Saturday, November 15, 2008

A new NATO

Has NATO gotten too big? Let's make it bigger! Has NATO lost its purpose? Let's give it a newer, bigger purpose, and a new name!

About the only thing I liked about John McCain's foreign policy proposals was an international league of democracies that would put a bit more muscle behind democratic principles around the globe. It would invite only real democracies to join. His version seemed to be a replacement for the UN and a stick to beat over the head of Russia and China, playing a game of social ostracism.

The fact is that international relations are still chaotic and lawless, stuck in a Victorian age of nationalist competition. While international crises mount ever higher in number, complexity, and significance, the international system is unequipped to deal with them. The UN has proven to be utterly incapable of taking action on any controversial issue, and is even corrupted itself to the point of betraying the very ideals that it putatively upholds.

What I would propose is a transformation of NATO into an ethics-based international group with broad membership and representative governance, and with military power to bear on critical international issues- essentially a constabulary body. This group would not supersede the UN, since it would not be universal, and would have stringent membership criteria open to countries that achieve certain levels of human rights, transparency, good governance, etc. A re-naming might also be in order, such as to "GETO"- the global ethics treaty organization.

NATO was founded to counter the Russia of the cold war- to seal Allied gains made in World War II by a strong Western military alliance where all powers pledged to defend each other in the context of classic maneuver warfare (and eventually, with nuclear weapons as well). This purpose has evaporated, and now NATO is a feel-good organization that promotes the inclusion of various Eastern European countries into a vague sense of European-ness, and annoys Russia deeply with every new member. This dynamic has to stop. Relations with Russia are too important to be playing keep-away with an almost meaningless clique reminiscent of junior high school.

NATO has to be retooled and fundamentally rethought so that it is not in an automatically adversarial position vs Russia, and so that it gains a sustaining purpose in line with the challenges of today. The Euro-Russian landmass has calmed down enough that we no longer need to maintain the Metternichian alliances and balance of power strategies of yore. There are far more pressing matters at hand, such as climate change, economic meltdowns, failed states and rogue terrorist organizations. Thus this would be a good time to pivot NATO from a European defense organization into a global constabulary organization, based on explicit and modern ethical principles.

Glimmers of this change are already afoot, with NATO's first military efforts in the former Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan. The legitimacy of these actions was widely accepted (except by Russia in the former case, mostly for reasons of ethnic sympathy). This legitimacy is crucial, and can be increased by making NATO into a more open organization. NATO also has a far greater ability to act, and greater effectiveness, than any version of UN force, such as its peace keeping units. The UN system, with its ossified security council, deference to sovereignty, and excessive need for consensus, is a perfectly fine place to discuss international affairs and to take unexceptional actions such as famine relief and disease eradication. But it is structurally unequal to serious policing issues. Only when it lends its aegis to another country's actions, such as in the Korean or first Iraq wars, does significant action result, but the legitimacy of such free-agenting is not very high, and nor is its consistency or effectiveness.

The key to this new GETO organization would be a governance index, which rates each country yearly for its adherence to various ethical norms, like human rights, rule of law, political transparency, media transparency, sponsorship of external terrorism and instability, and corruption (many more could be imagined, such as status of women, minorities, environmental stewardship, etc.). Indexes of this kind are currently produced by many non-governmental organizations (NGO's) as well as the US state department. Those from NGO's would be used, flexibly changing sources from year to year as various NGO's gained credibility or developed better research abilities. Their independence from governments would play an important role in keeping the system as inbiassed as possible. Variation in index composition would not be critically important, since many of these measures tend to correlate with each other. The selection of indexes would be up the GETO membership, as would the weighting scheme by which a composite governance index is arrived at. As the values and critical issues of the international system change, the benchmarks of membership can change as well.

Is this kind of system necessarily biased, since all values are subjective? Not really- all countries pay lip service to human rights and elevated values. All countries subscribe to the basic UN documents which express these values in elevated tones. The problem is that none are penalized for not realizing them, and membership and voting powers are given to all, willy nilly.

This kind of evaluation scheme for countries would have several uses for GETO. Suppose it uses a scale of 1 to 100, where 100 is best. First would be a threshold for inclusion of new members, say at score 70. Next would be a threshold for expulsion of current members, say at score 60. There would be no limit to membership- if all countries of the world attained good government and high rankings, then all would be members (alternatively, countries might be ranked in order and only half allowed in as members at any one time, creating perpetual competition for better governance scores). There would also not be any extraneous measurements, like for democracy per se, or economic success- this is an organization predicated purely on ethical behavior. Lastly, there would be a threshold for intervention against a non-member country's sovereignty, say 10. Intervention would not be mandatory, but could be undertaken with a voting scheme among the membership. Such voting might take place in proportion to population, perhaps multiplied by the member's governance index score minus 60 (thus making automatic the removal of low-scoring members). The point would be to construct balanced representation and true legitimacy for GETO's mandate, which is a global policing role.

