Democratist

Democracy. Russia. CIS.

The Enduring Relevance of NATO in “an Asian Age.”

Posted by democratist on March 21, 2011

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March 21st 2011,

Over the weekend Democratist has been watching a video of a recent public debate at the LSE entitled, “Out of Europe? The United States in an Asian Age.”

The debate brought together three highly respected commentators on international relations; Professors Niall Ferguson, Michael Cox, and Arne Westad; each of whom took it in turns to give their respective opinions on the extent to which US engagement in Europe is likely to wane – or not, over the coming years, as Asia becomes a more important focus of policy.

The lecture is certainly worth exploring in its entirety, but rather than give a blow-by-blow account, we would like to highlight what we thought were some of the most perceptive points.

These were;

  • Despite the headlines of a new US orientation towards Asia, transatlantic relations will continue to be important because the United States’ global reach will remain connected to the transatlantic economy, NATO, and its political relationships with the Europeans.
  • The decline of American “empire” has been repeatedly over-predicted since the 1960′s, and while the financial crisis and rise of China have contributed to a renewed “decline debate”, the US retains a great deal of (what Susan Strange identified as) “structural power”; major economic, geographical, historical, political, and cultural advantages, which no other country is able to emulate.
  • While an economic shift is underway, this does not imply a contemporaneous power shift. The US will remain at the heart of the international order in terms of military power, and indeed this order is currently incapable of functioning without it.
  • While US economic problems may imply some drawdown in overseas commitments, this may not be the case in Europe because continued US involvement in the middle East/North Africa imply that Europe will remain a strategic base for the US. The purpose of NATO/Europe is changing, and it is becoming an appendix to American power projection “out of region.”
  • NATO will remain fundamentally demand driven. It provides a security guarantee, especially for states in Central and Eastern Europe, but equally there is no appealing alternative to the US security umbrella: Many Europeans want the US to stay because, given the history of the 20th Century, they fundamentally distrust themselves, as well each other: NATO prevents the renationalization of foreign policy in Europe.

Regular readers will not be surprised to discover that Democratist finds considerable solace in these words. We remain resolutely Atlanticist: While the US may have made a number of mistakes since the end of the Cold War, it is a fundamentally democratic country which mixes both realism and liberalism in its foreign policy. Its presence in Europe guarantees internal peace, and counters attempts to “divide and rule” from outside.

Russia, despite its current (largely self-inflicted) military weakness and reformist rhetoric, is run by a small, autocratic, highly nationalistic clique of nomenklatura; its foreign policy is essentially guided by realpolitik, with little regard for democracy or human rights beyond what is politically expedient (just ask a Belarussian or Georgian). The nomenklatura respects and understands power, and will always be tempted to exploit any perceived European weakness for its own advantage. An American presence in Europe will therefore remain an important counterweight to Russia for at least as long as the nomenklatura remains in power; and - as a source for internal European stability - may well remain relevant for far longer.

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