March 29, 2003

Friedman's NATO Baloney: In...

Friedman's NATO Baloney: In an embarrassingly thin column, from the I-ded NATO, Russia will gradually replace France. Proof of this rather radical shift? That Russia has expressed some willingness to send troops to Afghanistan, as part of the NATOization of nation-building.

This might not be worth comment, were it not a sentiment I've seen plenty of places elsewhere. Look -- the transatlantic relationship, especially the Anglo-French deal, truly is changing in a hurry. But, with the exception of Turkey (and, I might argue, Greece), NATO is a club of democracies not currently embroiled in civil wars or other deadly arguments about contested borders and unhappy minorities. These preconditions are stated explicitly in accession documents; it is hard to even fantasize about Russia meeting the basic requirements. France might theoretically re-opt out of NATO, but it (and the EU) have nothing remotely tangible as a back-up plan. Russia, meanwhile, is desperate to be treated as if it still matters (hence, it will leap at any opportunity to flex muscle anywhere, let alone in its Near Abroad). I'll wager a case of vodka that Putin & Co. will introduce some unwanted "bold diplomatic initiative" with Baghdad before Gulf War II is over. This is not the sign of tectonic plates shifting; this is perfectly in line with developments since, oh, 1994, or sooner.

NATO is basically defensive, cultural and political; its future probably lies in a more muscular version of what the U.N. used to call "peacekeeping." Russia is a staggering basket-case of a country; it will take much, much, much, much, much more than a few back-slapping sessions at the Crawford ranch to make the Big Drunk Bear more of a functional ally than even the ingrate snail-slurpers in Paree. And, thrilling as it may seem to pronounce that "NATO is dead!" and "The United Nations has finally been killed! Hooray!" ... international institutions don't last 50 years if they don't have at least some staying power. They will survive, and nothing like them will replace them, until I am middle-aged. I'll be glad to take bets.

Posted by at March 29, 2003 11:00 PM
Comments

Yes, Friedman goes off into left field sometimes, and he may be getting a bit overexcited.... but his column sounds more plausible to me than your response does.

Posted by: Martin at March 29, 2003 11:13 PM

Matt, I think you underestimate Russia. It has a history of empire, a history of ambition. That energy will not easily wash away. It also has a people capable of industry, natural resources and has many key indgrediants to being a successful, westernized state.

I still maintain that the U.S. has more in commoon with, and can make a better long-term ally from this point forward with Russia over either France or Germany. For trade and cultural reasons, we need France and Germany, but for long-term strategic reasons, we need Russia more than both combined. We need to ensure Russia stays in our camp both in how its government develops and how we partner with it in the coming years.

There is also one key differnece between France and Russia -- Russia appreciates the threat of radicalized Islam; France seems cowered by it. I think if not for France, which Russia saw as a chance to maybe check U.S. power, Russia would have been part of the coalition against Iraq.

None of this is to say there will be a serious fissure with France. We'll get over the current snit, but Friedman isn't that far off, I don't think, in looking to the East.

Assuming China goes democratic someday, the three major powers that will dominate the 21st Century will be Russia, China an the United States (with the U.S. being assisted by GB and Aus.). Those three nations, assuming they can align themselves sufficiently, will become THE United Nations, controlling most world policy. And China may assume that role even without democraticization just because of its size and potential wealth. NATO will merely be a transitional power.

Posted by: Howard Owens at March 30, 2003 12:43 AM

Actually, Russia is likely to take the place of the United States in NATO, since so many of us see no reason to defend enemies like France and Germany anymore.

Posted by: Stephen M. St. Onge at March 30, 2003 07:13 AM

So, who's ready to put some money on the table? I'm 34 now ... let's call middle age 45. I'll bet any of you smarties 100 bones, plus interest, that by March 31, 2114, A) France will still be in NATO, and B) Russia will not. Takers?

Posted by: Matt Welch at March 30, 2003 10:15 AM

I don't know how to bet bones (?), but:

" I'll wager a case of vodka that Putin & Co. will introduce some unwanted "bold diplomatic initiative" with Baghdad before Gulf War II is over."

