No. 4 - Jul 1995
Vol. 43 - pp. 9-14


François de Rose
Ambassadeur de France
Vice President of the IISS in London,
and former Permanent
Representative of France to NATO (1)

A number of factors have profoundly modified the geostrategic situation in the post-Cold War era, including consideration of an enlargement of the Alliance, its relations with Russia and with the UN, as well as the future role of the US within the Alliance. As far as its relations with Russia are concerned, Moscow has taken a stand against the Alliance taking in new members, a problem which could be addressed by a bilateral treaty, acknowledging Russia's status, and helping consolidate stability in Central and Eastern Europe. Allied collaboration with the UN in the Balkans has been unsatisfactory; any future requests for assistance will have to take account of certain fundamental rules or the authority of both organizations could be undermined. The Alliance remains the most solid link between Americans and Europeans, and it is in the interest of everyone that these links be maintained in the face of an uncertain future.

"We have prevented the unthinkable by preparing for the undoable". With this profound reflection, Johan Holst, the late Norwegian Foreign Minister, summed up the sinews of deterrence which had dominated East-West relations for more than four decades. Johan Holst, who had initiated the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, died prematurely, depriving the Atlantic Alliance of a potential Secretary General whose nobility of view would have greatly helped Westerners to ensure the advent of the "thinkable by preparing for the doable" in the service of peace.

Although the common destiny of the Western nations transcends all the vicissitudes of international life, a number of variables have profoundly modified the geopolitical and geostrategic make-up of Europe since the Cold War era. We shall consider here, on the one hand, those that concern the very structure of the Alliance, namely, its possible enlargement and the potential role of the European Union, or the "European pillar" in the Alliance; and, on the other hand, those pertaining to the Alliance's changed relations with Russia, with the United Nations and, finally, the future role of the United States in the Alliance itself.

Enlargement of the Alliance

The countries of Central and Eastern Europe are putting forward their candidacy for accession to the Treaty of Washington.

The Alliance acknowledges that they are entitled to join one day, notably those belonging to the Visegrad Group. (2) The conditions for membership will be that new signatory states to the Treaty be founded on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. To these are to be added factors specifically affecting the Alliance, including that the entry of new members would entail the extension of the Article 5 guarantee. It is not certain that the 16 Parliaments which must ratify any new member's accession would agree to extend the guarantee of assistance, in any case, to all applicants. Furthermore, Russia has taken a firm stand against NATO taking in former satellites and member states of the USSR which have become independent. Without acknowledging a veto right for Moscow, the Allies have no wish to weaken President Yeltsin on his domestic front.

The resolution of this situation will certainly take some time. But, in the meanwhile, the applicant countries are perhaps wrong not to recognize the significance of the opening created for them by the NATO Summit of January 1994 which offers signatories of the Partnership for Peace programme the right to refer to the Council any situation which, in their opinion, could threaten their integrity, independence or security. In effect, this is an extension of the provisions of Article 4 of the Atlantic Treaty, allowing these countries direct access to the governing body of NATO - the North Atlantic Council - without going through intermediaries like the UN or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

NATO - European Union

The idea of setting up a European pillar of the Alliance, launched more than 30 years ago by President Kennedy, but to which nothing but lip-service has been paid for too long, is now poised to come closer to reality.

Today, the political conditions are in fact more favourable. For several years, France, which championed the idea but which had left the integrated military structure of the Alliance, had failed to convince its partners that strengthening the Western European Union (WEU) would not in any way mean a reduction in American influence in NATO, consequently weakening it. For their part, the Americans would only have showed an interest in this idea if it had meant a better sharing of the financial burden of defence, but this was not the case.

Several factors have changed the situation: disappearance of the Soviet threat; reduction in American forces in Europe; development of the idea of a European defence entity as embodied in the Maastricht Treaty, heralding moves towards a common foreign and security policy compatible with that of the Alliance; transfer to Brussels of the WEU governing body; and France's closer involvement in NATO's military machinery in cases when French forces are involved in military actions more or less connected with NATO structures.

