a great role in searching for collective answers to modern challenges and threats,” Putin said, adding that Russia was “ready for such a serious conversation.”
Putin suggested war-torn Libya could be on the agenda, following recent peace talks in Moscow and Berlin.
To date, China and France have shown interest in a possible meeting in September at the UN General Assembly, but the US and UK have yet to respond.