The West under Pressure


BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - Transatlantic circles are warning against a global "disengagement" by the West and is calling for a renewed cohesiveness between NATO countries under US leadership. The fact that Russia was able to take over the Crimea and that China can obstinately maintain its position in disputes over several islands and groups of islands in Eastern Asia, is also a consequence of weak Western leadership, according to the "German Marshall Fund of the United States" (GMF). The West must draw lessons from the current "global disorder." However, German experts demonstrate a bit more restraint in their appraisals. According to the latest edition of a German military journal, the current intra-Western tensions have primarily arisen from the fact that in the course of its development the EU has "inevitably become a competitor to NATO." It cannot be excluded that this could cause a serious "rupture in transatlantic relations" and that NATO could even disintegrate into conflicts. However, as long as the EU does not have strong military power, it should "grit its teeth and continue to flexibly attempt to benefit from US capabilities." This must also be seen in the context of the fact that western hegemony no longer seems assured. Moscow has announced its intentions to carry out joint maneuvers with China in the Mediterranean, thus breaching another western hegemonic privilege.

Global Disorder

Transatlantic circles are warning against a global "disengagement" of the West. The current "global disorder" is "at least partially" the consequence of the NATO countries' lack(!) of interference, according to a recent article published by the "German Marshall Fund of the United States" (GMF) think tank. This "disorder" had created "a context in which Russian President Vladimir Putin believed he could seize Crimea" and in which China "can threaten and use military force" to strengthen its claims to islands and groups of islands in the South China and East China Seas, writes Daniel Twining.[1] Twining, a "senior fellow" at GMF, also works for the US "National Intelligence Council," which elaborates long-term prognoses for US intelligence services. According to Twining, economic cooperation with other countries is "no safeguard" against a military conflict with them. Russia's economic dependence on trade with Europe has not forced Moscow to retreat in the Ukraine conflict nor has China's close economic ties with Japan compelled Beijing to back off in the dispute over the islands. Economic cooperation has proven inadequate as a means to integrate potential rivals.

No Substitute for US Leadership

Twining continues that, in the future, the West must guard against divisions. If its opponents succeed in sowing discord, they could secure for themselves a "strategic advantage." Western deterrence is diminished, "when allies appear mercantilist, divided, or irresolute." It would also be a "grave mistake" to "engage competitors ... at the expense of regional allies." German cooperation with Russia, for example, only leads to tensions with East European Alliance members.[2] It would be more promising to encourage "reform in frontier states like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova" and to plan their integration into the "security community." A similar development could come in China's immediate vicinity, as the example of Myanmar currently shows. There is, however, "no substitute for US leadership." "In its absence, competitors move to fill the vacuum."

Germany's Countervailing Power

German experts demonstrate a bit more restraint in their appraisals of US leadership. In the current issue of the military journal "European Security and Technology," Johannes Varwick, Professor for International Relations and European Policy at the University of Halle-Wittenberg, reminds of the recurrent German efforts to establish a "countervailing power" to that of the United States. This has been the case, for example, "during the 2003 Iraq crisis or the 2011 Libyan crisis," and it is being repeated in the "NSA crisis in 2014," writes Varwick - "under very dissimilar government coalition constellations, from SPD-Green to CDU-FDP and CDU-SPD."[3] Not only Germany, but the EU as well has inevitably become "a NATO competitor" in the "course of its increasing activity in the field of foreign and security policy," where "frictions between the member countries' transatlantic and European orientations" have led to "serious tensions." Even though "extreme positions on the security policy roles of the EU and NATO have begun to converge in the European countries, they have never disappeared," therefore - as well as because of the financial crisis and its resulting budget cuts - "the EU's long-term role in the architecture of international and European security remains uncertain."

Twin-Pillar Alliance

According to Varwick, this provides two options. "In the first model, ... a twin-pillar alliance on the basis of equality ... would develop between the USA and Europe," writes the professor. "The European pillar would be fully responsible for autonomously handling security problems ... within its own environment - including Africa. In cases of emergency and as a deterrence measure, US forces would be available to supportively intervene."[4] In global conflicts, on the other hand, "case by case decisions" must be made "whether a joint engagement has consensus appeal or not." The prerequisite for all this, of course, is that the EU can successfully reinforce its military capacities and, above all, its decision-making structures.

Strategic Rivals

"In the second model," Varwick continues, "basic security policy assumptions and threat analyses ... continue, in the intermediate term, to develop in divergent directions." In such a case, the EU and the USA could "become strategic rivals in the long-term." Then "it would, in the intermediate and long term, lead to a rupture in transatlantic relations and NATO would slowly erode or even disintegrate into conflicts," forecasts Varwick. "The relative stability of an American dominated world order would be replaced by a conflict-laden rivalry between global policy poles seeking supremacy." Though the EU "at the moment ... is not yet in a position to take on such a role as political rival," should it ever - due to a continuation of "transatlantic alienation" - be able "to transform its economic clout into strategic political power," then "this scenario could become reality, quicker than the transatlantic Europeans ... fear and than the European autonomists would hope."[5]

Broken Monopolies

Varwick considers that, at least for the time being, it is conceivable that Berlin and Brussels should "grit their teeth and continue to flexibly attempt to benefit from US capabilities," because for now, the EU's military capabilities are insufficient for an independent global hegemonic policy.[6] The fact that western hegemony no longer seems assured, could promote stronger transatlantic ties. By taking the Crimea, Moscow revised the borders - thereby breaking a monopoly that, until now, the West had only reserved for itself. Revising borders, whether in Yugoslavia or Sudan, has in the recent past, always been carried out by West European and North American states. The Russian government has now announced its intentions to carry out joint maneuvers with China in the Mediterranean.[7] Combat maneuvers off the coasts of potential adversaries has also been a privilege western countries, until now, have reserved only for themselves - in the forms of NATO maneuvers in Ukraine and in the Black Sea, or in form of US maneuvers in Vietnamese, South Korean or Japanese coastal waters.[8] Over the next few months and years, it will become apparent to what extent the breakdown of western hegemonic monopolies will forge stronger ties within NATO in its struggle to maintain its predominance - either as a "two-pillar alliance" or under US leadership.

Other reports and debates over NATO's future role can be found here: Powerful Ally and A Monroe Doctrine for Eastern Europe.

[1], [2] Daniel Twining: Periphery as the New King: Lessons from the Current Global Disorder for the Transatlantic Allies. GMF Policy Brief, October 2014.
[3], [4], [5], [6] Johannes Varwick: Erneuerung der euro-atlantischen Sicherheitspartnerschaft. Europäische Sicherheit und Technik, November 2014.
[7] Russia, China to Hold 2015 Naval Exercises in Mediterranean, Pacific. 22.11.2014.
[8] See Außer Kontrolle, Ukrainian Maneuvers, Verbündete gegen Beijing (I) and Zones of Future Conflicts.