At the 1991 Rome Summit, Alliance Heads of State and Government agreed to build a "new European security architecture" and to make it easier for that architecture to complement European defence structures. In concrete terms, this means that the Alliance could make available to the WEU, surveillance, logistics, communications and other facilities for operations which the Europeans would be prepared to undertake without the participation of the United States.

One could certainly imagine situations where it might be necessary to invoke this arrangement. At least theoretically. For it is clear that there has been a lack of a unified European view in the Balkan crisis. Furthermore, the setting-up of operational military capabilities at the European level is progressing only very slowly. With the end of the Cold War, public opinion is calling for "peace dividends" and everywhere defence budgets are in decline. In order to ensure a sufficient capability of coherent action, the Europeans should at least provide themselves with space-based surveillance and intelligence gathering systems, as well as means for the deployment of forces accustomed to working together and equipped with materiel which is compatible, if not standardized. Some efforts have been made on surveillance satellites, certain types of helicopters, and anti-ballistic and anti-aircraft missiles. However, these programmes are generally adopted à la carte by a restricted group of participants. Moreover, the equipment thus produced does not always enjoy a European preference, as the recent choice by the Netherlands of an American helicopter instead of a Franco-German machine demonstrates. As far as establishing European forces is concerned, an initial step has been made with the setting up of a joint Franco-German brigade, to which units from the three Benelux countries and Spain have been added, to form the European Corps.

There is therefore definite progress towards the establishment of the European pillar, but it will still take time. In the current state of European construction, a common foreign and security policy can only result from agreement between governments. The setting up of a European federal state, invested with sovereignty in these matters is, at best, a move far ahead of what public opinion, in many countries at any rate, is ready to accept.

NATO-Russian relations

By virtue of its geography, being the largest state in the world, its peoples, history, culture, resources, and the military power inherited from the USSR, Russia is without a doubt justified in demanding that its relations with NATO be formalized by an arrangement compatible with its status as a great power with worldwide interests. The Partnership for Peace agreements (3) offered to countries with lesser resources, influence or responsibilities, are not sufficient in this respect.

At the same time, Russia's conversion to democracy is still marked by so many fits and starts: its actions in the Caucasus and Chechnya are so contrary to the commitments under the Geneva Conventions on human rights; its claim to a right to influence the policies and perhaps the independence of what it calls the "near abroad" and to use force to protect the some 20 million Russians of its diaspora; uncertainty over the future direction of its foreign policy and, in particular, the announcement that it would not implement the reductions in conventional forces agreed as part of the CFE Treaty signed in Paris on 19 November 1990, and, furthermore, its nuclear dealings with Iran. All these facts justify a different approach to resolving the problems in our relations with Russia.

The Alliance must therefore state the principle that it is the sole judge of who is or is not fit to join it. But we must also recognize that we all have the same interest in maintaining peace and stability in Europe and in organizing consultation mechanisms more specific than those derived from our participation in the UN or the OSCE.

Some time ago, the Kremlin floated the idea of a bilateral agreement, in the form of a Treaty between Russia and the Alliance. The idea should perhaps be pursued. It would already have the merit of acknowledging Moscow's status, the political necessity of which can be understood for a great nation, grappling with so many trials after 70 years of living under the illusion of ideological and political superiority which should have prevailed over the rest of the world. This motivation is so powerful that it overrides in their eyes concern for security and the consolidation of stability in Europe. For it is indeed certain that entry of the candidate countries into NATO would be the best guarantee for the whole region, and for Russia itself, that they would pursue a policy of peace.

The contents of such a treaty should not be limited to a mere non-aggression clause, which already figures, among other places, in the United Nations Charter and the Helsinki agreements, and which would seem to go back to the antagonism of the bygone days of the Cold War. Rather, its goal would be the consolidation of stability in Central and Eastern Europe. Our common interest in achieving this objective would be given tangible form by a mutual and reciprocal guarantee of respect for the integrity, independence and security of the countries lying between the Alliance and Russia. On the one hand, this provision would reassure those countries themselves, and on the other, the fact that the commitments thereby established would be mutual and reciprocal would mean that, in the event of unrest or a threat to peace, NATO and Moscow would be obliged to deal jointly with the crisis. Perhaps if such a mechanism had existed three years ago, the war in the Balkans could have been avoided.

