News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch says that NATO is in a “crisis of confidence” because Western Europe is “losing its faith in the values and institutions that have kept us free.” He calls for a radical redefinition of the Alliance in order to save it, including extending membership to Australia, Japan, and Israel.
Murdoch, who is receiving the Atlantic Council of the United States’ Distinguished Business Leader Award for 2008, says in his prepared remarks that, “We must face up to a painful truth: Europe no longer has either the political will or social culture to support military engagements in defense of itself and its allies. However strong NATO may be on paper, this fact makes NATO weak in practice. And it means that reform will not come from within.” Accordingly, he continued, “we need to transform this Alliance from a community formed around a map to a community based on common values and a willingness to take joint action in defense of these values.” Indeed, he argued, “Expansion is the only hope of invigorating an Alliance weighed down by those who are no longer willing to commit themselves to defend its founding principles.”
Murdoch contends that, “Around the world, there is no shortage of nations who share our values, and are willing to defend them. I am thinking of countries like Australia, which sent troops to Iraq … Israel, which has been fighting Islamic terrorism almost since its founding … and Japan, which generally follows a more ‘Western’ policy than most of Western Europe.” Ultimately, he argued, “If we continue to define the West or the Alliance as a strictly geographical concept, the Alliance will continue to erode. But if we define the West as a community of values, institutions, and a willingness to act jointly, we will revive an important bastion of freedom — and make it as pivotal in our own century as it was in the last.”
Well, this is what Rudy Giuliani recommended all those months ago when he fleetingly seemed a credible Presidential candidate. And one can see that there’s something to it (though the extent of that something may only run as far as your willingness to endorse the theory that we’re witnessing – or engaged in – a genuine clash of civilisations).
But… a couple of points need to be remembered. Who are these people "no longer willing to commit themselves to defend [NATO’s] founding principles"? One supposes that Murdoch means many western european countries who’ve been reluctant to send troops to Iraq (and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan). But in what sense is Iraq a conflict to defend NATO’s founding principles since the organisation was founded to counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union?
Moreover, it’s often forgotten that NATO did in fact treat the September 11th attacks as an act of war upon one of its members and, for the first time in the organisation’s history, invoked Article 5 of the NATO treaty:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.
At the time – ie, autumn 2001 – this was frequently cited in Washington and London as adding legitimacy to the argument in favour of military action in Afghanistan. The subsequent Iraq controversy has overhadowed the fact that, in Britain at least, the Aghan operation was not without controversy. (You may recall the warnings about the Hindu Kush and the Afghan winter and the British and Soviet experiences there).
Equally, it’s the case that NATO offers of assistance were – for understandable reasons – brushed off by the United States. As I say, on psychological as well as practical military grounds one can understand why Washington took this attitude but like any other action this decision had consequences. I suspect that european countries would have been prepared to commit more to Afghanistan had they been asked to or treated as allies rather than as unwelcome appendages to US military might.
Subsequently, having been rebuffed once one can see why european countries might have been reluctant to assist the US in Iraq – a mission that was, quite clearly, less than intimately related to the immediate causes of 9/11 and, in any case, unpopular with voters across europe. In those circumstances, in fact, it’s striking how many NATO members have contributed at least some troops to Iraq (even if, naturally, these have often been small deployments). Furthermore, it’s hard to see why any NATO member would feel an urge to be involved in Iraq given Donald Rumsfeld’s admission that the Pentagon didn’t need even the 45,000 British troops committed to the invasion force in 2003. Why stick your neck out for no real reward and, domestically, the prospect of real pain in the partnership of an ally who may well regard your presence as an inconvenience?
Then there’s this: “We must face up to a painful truth: Europe no longer has either the political will or social culture to support military engagements in defense of itself and its allies."
Well, maybe. But as I say, the recent record (going back to the Balkan wars as well as Afghanistan) doesn’t support Murdoch’s hypothesis. More immediately, who has actually attacked europe? Does Murdoch really think that europe is under attack? From whom? Clearly there are people – as events n London and Madrid have demonstrated – who wish western europe ill, but in what way, shape or form does Murdoch think that NATO – either as currently constituted or in his expanded version of the alliance – is the best or most appropriate organisation to meet that threat?
Now maybe NATO does need to be reformed, but this doesn’t, at first blush, seem an especially persuasive case for doing so.