Opinion

Thinking Global

NATO’s biggest security threat is now economic

May 25, 2012 15:21 UTC

CHICAGO — As measured from President Obama’s re-election campaign perspective – the White House’s litmus test for foreign policy issues through November – last weekend’s G-8 and NATO Summits were bell ringers.  Obama campaign strategists couldn’t have scripted their outcomes better – perhaps because they did script them.

Given the potential for dissent, President Obama could be satisfied that his guests adhered (mostly) to the desired story line. At Camp David, President Obama was the jobs-and-growth champion. In hometown Chicago, with leaders of some 60 countries arrayed around him, he was the president who would wind down an unpopular war. (That his Chicago White Sox trounced the Cubs during NATO Night at Wrigley Field, in a game that opened with an honor guard carrying flags from the 50 countries engaged in Afghanistan, was an added benefit.)

The only problem with this pretty picture is that getting the campaign message right is a long way from getting the world right. What really connected the G-8 and NATO meetings was a growing realization that the biggest threat to the alliance – and, for that matter, to Obama’s re-election hopes – is the euro zone crisis. That risk comes at a time when U.S. debt and political dysfunction makes the West far less resilient. So for all the talk in Chicago about common purpose in Afghanistan, NATO’s most existential danger now comes from within, and its root causes are economic.

When NATO strategists weigh the many threats facing them, they tend to focus first on their founding treaty’s Article 5, which requires all members to defend a single ally against an external security threat. Insiders also often discuss Article 4, which allows for a member country like Turkey to seek urgent alliance consultations when it foresees new dangers, as was the case during the Iraq war and is now again the case concerning Syria.

Yet it’s time for NATO to dust off its long-forgotten Article 2, known at the treaty’s writing in 1949 as “the Canadian article,” because of that ally’s early insistence that military strength couldn’t be separated from economic health. It committed all NATO members to “strengthening their free institutions” and “promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any and all of them.”

How NATO can revitalize its role

May 16, 2012 19:52 UTC

White House reporters can be forgiven their collective shrug when they received the readout from President Obama’s meeting last week with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, in advance of the alliance’s Chicago summit this weekend. Laced with the usual, mind-numbing NATO-speak, the dry listing of the summit’s three areas of focus – Afghanistan, defense capabilities, and partnerships – didn’t sound like the stuff of history.

However, beneath the third agenda item – partnerships – lies a potential revolution in how the world’s most important security alliance may operate globally in the future beside other regional organizations – and at the request of the United Nations. At a time of euro zone crisis, U.S. political polarization and global uncertainty, it provides a possible road map for “enlarging the West” and its community of common values and purpose. “NATO is now a hub for a global network of security partners which have served alongside NATO forces in Afghanistan, Libya and Kosovo,” Obama and Rasmussen agreed.

As America’s willingness and capability to act unilaterally declines, any U.S. president will find himself increasingly drawn to NATO as an even more vital tool for foreign and defense policy – against a host of global threats ranging from Syrian upheavals and North Korean nuclear weapons to cyber attacks and piracy. The problem, however, is that NATO members more often than not won’t be located where they are most needed. Or due to lack of political will or inadequate military muscle, many NATO members may not have the capability to intervene. That means regional partners will be increasingly necessary to provide both the credibility and resources for the most likely future operations.

China’s political intrigue ventures west

May 2, 2012 16:20 UTC

Imagine that an American intelligence agency organizes an “exercise,” as one occasionally does, on how to manage an unwanted but inescapable Washington role in a Chinese leadership struggle. Throw in the following scene-setting facts:

    With the Chinese Communist Party confronting a decisive leadership transition, a provincial police chief takes refuge in a U.S. consulate and spills the beans on a corruption and murder story swirling around Bo Xilai, whose populist, Maoist campaign threatens the establishment. Just a week before the visit to Washington of Vice-President Xi Jianping, who is in line to become paramount leader this autumn, President Obama takes sides. Although Bo’s forces are circling the consulate, the U.S. releases the police chief to Beijing’s leaders. With that crisis solved and Chinese leaders indebted to Obama, a blind human rights activist dramatically escapes house arrest and takes refuge in the U.S. embassy in Beijing. With Secretary Hillary Clinton arriving for a high-level Sino-U.S. summit, both sides enter crisis management mode.

It’s no wonder that the intellectual salons of Washington have grown a bit bored with the ongoing U.S. election campaign and have shifted their interest instead to Chinese domestic politics. The reasons are obvious: The details are juicier, the drama is more immediate and the historic stakes are considerably more significant.

That’s because any U.S. president, whether named Obama or Romney, will operate within a well-established constitutional framework and democratic habits. While the U.S. has managed 43 peaceful transitions of power over the past 223 years, Communist-led China has managed a smooth handoff only once since its 1949 revolution, and that was in 2002, when Deng Xiaoping engineered the rise of the current premier, Hu Jintao.

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