Diplomatic Pouch / March 18, 2016
By Larry Luxner
The lack of cooperation on a range of issues between the European Union and NATO — both of which are based in Brussels and have 28 members apiece — is “disastrous” and “ridiculous.”
So says Henne Schuwer, the new Dutch envoy to the United States.
Schuwer, who presented his credentials as ambassador six months ago, spoke at a a March 8 panel in Washington on “NATO’s Role in the 21st Century.” Also on the stage were Lithuanian Ambassador Rolandas Krisciunas; veteran diplomat and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and Curtis Levinson, U.S. cyber defense adviser to NATO.
Schuwer participated in the Wiley Rein LLP breakfast briefing not only as The Hague’s top diplomat in Washington but also as a representative of the EU, since the Netherlands now occupies the club’s six-month rotating presidency.
“Their two offices [EU and NATO] are five miles apart, but they might as well be on different continents. We do not cooperate, with disastrous results,” said Schuwer, a former envoy to NATO. “To compound that problem by having twin structures in the EU and NATO is ridiculous. For example, both organizations — which share 21 nations in common — are active off the coast of Somalia. You have two fleets there sailing doing exactly the same stuff. That’s stupidity. I’m pleading for a much closer alliance.”
Asked what effect Europe’s worsening migration crisis would have on pledges by NATO members to boost defense spending, the panel’s two diplomats disagreed.
“All our political parties have agreed to increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2020,” said Lithuania’s Krisciunas. “In fact, we could do it by 2018 — the 100th anniversary of our first independence from Russia — which would be quite an achievement.”
“At the same time,” he added, “we are in solidarity with our European partners as far as the migration crisis is concerned. But our economy is growing, so we’re ready to do both.”
“I’m less optimistic,” said Schuwer. “We took in 65,000 refugees last year, and we expect to take in 80,000 more this year. That is an enormous burden. We’ve increased our defense budget, and we’ll keep increasing it until we are at 2 percent. But I’m very much afraid that if we get more refugees, it might take longer than we expected.”
Meanwhile, Richardson argued that the United States must protect its NATO allies in Eastern Europe against Russian “market manipulation,” begin selling military hardware directly to the Ukrainians and establish a no-fly zone in Syria to blunt Moscow’s influence in that country’s civil war.
Richardson praised the late Sandy Berger — national security adviser during the Clinton administration — for what he said was Berger’s most important accomplishment: the expansion of NATO to its current 28 member nations.
“When I think back following the collapse of the Soviet Union, I remember how many of my colleagues thought NATO was no longer necessary, that it should become the victim of its own success and simply vanish as a relic of the Cold War,” recalled the former New Mexico governor and U.N. envoy.
“Our new Eastern European allies have contributed to the stability of the Balkan Peninsula after a decade of war and helped the U.S. liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban,” he said. “NATO is not only relevant to our national security, but is essential to preserve it.”
Richardson added: “While we must focus our discussion about NATO’s rule in confronting Russia, we must also consider the alliance’s role in addressing a broader array of issues: how to confront the humanitarian tragedy of the Syrian crisis, and the emergence of a new transnational threat in ISIS.”
As to the effect an election victory by Republican front-runner Donald Trump might have on the future of NATO, Richardson — himself a one-time presidential candidate — didn’t mention Trump by name. But he did note with sadness an “isolationism mainly borne out of economic frustration and anger that blames a lot of America’s problems on immigrants and Muslims,” predicting that “international engagement will win over isolationism in the end. I hope I’m not wrong.”
Richardson, who was governor of New Mexico from 2003 to 2011, went on to become U.S. energy secretary in the Clinton administration, and later ambassador to the UN. He said he is “disturbed” by a Rand Corp. war-games study that envisioned a hypothetical Russian invasion of the three Baltic states.
The report, issued last month, concludes that Russia would overrun NATO forces and occupy Tallinn and Riga within 60 hours.
“Fulfilling our obligations under NATO requires a reassessment of our force posture in Europe. NATO must recognize that the Russian assault on Ukraine is just a taste of Russia’s overall aspirations in Europe,” he said. “We should provide for the direct sale of U.S. military hardware to allow Ukraine to defend itself. But I’m a diplomat at heart, so I believe we must also look to new forms of diplomacy as a way to strengthen our allies.”
One way for the United States to safeguard its Baltic allies from Russian manipulation of the energy market, he said, is to invest in the construction of LNG export terminals.
“Doing so would neuter Russia’s use of natural gas as a weapon against our European and Middle Eastern allies,” he said. “We must also use diplomacy to marshal our efforts to convince our European allies to invest more in their own national defense.”
Along those lines, Krisciunas said that in 2015 his country finished its first LNG terminal. This year — for the first time ever — more gas will come from non-Russian suppliers than from Gazprom, making Lithuania less vulnerable to Putin’s threats.
Krisciunas described as “nonsense” arguments by some EU leaders that NATO merely provokes Russian President Vladimir Putin and serves no worthwhile purpose.
“What provokes Russia is softness and vulnerability. NATO is not a threat to anyone,” he said. “Anyone who says that doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”