There looks to be a fascinating conversation between Lord (David) Owen and Lord Carrington on the future of NATO on this Sunday's GMTV Sunday Programme. Here's an excerpt...
LORD OWEN: Then what about Afghanistan? I went to Afghanistan when I was a medical student and I remember when the Russians went in and everybody was full of gloom and doom and I thought to myself, “they’re going to get a bloody nose.” And I helped in some ways, in a little way, going into Pakistan in the ‘80s and supporting the mujahideen. I can’t see any alternative after 9/11, not going in. But now, you as somebody who was Secretary General of NATO must be very worried about NATO’s position. I mean this could be its first defeat if we’re not at all, not very careful.
LORD CARRINGTON: Not just defeat. I think it may be the death knell of NATO unless we’re very careful. I mean, when we get a situation in which so many countries in NATO are not prepared to join in, and those that do join in say that it mustn’t follow that they can be in the back. Really only the Canadians and the Americans and the British and the Dutch are fighting there. I think this is very dangerous for NATO. I think we ought to ask ourselves if this doesn’t work what on Earth NATO is for?
LORD OWEN: Well, I think we would lose something very, very valuable is we got rid of NATO. I just think that when you compare the handling of Kosovo which was a problem, but at least there were arguments between the Sakur (sp?) and Kadkan (sp?), but there was a command structure which we Europeans got used to and we could accept American involvement and to an extent dominance. But when you get into these multilateral military arrangements with the United States it’s much, much harder and I think if we lost NATO I don’t think Europe is going to be able to provide that. I mean, as you say, the French and the Germans are not pulling their weight in Afghanistan.
LORD CARRINGTON: The trouble is they aren’t. The trouble is they aren’t at the moment. NATO is not working. And I know the Secretary General is very worried about it.
LORD OWEN: Chirac’s role in helping to destroy NATO I think is very considerable, in marked contrast to Mitterrand. We can live with the different French view of NATO but I think the way that they are trying to always push European Union instead of NATO is going to get the Americans to say, to just say, “well, to Hell with it.”
LORD CARRINGTON: Well that is of course all because of the De Gaulle view of America, and America dominating NATO. I mean, when I was Secretary General I found that though the French has left the military side of NATO they co-operated rather well, and although they hadn’t left the political side they put a spoke in every wheel on the political side. It was very, very alarming.
LORD OWEN: Then the new members though, like Poland, the Czechs in a small way, they’re all pulling more than their weight, which is the best, the good side of it all. But I do worry very much about Afghanistan. I think we have to talk to the different factions and have to recognise that a strong social government is alien to Afghanistan and isn’t going to emerge.
LORD OWEN: But coming back to NATO, always a very difficult subject, but there is a balance to strike between letting the European Union have some form of policing activity strengthened by military such as we’ve got now operating in Bosnia, I think that’s quite rational. But the idea of Europe being of any use to… when the break-up of the former Yugoslavia and we both were involved, they were completely at odds with each other. And they are at odds with each other on Iraq. They’re probably more agreed on Lebanon than on most things, but the British position was certainly not alongside the rest of the Europe position. I see no sign of a single foreign policy from Europe emerging….
LORD CARRINGTON:How can you?
LORD OWEN:…for decades, frankly.
LORD CARRINGTON: But on every important issue in the last few years there’s been a dissention, a dispute in the European Union.
LORD OWEN: But NATO did seem to offer a hope. NATO was the vehicle for early enlargement and brought many people in. There is this new element. I think that a new attitude to NATO from Europe as well as America is called for. I think we need, in Europe, to rethink some of the problems of the last few years, and maybe a new French President which will be with us middle of next year could be a possibility. I don’t know.
LORD CARRINGTON: I think that what happens in Afghanistan is going to have an enormous effect upon the future of NATO. If we all, those of us who supported NATO and NATO intervention in Afghanistan feel that the rest of NATO, or large parts of NATO, are not really prepared to take any part of it, I think it’s going to cause great difficulty for the future of NATO. LORD OWENWell that requires more European commitment and I don’t see it coming.