Ethnic, racial or religious tensions are certainly the main threats to peace in this region of the continent. Moreover, should a threat arise from one of the contracting parties, that is, from Moscow or from a member of NATO, the other party would automatically be involved without the possibility for the party posing the threat to claim a special competence on the issue. NATO and Moscow would be obliged to address the question in joint dialogue. Forty years of Cold War bear witness to the fact that the case would not be allowed to fester to the point where peace between them would be threatened. Finally, the commitment to respect the independence of states located between the two signatories would imply that these states had the right to join the Alliance once they have fulfilled the necessary conditions.

Cooperation with the United Nations

The Alliance may also have to respond to requests for help in maintaining peace or for humanitarian assistance from the United Nations or the OSCE. However, it is obvious that the current experience of collaboration in the Balkans between the organization which can state the law and that which could enforce it, has not been satisfactory.

Before voicing any criticism, we must say that the work accomplished by the "blue helmets", here as elsewhere, should be saluted. It is highly probable that their presence on the ground has prevented the spread of the conflict to neighbouring countries and even beyond. For three years, their presence in Bosnia itself, as in Croatia and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, has limited or prevented hostilities and therefore saved tens of thousands of civilian lives, and allowed minimum supply of foodstuffs and medical aid. These soldiers of peace have rendered their services to a humanitarian ideal, paying a high price in human lives, for which no tribute is too great.

But, it is precisely these losses, the conditions under which they have been suffered, and the affronts and attacks inflicted on the international community that call for measures to better regulate the assignment of forces to the UN.

Any military intervention, to have any chance of success, must meet three criteria: unity of command, clarity of mission and proper weapons for implementation. In the case of the former Yugoslavia, the command is divided between Sarajevo, Zagreb, Naples, Brussels and New York, and further complicated by a division of responsibilities between civilian and military authorities. The mission is not to restore but to maintain the peace which the parties, or some of them at least, do not want. And the weapons do not match the mission on the ground.

It will certainly be incumbent upon the Alliance to remember these fundamental rules when calls for its assistance are made again. Failing an agreement between NATO and the UN on the conditions for carrying out successfully such operations, it is inevitable that the forces thus engaged will suffer losses and humiliation which those nations providing the troop contingents will not tolerate indefinitely. Moreover, by destroying the authority of the two institutions, this will lead to eventual anarchy on a global scale, since both the UN and NATO are seen by the public, which does not appreciate the intricacies of international mechanisms, as entities capable, in their own right, of making decisions and taking actions. They are thus invested with a prestige which the means of implementation placed at their disposal cannot match. It therefore behoves the governments to ensure that these two institutions can render the services for which they were created and which they alone can provide. As far as NATO is concerned, it is up to its members to agree upon an appropriate doctrine applicable to any engagement of forces which, in the eyes of the public, puts the authority and credibility of the Alliance on the line.

NATO - United States

The role which the United States will play from now on in matters concerning the Atlantic Alliance is central to these questions of European security.

It is a fact of life, and a matter of historical record, that the Alliance has been the pivot of American foreign policy throughout the Cold War period and that it has been the politico-military factor which has provided Europe with an unprecedented period of peace. No other alliance will ever have had so profound an influence in the service of peace on the scale of a continent. Besides serving as the principal tool for America in its opposition to Soviet expansionism, it has been the main fulcrum for the political organizations of the free world.

However, over the past decades, there have been many predictions forecasting the imminent withdrawal of the Americans to the other side of the ocean. Has the time come when these predictions are finally to be realized and when the Americans, returning to the isolationism consistent with the political testament of the founding fathers, will stand apart from the affairs of the rest of the world and merely cultivate their own American way of life?

It is possible, even likely, that with the end of the Cold War, the United States will review its foreign policy priorities. This does not necessarily mean a return to isolationism, even if its links with Europe are not to remain what they were during the past 50 years.

