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Can NATO membership be separated from EU aspirations? Can NATO membership be separated from EU aspirations?
by Christos Mouzeviris
2020-07-10 07:26:56
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Growing up in Greece, I often came across the widespread slogan from the country's Communist Party (KKE); "EEC and NATO, the same syndicate".

Back then, I was slightly dismissive about it, not wanting to side with neither dominant ideology of Greek politics; left or right.

However, one cannot fail to notice that in recent years, this is very much the case.

Following the 2004 big-bang EU enlargement, we also had a NATO expansion to the East. Many of the new member states in either block, have been former USSR republics, or belonged to the Warsaw Pact. Excluding Cyprus and Malta, all continental central and Eastern European new members, have joined both organizations.

nat001_400_01Something that we did not necessarily witnessed in previous EU enlargements. When Ireland and then later Austria, Sweden or Finland joined the union, they were not encouraged to become a member of the NATO alliance. In fact, none of them ever joined.

Since 2004 though, the trend of a joined EU/NATO membership for all Europe's eastern nations prevails. The problem is, that many have strong ties with Russia still, or are considered to be in the Russian sphere of influence, by the Russian elites.

In addition, some of them-like Ukraine, have a substantial Russian and Russian-speaking population. So if Europe is serious about engulfing and including these countries in its institutions, how will this affect its relations with its biggest neighbor and a key trade partner?

Both NATO and the EEC, later to be reformed into the EU that we know today, were born after the disastrous WW2. In order to keep the Soviet threat and influence out of Western Europe, our leaders aligned our nations with USA and Canada, forming one of the world's most formidable blocks and military alliances.

The EEC however, was formed out of a vision and idea, to permanently unite our continent, integrating it to a certain extend, that it could never go to war with itself again. Since its creation and step by step, Europe has morphed into a kind of confederation.

It has taken some very bold actions to integrate its members' economies with the creation of the euro and the single market. It has become the world's biggest trade block, although it lacks the political uniformity still, to become a serious world power.

Yet, not all are as rosy as expected in both organizations. The EU has just lost one of its oldest members-the UK, and it seems reluctant to continue integrating, constantly bickering with itself and among its members; sadly, it is always about money.

On the other hand, many do not see the point of NATO anymore. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, the alliance tries to redefine itself and justify its purpose. Even the French President Emmanuel Macron has stated last year, that the alliance is becoming "brain-dead".

So what is the point of keep expanding it, since Europe does not face any military threats nowadays. If it is just to annoy Russia, it is a very petty excuse.

I am aware that many of the former USSR and Warsaw Pact members, are wary about Russian influence in their countries and they need support to limit it. But there is a difference between becoming more independent from your former ruler, than giving in to Russo-phobia and hysteria.

Besides, a number of them lately, have failed to maintain their pro-European momentum and core EU values, opting to slide back-oh the irony- to a more authoritarian government. Their anti-Russian sentiment, is masking perhaps a blind nationalism together with financial interests.

In order to gain the favor and some cash from the US, in exchange for military and arms sales and the establishment of expensive missiles and defense systems, many Eastern European countries are rushing to join NATO.

Make no mistake, USA accounts for over one third of the global arms exports by itself. In addition, other NATO members, like France and Germany, also rely heavily on sales from the same industry. Limiting military expenditure in Europe, would seriously harm their economies and no president of theirs, will ever actively seek such goal in his/her term.

However, even the USA itself is lately tired of financing and "protecting" countries that not even its President can name. So all the expansion efforts seem meaningless, unless we still think that Russia is out to destroy Europe.

It is no secret the two sides have been increasingly at loggerheads over a number of issues: Ukraine, Georgia, espionage, oil and gas prices and pipes, Syria. It is slightly ridiculous at this stage and the blame falls in both sides.

Both Russia and the US-with the still weak and patronizing European governments, fail to accept that the world has changed and does not, plus it should not evolve around their bickering anymore. It is not viable for countries to have to chose either, instead of establishing constructive relations with both, to a certain extend.

Yet the Russians desperately want to maintain their "sphere of influence" and restore their status as a super power. The West has exactly the same complex and seeks to keep Russia down, preventing it from ever recovering fully financially, attacking its economy with sanctions, slandering and engaging in anti-Russian propaganda and establishing missiles across their European borders.

Is it any wonder why then Russia, turns up its espionage and misinformation efforts, attacking Europe anyway it can? If we keep pointing our weapons towards Russia, they will do the same to us. In addition, no one in the West is realizing that the more we push Russian away, China will be more than happy to welcome it.

Russia will never go away geographically, it will always be on our doorstep. And if we ever decide to allow Ukraine in the EU, it is not wise to keep aggravating our relationship with Moscow. Ukraine can join the EU, but perhaps they should refrain from joining NATO altogether and opt for a more Finnish approach to the West.

They can act as a buffer zone between the two "spheres of influence", or even better, a bridge. In addition, as it has been already suggested by President Macron, Europe should form its own military defense mechanism, which although will maintain its ties with USA and Canada, it will become more autonomous.

New EU member states, such as Serbia, Ukraine and Georgia, won't be required to join NATO, just as Sweden or Austria have not, thus keeping US missiles and interests away from Russia, partially appeasing them.

It remains to be seen then, if the Russians will be happy with such arrangements and engage to an updated relationship with Europe. If they insist on keeping Ukraine and other countries away from a new EU, then the blame will be entirely theirs from then on.

The time of bullying countries into our "sphere" is bygone, we are heading towards a new reality; that of a multipolar, global economy with no left-right division lines, rather nationalist/isolationist versus a more open, globalized society and economy.

If any nation state is to make any impact and increase its influence, it will have to rely on diplomacy, trade and openness, rather military, missiles, espionage and cold war practices. And that is something that all three-Europe, USA and Russia must consider.

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