The Middle East is in turmoil as the third act of the post-Ottoman period — the colonial period and the nationalist regimes like Gamal Abdel Nasser’s that succeeded it being the first two — moves forward in an unstable and bloody fashion.
The events should remind observers of an extremely devastating conflict that once embroiled Europe called the Thirty Years’ War. That massive, and complex, conflict began with the notorious “Defenestration of Prague” in 1618 and was largely a religious conflict between Protestant German princes jealous of their autonomy and faith arrayed against the power of the Catholic Hapsburg rulers of Austria.
The balance of power between Shia and Sunni has shifted since the 2003 Iraq War. A bold new strategy of isolating Iran while simultaneously reaching out to and cutting a nuclear deal with it could reset the balance in the region and allow the United States to recalibrate their Middle East as well as global strategy.
There is a constant drumbeat on both sides of the Atlantic that we must enhance NATO and make sure it’s up to the multifarious challenges of a globalized world. This is a questionable assertion. By contrast, it seems increasingly likely that the new global security infrastructure should be built on a foundation of regionalism.
The United States, for as long as it remains the single most powerful nation in the world, should play a pivotal role in each of several key security institutions. Yet these institutions should remain regional, focusing on their own neighborhoods where they can be more effective, rather than morphing into grandiose institutions with ambitions far exceeding their capabilities.
For the transatlantic world, NATO is, unfortunately, becoming a prime example of an institution that is flailing about in the globalized post-Cold War world. Its most recent attempt to maintain relevance above and beyond what it should be is its relatively ill-fated Libyan intervention. While NATO played a major role in ousting then leader Muammar Gaddafi, the operation highlighted American strengths and European weaknesses.
In many ways, this peripheral theater did much to advertise both Europe’s challenges and America’s unwillingness to act decisively to do what is necessary to win in a small-scale conflict. Not only did it take a prolonged period of time to overthrow Gaddafi; the operation failed to secure many of Libya’s weapons which has resulted in instability throughout northern Africa, particularly in Mali. Read more “Global Security Demands a NATO for Every Region”
The key for the future of NATO is to once again establish a clear strategic rationale for its existence.
This was a relatively easy task during the Cold War, when the threat of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact was very real and perceived as existential. In the years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall, this is no longer the case and it has forced NATO to evaluate exactly what role it should play in the twenty-first century.
While it seems that many in Europe and the United States have a desire to turn NATO into some sort of “GloboCop” looking perennially abroad for new monsters to slay, NATO’s actions since the conclusion of the Cold War raise serious questions about the wisdom of such a course. Its use of military force against Serbia during the Kosovo crisis in the 1990s, its extensive work in Afghanistan and, most recently, in Libya illustrate how NATO can work and how it really cannot.
The key question is this: Should NATO in this century be used primarily to defend Europe from external aggression while facilitating intra-European stability or is it to be a platform for external stabilizing missions in other geographic regions, such as the Middle East or East Asia?
When President Richard Nixon and his national security advisor Henry Kissinger opened up relations with China in the 1970s, it was done in the context of needing a new lever in the Cold War, especially when the United States was still mired in Vietnam. The goal was for the United States to be closer to both China and the Soviet Union than either was to each other and to be able to swing back and forth between the two powers as needed depending on what the exigencies of the balance of power dictated.
At that time, China was clearly the lesser power and required bolstering. The time for the United States to consider an inversion of that policy may soon become ripe.
The strategic environment today is vastly different than when Nixon met Mao. The Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is no more and China is rapidly ascending to the position of a global superpower. Under these conditions, the United States are struggling to manage a multiplicity of strategic interests in every major region of the world. Paramount among those are relations with China. Read more “Beyond the Reset: Reverse “Nixon Goes to China””