Doubtless, a consciousness of the common destiny of the nations belonging to Western civilization, in the face of an unknown future, will remain one of the basic components of the American attitude toward the Old Continent. This is surely the explanation for the very wide consensus prevailing in the United States for maintaining a military presence in Europe, reduced, but nevertheless sufficient, to signify that the security of the Allies continues to be necessary to that of America itself.

But the factors which will shape the relations between the United States and Europe, and consequently with the Alliance itself, are different and, without a doubt, politically more profound than mere nostalgia for a bygone age. The forces which operate in favour of changed relations among allies are directed to the future and will therefore carry more weight. A primary element is the changing of generations. For those now rising to political responsibilities, the Alliance often appears as an institution which has rendered the services which were expected of it but which is no longer suitable for the geopolitics and geostrategies which are taking shape. As Henry Kissinger says in condemning this school of thought, this would make NATO nothing more than a "relic" (4) of the past which some agree should be preserved against the unlikely event that Russia might once again become a threat. Others, judging that the Europeans are numerous and rich enough to provide for their own security, advocate a straightforward severing of this link with allies who have become economic rivals.

Still more undamental are the questions which the American olitical class is asking itself in the quest for he new criteria it must adopt in order to manage he problems of the next century. There are, ndeed, indications that the next century will be hat of the Asia-Pacific area, and that there ill be four world powers: the United States, ussia, China and Japan. Europe could be among hem if it succeeds in making the Union a credible entity on a global scale. Failing this, Washington will turn toward Germany, to which both Presidents Bush and Clinton have already proposed a "Partnership in leadership".

America does not seem to be completely disinterested in Europe's progress. However, as demonstrated in the Balkan crisis, the US does not intend to get involved in conflicts which, as Bismark remarked more than a century ago, "were not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier", and which, for the inhabitants of Atlanta, Dallas or San Francisco, do not justify risking the life of one American G.I. Viewed from the United States, the internal affairs of the Old Continent will no longer be put into the context of global political considerations, but rather will only be addressed on a case by case basis to a very great extent with reference to the involvement of Russia.

The question which Europeans must answer, faced with a shift in the centre of gravity in world affairs, is how they intend to retain their influence. Given the current state of the relationship of forces, and while awaiting the emergence of a common foreign and security policy, the Atlantic Alliance offers them the best platform for making themselves heard.

But for this to succeed, the Alliance must restore its image in the eyes of the public. The impotence and passivity of both the West and Russia in the face of the three-year-old humanitarian catastrophe in Bosnia, casts great doubt upon the reliability of the international institutions: the UN, NATO, the European Union, and even the Contact Group though composed of the United States, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and Germany. However, it is far from certain that those who criticize the situation the loudest would be ready to make the sacrifices necessary in terms of manpower and resources in order to restore peace.

The prevention and resolution of future crises in Europe will be outside the realm of nuclear deterrence, and the time has not come when a doctrine of a "zero-dead war" will be a sufficient basis for a foreign policy. It is only when the troublemakers know that the institutions responsible for order are in a position and have the will to employ the force necessary to maintain it, that international society will be able to advance down the road of respect for law and morality.

Meanwhile, until the United Nations has acquired such resources, the Atlantic Alliance will remain the preferred framework for its members' policies in the service of peacekeeping and, in the worst cases, of restoring peace.

As the most solid point of convergence of the links connecting Americans and Europeans, the Alliance is also the place where they can best harmonize their views and their policies, both in the long term and in times of crisis. It is in the interest of everyone that these links, forged in the face of a clear and defined threat, should be maintained in a new international situation full of uncertainties and pitfalls.


(1) The author, who has written extensively on strategic and international relations issues, has recently published. La Troisième Guerre mondiale n'a pas eu lieu - l'Alliance atlantique et la paix. (Collection Culture de Paix, Desclee de Brouwer, Paris, 1995, 98FF)

(2) Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

(3) Individual Partnership Programmes agreed between NATO and the Partner country.

(4) Washington Post, 16 August 1994.

© Copyright by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation 1995.