TCS Daily

A Man Called Hoop

By Joshua Livestro - September 29, 2003 12:00 AM

Just outside Brussels lies a village called Tervuren. It's a charming place, with parks, ponds and a main square lined with pleasant cafés. Mention its name, and most people in Brussels will give you a knowing smile. But with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, recently confirmed as the next secretary-general of NATO, the mention of the word 'Tervuren' is likely to have a different effect. For Tervuren is also the place where France and Germany plan to locate a future European military planning capability that would function independently of the longstanding North Atlantic alliance.

Now that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's public backing of the Franco-German plan has made its realization inevitable, it will be de Hoop Scheffer's task to ensure this European initiative won't do anything to undermine NATO. This is, of course, first and foremost a diplomatic challenge. He must try to build a coalition of the willing among European Union member states that can ensure that any independent European military capability will not be used to threaten the Alliance's continued existence. But it is also a public relations challenge, especially in Western Europe. Among audiences in those countries, de Hoop Scheffer will have to tackle the twin challenges of neutralism and anti-Americanism. At the same time, he will have to demonstrate to an increasingly skeptical American audience that Europe has not just an interest in but also a passion for continued transatlantic cooperation.

A recent report called "Transatlantic Trends." produced by the Brussels-based Transatlantic Center, reveals growing distrust on both sides of the pond. It isn't all bleak: in Holland and Britain, approval ratings for American foreign policy have actually increased slightly over the past few years, and American audiences are clearly supportive of the idea of a strong European voice in international debate. But in general, the report paints a picture of deteriorating transatlantic relations. De Hoop Scheffer will have to deploy all his political talents to ensure that those ties are protected and strengthened.

If he is in need of inspiration, he should turn to the preamble of NATO's founding treaty. In a single sentence, it explains what the ties that bind both sides of the Atlantic are made of: "They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law." It is for the defense of this transatlantic community of liberty under the law that NATO was created in the first place. De Hoop Scheffer will have to make it a core part of his message that this transatlantic community is real and that it is worth protecting.

But of course NATO is not a debating society. It's a defense alliance. It exists to defend free speech, not to facilitate it. Debate should take place outside of NATO structures. Inside NATO, he should focus his efforts on the many practical challenges the Alliance is likely to face over the next decade. The division within Europe between old and new members, or between East and West, is likely to prove of less concern than the transatlantic division. The unification of Eastern and Western Europe inside the Alliance, however, could cause problems, albeit indirectly. The revision of a US military strategy that was still partly based on Cold War priorities was long overdue. But the resulting shift of troops and material from Western Europe to NATO's new eastern borders will inevitably cause job losses in Western Europe at a time when it is already plagued by economic recession. This is unlikely to have a positive effect on Western European feelings about the importance of transatlantic cooperation. De Hoop Scheffer must try to find ways of limiting the adverse effects of redeployment on local economies and attitudes towards the Alliance.

He should also try to use this problem as an opportunity by convincing European governments of the need to invest in their own defense capabilities. This year's increase in American defense spending was greater than the defense budgets of Britain and France put together. If Europe is serious about taking care of its own defense, it should start spending serious money. It is up to de Hoop Scheffer to make European countries see the need for increases in defense spending, while ensuring that any extra money going into European defense is spent in a way that builds up rather than undermines the Alliance.

But by far the biggest challenge de Hoop Scheffer will face in the coming years is finding a role for NATO in the new century. NATO made a significant contribution to the war in Kosovo. But in the war against terror, it's been absent without leave. If it is to be more than just a talking shop, something will have to be done. The crisis over Iraq was not just a blow to the credibility of the United Nations Security Council. It has also done serious damage to the credibility of NATO. De Hoop Scheffer's challenge is to restore purpose and unity within NATO to such an extent that it is ready to play an important part in any future conflict that might arise. If he meets this 21st century challenge, he might one day be remembered as one of the great NATO leaders. If he fails, he may well be one of its last.

Joshua Livestro is a columnist for Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad.


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