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NATO in the face of loss of confidence in American leadership

GEAB extract N°4

The surprising public statements of retired American generals (Source International Herald Tribune, 15/04/2006) denouncing the mismanagement of Ronald Rumsfeld’s invasion of Iraq, or even the very decision to invade the country, show that even in the United States the American military leadership is in crisis. And GAO analyses on the development of new weapons programmes (Source DefenceTalk, 04/04/2006) confirm this drift in terms of budgetary management and decreasing capacity to manage the major weapons programmes that are at the heart of US military power, of which NATO is ultimately only a post-World War II by-product.

In Europe, the loss of confidence is very marked and long-lasting. In addition to a general feeling of loss of influence on the part of the United States (78% of the GlobalEurometer respondents in April 2006 shared this conviction), the Iraqi failure, which has now entered into civil war, illustrates every day the impasse in which the world’s leading power finds itself, and has led its loyal Allies. In addition to the initial opposition to the invasion of Iraq, which came essentially from Europe in its most pro-active form (France, Germany, Belgium), over the past three years there has been a gradual withdrawal of all European troops from Washington and London (Spain, Netherlands, Poland,… and soon Italy). Given the painful Iraqi experiences (both on the ground and in domestic politics), it is highly unlikely that in the coming years European governments will reposition themselves in support of a military adventure in Washington, unless they consider their countries directly threatened. We will come back to this point in the third part of this chapter of the GEAB but we can already specify that the threat analysis is becoming less and less convergent between the United States and the EU.

This predictable reaction of European decision-makers reflects a radical and lasting change in European public opinion during the Iraqi crisis that led to the invasion of the country. It is through this crisis that for the first time in the European Union a common public opinion emerged (Sources Europe2020, 16/04/2003 and Arte, 08/04/2006) that Europeans from Budapest to Helsinki and from Lisbon to Stockholm, “vibrated” in unison. This major and positive development for the EU was in fact achieved at the time against the administration of G.W. Bush. But his re-election, the Iraqi impasse, the multiple crises around Abu Graib, Guantanamo, CIA kidnappings, and other sources of opposition on the very substance of the action, have gradually transformed this opposition to a particular American administration into a mistrust, or even rejection, of the American leadership as a whole. Leadership is accepted when there is a dual sense of material and moral superiority. In recent years, both components of the equation have been challenged. The dominant trend in European public opinion is now a radical questioning of the Alliance’s very relevance, based in particular on a questioning of the existence of common values between Europeans and Americans. To assess the extent of the crisis, it is enough to look at the scale it has taken in the United Kingdom, the pillar par excellence of NATO in Europe, where it has been successively in recent months senior military, judicial and religious leaders who have no longer expressed their unease, but their conviction that the values between the two sides of the Atlantic were no longer the same. These beliefs are now largely dominant throughout the continent. Even the new EU Member States are now affected by this trend as they too are withdrawing their troops from Iraq under public pressure.

In Turkey, the “atypical” member of the Alliance, the situation has become increasingly uncertain since the United States invaded Iraq (the Turkish population is now largely hostile to the United States – Source World Public Opinion, 06/04/2005) and Turkey’s EU candidacy also appears to be in a deadlock due to the growing hostility of the EU population. Internal developments in Turkey will give increasing influence in the coming years to forces that consider that the country’s future is also (or even above all) in the Muslim world and in particular in the Middle East, considerably weakening NATO’s attractiveness (whose “reward”, the EU entry promised by Washington, seems increasingly virtual) and reinforcing mistrust of its objectives and its “added value”.

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