Such a scoring system should bring in the current members of NATO without problems, as well as democratic developed nations world-wide. It might leave Russia and China on the fence. Even if they were members, they would not have veto power over policing actions, as they do now in the UN security council. Non-member states would be welcome to participate in most aspects of GETO operations (except voting) by invitation, even giving military assistance if it proved convenient to GETO to employ them alongside its own forces.

There is far more to policing the globe than attending to states in identifiable free-fall, such as perhaps Zimbabwe or Afghanistan. There are also border disputes, incursions, proxy wars, ethnic cleansing, and countless other problems. GETO would not aim to solve all conflict, but be a backstop to address outrageous suffering, requiring a supermajority of some kind to take action. It would then separate warring parties, create buffer zones, administer countries or parts of countries on a temporary basis, begin social and physical reconstruction, and begin grass-roots civic and election processes, building local governance from the ground up, not from the top down.

The example of Darfur is most pressing- we are paralyzed out of a lack of institutional resources, stymied by a few corrupt vetoes from stopping a contemporary horror. The UN has been unable to generate consensus, NATO has no jurisdiction or interest, and the African Union has neither the will nor the capacity to be effective. GETO would easily identify Sudan as a failed state (or at least a state that is failing an identifiable population), and step in to cordon off warring parties, carving up the territory of Sudan as needed to restore calm. These partitions would then last as long as either party wanted them to, becoming new nations if they proved durable and cohesive enough.

One problem with this GETO scheme is that it might promote a moral hazard- the profusion of splinter movements eager to be backed by GETO into separate mini-nations of their own, on the basis of little more than ethnic hatred or greed for local natural resources. Would California be interested in seceding from the US? Or would Quebec wish to break from Canada? More realistically, there are countless ethnic communities in countries such as Georgia, Iran, or Turkey that would love to take advantage of an offer of intervention and protection from GETO. How are the irremediable conflicts to be distinguished from those that are opportunistic, and how should GETO treat nations plagued with secessionist groups, including Iraq and India? The governance index of the host country will be one important guide- if they have good governance (especially if they have significant local decentralized control), it is unlikely that a secessionist community will have to resort to arms or terrorism, but will have peaceful means for self-determination.

A profusion of minor countries, as has taken shape in the Balkans, is not necessarily a problem at all. It is only an issue in a Darwinian international order, where the big eat the small and the small need Mafia-like protection. Luxembourg and Lichtenstein have survived splendidly in the modern European system. If they wished, they could merge with another country of their own free will, participating in a dynamic international system where change comes from orderly self-determination rather from the competing imperialist impulses of great powers. In order to grow, great powers would need to be attractive rather than ruthless.

The case of Chechnya is instructive- it is unlikely that GETO would have the power to intervene against Russia, but the need to do so is readily apparent. Russia has waged a campaign of unrelenting brutality, scorching Chechnya to a cinder to save its own military self-esteem. It is simply a moral necessity to cordon off such territories when possible to prevent unspeakable atrocities and suffering. If such a system of GETO-sponsored intervention raises the power of separatist groups vis-a-vis central powers, so be it. This re-balancing of power would be a way of granting human rights of self-determination to previously oppressed populations, in turn encouraging more tolerant central governance and correcting the hastily-drawn maps of long ago. In this proposal, actions against a GETO member state would not have any special encumbrance, subject only to the regular voting rules and to a minimalist principle to only contain the problem and separate warring parties, not to threaten the host country if it does not present additional serious governance problems.

Conversely, the separated area would not be left to its own devices to devolve into crime and mini-despotism (also e.g. Chechnya), but would be strongly managed by a temporary GETO mandate, encouraging only serious separatist movements to engage in such a risk. GETO would be experienced in running small governments, unlike what the US has attempted in Iraq, and would engage in an orderly process to bring the territory out of receivership as soon as possible.

Afghanistan presents a case in point. It is unrealistic to think that Afghanistan will become a western-style democracy on a timetable consistent with outside management/involvement. Indeed it is hard to imagine how an outside power, however benevolent, can make progress towards any kind of modern government there. The current NATO occupation/rebuilding effort needs to take thorough stock of the materials at hand and indigenous desires and culture. The culture is heavily tribal, so the best approach would have been to put NATO in central control for a temporary period (as a neutral party) while sorting out how to upgrade the governance of each tribal unit (empowering individuals over their customary warlords), and how to construct a federal system that does not put each tribal unit at each other's throat when NATO leaves. Cultural engagement and judgment is essential, as we learned so belatedly in Iraq. But approaching the task from an orderly international position of legitimacy would also be extremely helpful.

The GETO proposal is a mechanism to renovate and rejuvenate NATO to face contemporary problems, while advancing global goals of improved governance and happiness. These happen to be identical with US goals of a peaceful and prosperous international system, but achieving them will require surrendering some measure of sovereignty ourselves, to carefully constructed international structures with legitimacy, durability, and power.

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