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NATO is seeking to use Web 2.0 technologies to engage with a wider public and obtain new ideas from bloggers.  But is NATO really a thing of the past rather than the future of Europe?

European Tribune – New Kid On The Blog

NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Strategy, Dr. Stefanie Babst, argues that public diplomacy needs to respond to the challenges of the Web 2.0 world and is encouraging NATO to be “more courageous in using digital tools to directly interact with the public”:

NATO’s New Public Diplomacy: The Art of Engaging and Influencing

“Why not widen the debate about NATO’s new Strategic Concept beyond the ‘usual suspects’ and try to obtain new thinking through, for instance, online discussions with citizens on specific aspects of NATO’s future role?”

“I would appreciate your thoughts on this issue. Perhaps your readers would like to weigh in as well. I believe this is a real chance for us to demonstrate to NATO’s leadership that the public is interested in a direct and transparent dialogue with policy makers.

  1. Do you think NATO would benefit from engaging the blogosphere?
  2. Do you think bloggers have constructive advice for NATO’s specific challenges?
  3. How could NATO identify and listen to the discerning bloggers and their readers? What form should such an exchange of ideas take?”

Everyone needs to have a web 2.0 initiative to be cool, with it, and demonstrate a “pro-active” engagement with “Stakeholders”, and perhaps NATO is no exception.  Being a citizen of an avowedly neutral non member state (Ireland)  I probably don’t have “locus standi” to take part in this debate.  Ireland is hardly a major player in the debate over the future of security policy in Europe.

But perhaps it would be helpful to articulate why NATO membership is a non-starter in Ireland, even though we have close family links with the US and are probably more culturally well disposed to the US than most EU Member states.

Irish Neutrality arose out of our historic dispute with Britain over the partition of Ireland which led to the creation of Northern Ireland (under British Sovereignty) and an independent Irish Republic.   Many thousands of Irishmen died fighting in Britain’s wars (particularly in World War 1)  but when the nationalist Sinn Fein (and later Fianna Fail) took power there was a determination not to side with “perfidious Albion” ( as Britain is sometimes called) until such time as the Partition of Ireland was addressed.

Churchill even hinted at the possibility of an end to Partition  if Ireland joined into fighting in World War 2 but was simply not believed.  There had been too many instances of post-dated cheques from Britain to Irish Nationalists not being honoured.  So De Valera remained neutral in the war – to the outrage of Churchill in particular – and the British in general. Britain responded with limited economic sanctions against Ireland.

(In practice Ireland was as pro-allied as it was possible to be without actual formally joining the Allied war effort – interning captured German airmen, relaying intelligence and critical weather forecasts for D Day etc.)

However De Valera retained formal neutrality even to the extent of offering condolences to the German Ambassador on the death of Hitler – something strictly in line with diplomatic protocol – but also illustrating the degree of estrangement from anything to do with Britain.

Whilst the cold war was raging, having a bulwark against the USSR made sense for a conservative Catholic Ireland which regarded Stalin as the great Satan and where even a soccer match with the USSR in Dublin caused considerable controversy.  But taking the same side as Britain was simply not possible because of the continuing dispute over the Partition of Ireland with Britain retaining Sovereignty over Northern Ireland.

The Cold war was replaced by Pax Americana and for a period – when Clinton was a hero because of his active engagement in the Northern Irish Peace Process – NATO membership might have been a problematic issue only for a left wing fringe although it wasn’t seriously considered at the time.

But then came Bush and Iraq – a war which 70% of the Irish population opposed – many vehemently – and which inspired some of the largest anti-war demonstrations anywhere.  The traditional close Irish/US relations became as strained as they have ever been by extraordinary renditions and US troop transfers to Iraq through Shannon.  Joining NATO once again became a total non-starter.

So what is NATO now except a relic of the Cold War and of the US Empire?  A colonial relic to be taken over by the EU after its Eastern enlargement?  Why should the US be allowed to have military bases throughout Europe and to jeopardise relations with Russia through active encirclement and aggressive military domination?

The adventurism of the Georgian President: Mikheil Saakashvili in South Ossetia shows how easily the EU could be dragged into a conflict with Russia that is simply not in it collective interest.  NATO, from this perspective, now becomes a vehicle for a “divide and conquer” strategy by a US Military Industrial Complex perhaps not even fully under the control of democratic institutions in Washington.

I appreciate that former Soviet Satellite and Warsaw Pact countries want a bulwark against Russian Hegemony and the fear of re-conquest is or aggression by Russia is real.  I also appreciate it will be a long time before the EU achieves a military cohesion and capability which could credibly replace the US as the guarantor of East European sovereignty and security.

But ultimately it is in the interest of the US Military Industrial Complex to seek to exacerbate divisions and divide and conquer  Europe to prevent it becoming a credible competitor to a US empire which maintains military installations and bases in over 100 nominally independent and sovereign nations – many surrounding Russia.

Ultimately it is in the interest of the EU to maintain cordial relations with Russia, and perhaps even, ultimately, offer EU membership to Russia.  We share too many economic, energy and political interests in common.

So whatever way you cut it, is difficult to see a long term role for NATO in a post colonial Europe, one no longer dominated by a USA weakened by the financial crisis.  Ireland will not be joining NATO under any conceivable scenario, and perhaps a prolonged period of peace and good relations with Russia will lessen Eastern European fears and insecurities.

Perhaps NATO is aware of the tide of history moving away from it.  Perhaps they are desperately trying to think of new ways to maintain “relevance” by embracing web 2.0.  I don’t think we should be giving that enterprise too much credibility.

I would be interested in hearing how my central and eastern European colleagues here view the role of NATO in the coming decades.  It would not surprise me if you have a very different perspective on this indeed.

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