NATO is Synonymous with the US. Europe Must Be Included
People do not see NATO as just a defense organization: people still feel the tension between the US and Russia. The feeling that US soldiers are tantamount to NATO forces is widespread across Eastern Europe, particularly the Czech Republic. Few there feel that NATO represents their interests. Before a sense of unity and cohesion can be achieved, NATO must change.
I would like to focus my short essay on the problematic relationship between NATO and Czech citizens. In recent years there has been an increase in negative attitudes towards NATO. This started with the proposal of possible Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Bases in Brdy, Czech Republic, which was seen not as a NATO or Czech base, but as a US base. The feeling that NATO equates to the US is dangerous for the functioning of the organization, as well as public support for NATO not only in the Czech Republic but in Europe too.
NATO's biggest mistake was a lack of focus on improving its public image following the Cold War. People do not see NATO as just a defense organization: people still feel the tension between the US and Russia. Recently General Petr Pavel, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, was interviewed and many questions posed to him focused on the significant role of the US in NATO, and why the Czech Republic should help the US to control Europe, and appease Russia. This highlights the little public trust there is in the organization. There are naturally many supporters of the Alliance as well, but in general, they already tend to be US-centric. This led me to wonder why there is such a feeling in (Czech) society. I suppose that citizens of smaller countries do not feel any military and decision-making power within the organization – even if there are Czech representatives in high management positions – and they are quite suspicious of hegemonic politicians.
Before a sense of unity and cohesion can be achieved, NATO must change. It is obvious that the US is a leading power in NATO; indeed, this makes sense. US defense expenditures are around 4% of their GDP. They have the strongest army in the world: they have over 1,360,000 soldiers, invest massively in the latest technology and weapon systems and American troops are ubiquitous. On the other hand, interestingly, the majority of the Alliance's members today do not spend the required 2% of their GDP to NATO budget. Currently, only five countries comply with that agreement: the US, UK, France, Greece and Albania (the median is about 1.7%). Europe is a highly developed region and it needs to be able to protect itself with its own military power even within NATO structure. Unfortunately many states do not spend enough money for defense, yet they are comfortable with the protection that NATO and the US provide.
I therefore propose six policy recommendations, in order to increase notions of solidarity within NATO:
- European states, even the small ones, need to be more engaged in financing NATO. Meeting the 2% of GDP contribution of NATO budget has to be obligatory and in the case of noncompliance, sanctions should follow (even the revocation of membership). This rule must remain strict.
- We need less American soldiers and military camps in Europe. Establishing Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense bases in Europe, which worsen relations with Russia, should be rethought. NATO in Europe has to be more European and less American.
- We need more military exercises among NATO neighboring states military forces. If countries express concern about their safety, they must receive military assistance, which in my opinion should come first from the neighboring member states. If we think about Poland, for example, there should be more joint military exercises with the Czech Republic, Germany, and Slovakia.
- NATO has to be aware of the role of media and public opinion. The media should inform about NATO´s actions, programs and achievements and in particular discuss the role of state participation. Citizens usually do not know about the structure and functioning of the organization. They see the money going from member states to NATO's budget but they do not know that money is flowing in reverse as a defensive investment as well. So far, NATO has provided the Czech Republic with over three billion crowns for a number of defense infrastructure projects.
- NATO must do everything possible to re-establish good relations with Russia. From my experience, I know how difficult it is to communicate with Russian diplomacy, but it is much better than to not communicate at all. Russians want to be treated as equals. NATO must make them feel equal! The Alliance must be prepared for possible aggression from Russia, but not unnecessarily irritate and brashly display its strength. Do not make it easier for Russian authorities to manipulate society through media. We are already struggling with the fear Russian citizens have for NATO (which should not exist because NATO is only a defense organization). NATO should not behave provocatively.
- NATO´s involvement in helping with the refugee crisis is a great step forward to be closer to the public. NATO activities in this area (Europe) should be able to further expand especially in terms of guarding the external borders of NATO member states. The media should inform the public about NATO's involvement in resolving the migration problem. NATO should also develop the ability to help in future crises more effectively. It can use the experience of today´s Syrian crisis in order to confront future environmental migration flows (according to different figures, around 150-200 million of environmental refugees will exist by 2020). These actions will show the public that NATO is needed in times of peace as well and that state military forces from more than just the US are involved.
Sandra Houzvickova is a student of the Master Program in World Politics at the University of Pavia. She is working as an intern in the Permanent Representation of the Czech Republic to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
This article has been submitted for category B "NATO's Biggest Mistake and Lesson Learned" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". Comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video in the categories C and D.
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