Sound the alarm – Nato is failing
By Edward Lucas
Nato's job, according to a classic cold war dictum, was to "keep the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russians out". As the Atlantic Alliance prepares to gather in Riga for the most miserable summit meeting in its history, it is losing on all three fronts.
Ties between America and Europe have never been weaker. "Old Europe", as Donald Rumsfeld termed it, loathed the war in Iraq. The fiasco of the American-led occupation there vindicates those, such as President Jacques Chirac of France, who want no part in any geopolitical arrangement involving America.
Like Tony Blair's Government, the loyal ex-communist states of "New Europe" have been scalded by their pro-American stance. These new Nato members have bravely put troops into Iraq and Afghanistan – but received nothing in return. One senior politician from an east European country known for its Atlanticism says bluntly: "Until recently, this administration didn't want allies. It didn't help and it didn't listen."
America's hamfistedness and European diffidence create a vicious circle. The White House sees most Nato countries as puny and timid, spending too little on defence and unwilling to risk men and matériel where it matters. In Afghanistan, the large German contingent works as traffic wardens and social workers: their government forbids them to fight the Taliban; their attempts to train Afghan police have been disastrously ineffective. For their part, other Nato countries find America bossy and inconsiderate.
One result is that Nato struggles to operate outside Europe, in places such as Darfur, where muscular military intervention is urgently needed. Haggling has even derailed Nato's attempt to have its much-touted response force operational in time for the forthcoming summit.
Worse, the grand project of expanding Nato has stalled. This will be the first summit since the collapse of communism that will issue no new invitations to membership. That is a tragedy. Nato's enlargement has bolstered freedom and entrenched democracy across the continent. The summit in the Latvian capital is a powerful reminder: without the Nato membership they gained in 2004, the defenceless Baltic states would have been a dangerous security no-mans-land. Now they contribute to Nato – with symbolic troops, and vital electronic and human intelligence – and are anchored in the West.
The success of enlargement has proved Russia's doom-laden warnings wrong. But the Kremlin has now gained something that had eluded it since the end of the Cold War: a veto on Nato's expansion. In Ukraine, the pro-Russian ruling party that displaced the pro-Western (but deeply corrupt and incompetent) parties of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" has bluntly said that it has no interest in joining the alliance.
That, arguably, is Ukraine's own affair, though public opinion was poisoned against Nato by propaganda that portrayed it as a warmongers' cabal, rather than an alliance of successful and prosperous democracies.
Much worse is the case of Georgia, fast-reforming, ardently pro-Western, and crucially located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. It is eager to join. But France, Greece and other pro-Russian countries say no. They swallow whole the Kremlin's bogus line that it feels its sphere of influence is being infringed. They never ask why the countries closest to Russia find its embrace so stifling.
Georgia has even been abandoned by its chief ally, America, which is desperate for Kremlin help against Iran and North Korea. It did not defend Georgia against a critical resolution at the United Nations and has dropped all objections to Russia's long-sought membership of the World Trade Organisation.
As America's power has receded, Russia's has grown. Russia does not just supply a quarter of Europe's gas. The Kremlin's monopoly of export pipelines has also created a stranglehold over supplies from Central Asia to eastern and central Europe. With oil, tanker deliveries can substitute for pipelines. With gas, a pipeline creates long-term dependency.
Russia's gas weapon is proving a far more potent means of subverting Europe than either communism or the Red Army. Murky intermediary companies spew out money for politicians, parties and officials that favour the Kremlin's line. Gerhard Schröder, who as German chancellor revelled in being Vladimir Putin's best friend in Europe, now heads – doubtless from the most honourable motives – the company building a pipeline on the Baltic seabed to link Germany and Russia.
Germany could try to get gas elsewhere – by building terminals for liquefied natural gas. Instead, it is deepening dependence on the authoritarian, kleptocratic regime in Russia. "We are the have-nots, and they are the haves," a defeatist top foreign-ministry official told bemused British visitors last week.
It is also making neighbouring countries like Poland even more vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail. When the Baltic pipeline is built, Russia will be able to supply its friends, while starving its foes. Poland, along with the Baltic states, is trying frantically to diversify sources of supply. But progress is painfully slow.
Poland's clumsy but sincere conservative rulers recently suggested an "Energy Nato" to counteract Russian power. They were laughed down. No plan with the word "Nato" in it will succeed in Europe now, they were told. Another crucial European plan, the Nabucco pipeline through the Balkans, is bogged down thanks to the passive resistance of pro-Russian governments in countries such as Hungary and Bulgaria.
Alarms should be blaring. Instead, they are tinkling. Nato advisers this week warned the alliance that Russia's next trick would be to form an Opec-style cartel with other gas suppliers, including Algeria, Libya and Iran. But that was downplayed in Brussels and Moscow.
So the Russians are coming, the Germans rising, and the Americans leaving. Each country seeks the best deal it can, to the detriment of its neighbours. Collective security is as badly needed as it was during the Cold War. But Nato can no longer provide it.