Much is said and written, on this blog and elsewhere, about how American national security is, or may be, affected by the successes or failures of U.S. developments or the U.S. military presence in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine, the Korean peninsula, Venezuela, Cuba, et al. They and many others are important and have a bearing, some more direct than others, on our national security. What about Europe, the land of the old and the new, stupidly and irresponsibly scorned and ignored by George W. Bush and his cohorts as they plunged our country into the depths of insecurity?
Just a few days ago, it was revealed that French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to propose “a new security and economic relationship between Europe and Russia” when he meets with his Russian and German counterparts later this month. The immediate reaction of this reader was highly positive. Leaving aside the several domestic and foreign disputes in which he has been involved and the consequent suspicion of his motives at home and abroad when he speaks, Sarkozy is in fact the democratically elected leader of (a) a major world military and economic power and (b) America’s oldest ally. Most important to one who spent the greater part of his career concerned with trans-Atlantic security, however, were the eminent good sense behind the French proposal and its obvious potential for enhancing that security. According to the story, Washington has a different view: with a key meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on strategic doctrine scheduled for November, American officials were wary of being both pre-empted and left out.
Russian President Dimitri Medvedev has spoken, perhaps mischievously but not without some reason, of the inappropriateness of NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as vehicles for cooperation in today’s world. The United States is, of course, prominent in both but should in no case be goaded into policy errors by tactical jibes. One is reminded of frantic American efforts to assure inclusion in European security arrangements outside of NATO when proposals were floated forty years ago for a “European Security Conference” to be attended by Europeans on both sides of the Iron Curtain. While our allies did not intend to cut us out of the action, in the end we succeeded in renaming the exercise a “Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe,” thereby opening the way for our participation and adding non-military cooperation of various kinds to the agenda. An American role was a reasonable objective in the middle of the Cold War, and introducing cooperation into the package was eminently sensible. To interfere today, two decades after the end of that war, in efforts to broaden and cement relations between Russia and the major Western European powers would be short-sighted.
Nevertheless, a senior, unidentified American official is quoted as follows: “Since when is European security no longer an issue of American concern, but something for Europe and Russia to resolve?” This confusion of concern and participation is both peevish and pointless. Would the U.S. be less secure as a result of closer cooperation across the board between Russia and Western European powers? And whence that threat, from France and Germany or from Russia? We are talking about national security, and both answers are absurd, just as absurd as fears, commonly expressed by Americans, that increased defense cooperation within the European Union (EU) would weaken, rather than bolster, American security. It sometimes appears that Washington is more worried about its role than its security. That is why, of course, the U.S. prefers as the forum for dealing with Russia the organization it more or less controls, i.e., NATO, which is at the same time the forum least likely to attract Russian cooperativeness. Form before substance: a poor foreign policy rule.
It is worth noting here that Sarkozy’s proposal deals with Russia, France and Germany, leaving aside not just the ally far across the sea but another NATO and EU partner visible just across the straits, or channel. The United Kingdom (UK), while a loyal member of both NATO and the EU, keeps its distance from the latter for various reasons too complicated to treat here. But one possible cause for its exclusion may be found in recent British reaction to French proposals for integrating the two nations’ nuclear submarine fleets. Today, each has four such vessels with at least one on defensive duty at all times. The idea of uniting the two forces was bruited by the French at least two years ago and made more explicit when both sides allowed that the issue would be on the agenda of the Franco-British summit in London next month.
Quite simply, the proposal is to have only one submarine, from one country or the other, on duty at a time, ready to retaliate against an attack on either country. Aside from the enormous savings involved for both sides in such an arrangement, not an insignificant matter in these times of mandatory defense cuts, this innovative approach assumes absolute mutual trust and confidence. More than two-and-a-half-years ago, Sarkozy was quoted as having said the following in a public speech at Cherbourg: “It is our assessment that there can be no situation in which the vital interests of either of our two nations could be threatened without the vital interests of the other also being threatened.” The British, grateful for that channel and forgetting World War II, are not convinced. Small wonder they will not be joining the French and Germans this month in their effort to bring Russia into closer security cooperation.
The U.S. and the UK would do well to review the situation with an eye to enhancing the security of all European and Atlantic nations and permitting them to work together against other threats on the march.