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Last Updated: 08/12/2003
NATO in Command
Simon Stander

The news that NATO is now in charge of peace keeping in Kabul is pitched as good news. However, questions about NATO and its role do not necessarily go away.

The news that NATO is now in charge of peace keeping in Kabul is pitched as good news. The new commander is a German General Gotz Gliemeroth and arises because his immediate predecessor was also a German General, Norbert van Heyst who had established good relations with the Afghan government and people of Kabul. General Gliemeroth thus arrives complete with CDs of Brahms and Mozart and hopefully will be able to listen without the sound of bombs or gunshots to disturb him.


However, questions about NATO and its role do not necessarily go away. At the NATO summit held in Prague last November, NATO announced its expansion plans: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia were all lined up to join with Croatia, Albania and Macedonia waiting further down the line. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic are already tucked in safely under NATO’s wing. Indeed Poland seems to have been relishing its role. Poland is proud of its militarism and for non-students of history the Polish armies dominated Central and Eastern Europe for over a century in the Middle Ages. Polish troops have been involved in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq.


The expansion was due initially to the uneasy relations in Eastern Europe with the former Soviet Union, which has been less enthusiastic about its former satellites shifting allegiance. 


Certainly, too, the threat of international terrorism has been another reason for binding nations together in a military alliance, but that in itself is curious. NATO was prepared to stretch Article 5 of the NATO treaty to allow its forces to operate in Afghanistan because that Article states that if one country is attacked by a foreign power all the others will support the victim of aggression. The aggressor, however, was not a country but a group that received orders from by a Saudi former businessman.


A further obvious reason is that while the countries are bound together in a mutual defence treaty it is thought that they won’t go to war with each other. This argument carries considerable sway, and collective security is no bad thing, though membership of NATO did not stop Greece and Turkey going to war in 1974.


On balance having all the NATO countries in bed with each other will make not just the Atlantic but the world a safer place, and while the combined strength of these small countries may not be great, they do add to the manpower that is available for peacekeeping and peace-building.


So the good news pitch for celebrating a NATO led force in Kabul can’t be bad.


There is just the question of who gains, of course, from NATO expansion. Those companies that sell NATO their aircraft, artillery, radio communications, ships and so on have been able to boost their sales. Poland recently agreed ( to purchase Lockheed Martin F-16s plus spares, pilot training and bombs for $3.5 billion. In return the Polish computer industry is promised a billion dollars of orders, and the Polish economy gets up to $12 billion in loans and investment. The US taxpayer does not seem too bothered about subsidising the Polish economy. However, the French Dassault Mirages lost out to the F-16 sale, which spurred the French to complain about the strengthening of strategic links between the US and Poland. The French, of course, equally proud of their militarism, maintain their independence from NATO. That’s probably not too good for business. Generally speaking, though, the UK and France will benefit more than most given their position as leading European arms manufacturers.