NATO Ruled by Fear as It Picks a Chief (Por JUDY DEMPSEY; 1/4/2009)
BERLIN — When government leaders gather for the NATO summit meeting in France and Germany on Friday, they will have lost a great opportunity to change the way the alliance’s secretary general is chosen. They will have had no discussion about what NATO’s new political boss will bring to an alliance that never had to fight during the Cold War but whose future now rests on its combat strength in Afghanistan.
NATO secretaries general, like the heads of big multinational organizations including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union’s Commission, are chosen behind closed doors. In the case of NATO, secrecy made sense during the Cold War, when the alliance defended Western Europe against Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. But even after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO retained the habit of secrecy and turned consensus into an art form in order to avoid difficult discussions.
At the same time the alliance has been transformed into a political organization that expects to have its say in international diplomacy. But while its 26 members have proved willing to send men and women into combat, few have explained to their public why their troops are in Afghanistan.
Contentious issues, in any case, have rarely been discussed at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Member states’ ambassadors have not broached the issue of the next secretary general. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the outgoing Dutch NATO chief, did not place it on the agenda of the weekly meeting, knowing full well that some of the big countries, Britain, Germany, France and the United States, would not be pleased. “The job of a secretary general is to cajole, placate, convince and broker,” said Tomas Valasek, a defense expert at the Center for European Reform in London.
Interestingly, it is the first time an acting prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, is seeking the job that in the past was given to bureaucrats or, at most, former foreign ministers. What a surprise then that in the days leading up to summit meeting, it is not clear that Rasmussen would win the race.
Turkey, which is a leading member of NATO, is opposing Mr. Rasmussen’s candidature. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Muslim countries had asked him to block Mr. Rasmussen’s appointment because of his refusal to apologize for Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that provoked riots in several Muslim states in 2006. “Whether Erdogan is opposing Rasmussen’s appointment for domestic reasons is not clear,” said Karl-Heinz Kamp, director of Research at the NATO College in Rome. “But the more Erdogan talks publicly about it, the more it will be difficult for him to climb down.”
Turkey’s public objections have punctured NATO consensus. But by focusing on Mr. Rasmussen’s past, the Turks have lost a great opportunity to look toward the future and ask what kind of secretary general Mr. Rasmussen would make.
It is the same for the second level of candidates — Defense Minister Peter MacKay of Canada and Poland’s foreign minister, Radek Sikorski. Mr. Sikorski has been criticized for his antagonistic stance toward Russia. Germany, France and Italy say he is too anti-Russian, which would make it difficult for NATO to work with Russia. But none of these governments, which have very close contacts with the Kremlin because of their dependence on Russian gas, have asked Mr. Sikorski how he sees NATO’s future.
But the main reason why NATO is not prepared to have an open discussion about who should lead and modernize the alliance is that it is afraid: afraid of having its divisions exposed; afraid of the future; afraid of the possibility of failure in Afghanistan.
“If there was to be a genuine public discussion about who the next NATO secretary general should be, it would expose the deep divisions, weaknesses and uncertainties inside the alliance,” said Bates Gill, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “Whoever is chosen at this week’s summit, or later, will have to deal with the uncertainties and the future of the institution.”
There are several major divisions inside an alliance that was founded in 1949 on the principles of collective security and solidarity. In Afghanistan, where in 2003 NATO took over the command of the multinational International Security Assistance Force, Canada, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States have borne the brunt of the fighting in the south, where fighting is most intense.
Germany and other countries concentrate on safer areas, where they carry out tasks like building bridges that should long have been taken over by civilians and the Afghans themselves. The Dutch and Canadians have repeatedly asked what has become of alliance solidarity.
There are big divisions, too, over further enlargement, which is inextricably tied to NATO’s relationship with Russia. Several East European countries feel uncomfortable about NATO going so far “out of area” to Afghanistan because they see unfinished business in Europe. Poland and some other Central European countries still fear Russia. Therefore, they want NATO to expand eastward by admitting neighboring Ukraine and Georgia. “It is about securing this part of Europe without giving Russia a veto over which country can and cannot join NATO,” Mr. Sikorski said in a recent interview.
Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands, however, are opposed to further enlargement eastward because they do not want to provoke Russia. The Kremlin claims that further NATO expansion would allow the alliance to meddle in the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.
Whoever the new secretary general is, he (so far, no woman has been mentioned) will have to reconcile the differences within the alliance. Longtime NATO experts like Mr. Kamp say it is naïve to think that such a person can be chosen through a public campaign. “Any candidate needs the consensus of all the NATO countries, and that means the usual horse-trading,” said Mr. Kamp.
But increasingly, it is not just governments that matter. When decision-making involves sending tens of thousands of soldiers across the world, public opinion becomes crucial. That is why it matters how the next secretary general of NATO is chosen. Anyone who has been selected behind closed doors may find it that much more difficult to rally support for the alliance’s missions.
Por favor, ingresar en: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/02/world/europe/02iht-letter.html?pagewanted=1&ref=europe