I would very much like to take you up on this if you are serious. I don't know which variety you have in mind. I think you are wrong, Putin will not push his luck so far as that; and a whole case....mmmmm. You have my esteem, and I want your booze.

Posted by: gregor at March 30, 2003 11:22 AM

Gregor -- Hmmm.... I'm confident I'll win, but I can't afford to lose (whereas I'm positive I'll have money to burn in 11 years ... not that it'll come to that). Needless to say, it'd be Stoli or nothing, as far as I'm concerned. Let me do a spot of research, and get back to you.

Posted by: Matt Welch at March 30, 2003 11:28 AM

Matt: I'm not sure there will be a NATO by then. However, I'd do a case of Vodka (Vodka for you, Gin (Bombay) for me, since I don't particularly like Vodka ... but by then, who knows) that there will be either NATO or some other formal alliance by then that includes Russia and the U.S.; France, though, I would hedge on. To me, they could go either way. Though, my bet is that the strongest leadership alliance of the global stage will be primarily Western-style democracies, which right now includes France. I'm not writing France off entirely, but Russia has more potential to be a stronger player than France.

Posted by: Howard Owens at March 30, 2003 03:04 PM

Matt -- assuming you mean 2014 rather than 2114. I doubt any of us will be alive to collect on a bet that comes due 111 years from now.

Posted by: LYT at March 30, 2003 03:41 PM

While working at NATO military headquarters, I wrote a thesis in 1994 for a degree in Public Administration titled, "NATO - A Bureaucracy in Search of a New Mission" wherein I predicted exactly what TF is addressing in this column. It is not only plausible, but highly likely.

Posted by: Bob at April 1, 2003 03:16 AM

Matt is right. Russia will never replace France--France is so tiny and Russia is so big! You'd have to wad up Russia into a little ball to shove it into that little corner between Germany and Spain; and even then it would probably keep unfolding and sproinging steppes way out into the Atlantic or poking England right in the cliffs of Dover with Kamchatka and stuff like that.

Nope, much better to leave France and Russia right where they are, even though Mongolia might be thrilled to have a northern coastline.

Posted by: Alex at April 3, 2003 12:07 PM
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burn in 11 years ... not that it'll come to that). Needless to say, it'd be Stoli or nothing, as far as I'm concerned. Let me do a spot of research, and get back to you.

Posted by: Matt Welch at March 30, 2003 11:28 AM

Matt: I'm not sure there will be a NATO by then. However, I'd do a case of Vodka (Vodka for you, Gin (Bombay) for me, since I don't particularly like Vodka ... but by then, who knows) that there will be either NATO or some other formal alliance by then that includes Russia and the U.S.; France, though, I would hedge on. To me, they could go either way. Though, my bet is that the strongest leadership alliance of the global stage will be primarily Western-style democracies, which right now includes France. I'm not writing France off entirely, but Russia has more potential to be a stronger player than France.

Posted by: Howard Owens at March 30, 2003 03:04 PM

Matt -- assuming you mean 2014 rather than 2114. I doubt any of us will be alive to collect on a bet that comes due 111 years from now.

Posted by: LYT at March 30, 2003 03:41 PM

While working at NATO military headquarters, I wrote a thesis in 1994 for a degree in Public Administration titled, "NATO - A Bureaucracy in Search of a New Mission" wherein I predicted exactly what TF is addressing in this column. It is not only plausible, but highly likely.

Posted by: Bob at April 1, 2003 03:16 AM

Matt is right. Russia will never replace France--France is so tiny and Russia is so big! You'd have to wad up Russia into a little ball to shove it into that little corner between Germany and Spain; and even then it would probably keep unfolding and sproinging steppes way out into the Atlantic or poking England right in the cliffs of Dover with Kamchatka and stuff like that.

Nope, much better to leave France and Russia right where they are, even though Mongolia might be thrilled to have a northern coastline.

Posted by: Alex at April 3, 2003 12:07 PM
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