Friday, 12 September 2014

The NATO Legacy

A week on from the Newport summit, it's worth
asking the question....Was it worth it?
(Pic : ITV Wales)
Although my last post on this was more jovial, it's time for a serious look at what the legacy of the Newport summit might be to Wales, and what it might mean for the future of NATO itself.

The Summit & NATO's future

Due to current world events this summit was more important than it otherwise would've been.

Three key discussions were : the future of Afghanistan, ISIS, as well as the conflict in Ukraine and the threat posed to NATO's eastern European members by Russia.

The declaration on Afghanistan (here) paid tribute to those who lost their lives as part of NATO forces there (ISAF). ISAF's operations in Afghanistan are due to end this year, and the declaration says the Afghan military are now leading most operations in the country. Once ISAF forces withdraw, a new non-combat role will help continue to train and build the Afghan military.

The UK Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, said that 10 NATO members met to decide a strategy to combat ISIS. At the moment, the US are seemingly the only NATO member taking military action against ISIS in Iraq in order to protect the Yazidi Kurds from persecution. It looks like it's had a moderate success so far, and following the murder of journalist Stephen Soltoff and threat posed to an unnamed UK citizen, UK military involvement is being considered.

There's also the issue of ISIS in Syria, and Turkey might play a crucial role. Turkey activated Article IV ("final warning against an aggressor") when loyalist Syrian forces attacked border targets in 2012.

Since the emergence of ISIS, the situation has become more complicated, and President Assad is arguably in the best position to fight the Syrian wing of ISIS. It looks as though NATO are going to try and convince moderate Syrian rebels to target ISIS, in addition to the announcement from Barack Obama on Wednesday that the US will expand air strikes against ISIS into Syria. There's also the unprecedented prospect of US-Iranian cooperation on ISIS in Iraq - but it looks like that's taken a hit.

Then there are the trickier discussions on Ukraine. Ukraine isn't a NATO member, but the pro-Western government have designs on the EU and NATO. Although an unsteady ceasefire has been declared in the disputed areas of eastern Ukraine, the summit declaration (here) condemned Russia's "illegal and illegitimate self-annexation" of parts of the country to date.

The likelihood of NATO getting actively involved in Ukraine is slim to none, but to allay fears in the Baltic States and Poland, NATO has decided to create a 4,000-strong "spearhead force" that could be deployed on short notice to eastern Europe. NATO also signed an agreement with neutral allies Finland and Sweden which would allow NATO forces to be hosted in their respective nations in an emergency.

The Summit & Wales

Has the summit propelled Newport towards the top of
the list of Europe's best conference venues?
(Pic : South Wales Argus)

I say "Wales", but – as usual – most of the economic effects will be felt in the Newport and Cardiff areas. An advertisement for "Wales" via a high-profile meeting may, of course, lead to a boost in tourism elsewhere in the country, but it's not as if the summit will benefit the likes of Swansea, Aberystwyth or Bangor in any significant way. World leaders and journalists have more important things to do with their time than act as travel agents. We shouldn't get our hopes up here.

The summit was heavily-disruptive and reduced parts of Newport and Cardiff to a ghost town. It'll almost certainly have a short-term negative impact on the south east Wales economy, perhaps costing some traders a significant sum of money.

You would expect any mass-gathering of world leaders to require heightened security, but the provisions put in place seemed over the top. I suppose it's sensible to take a "safety first" approach to such things, but did they need to be so "in your face"?

Aside from that it's worth looking at the possible positives.

With Celtic Manor planning to establish itself as a conference centre, this will no doubt have done an excellent job in boosting Newport's European and global profile as a venue. It's unclear if south east Wales has the capacity for two large conference centres though, so the proposal led by Cardiff Council is probably going to be in trouble now.

Aside from that I'm sceptical that there'll be any significant economic spin-offs from this, it was just a £50million advert.

There was, of course, the announcement of a £3.5billion deal with Oakdale-based General Dynamics to built ~600 armoured vehicles for the UK military. These things aren't just negotiated overnight, and the contract would've been signed even if the summit were hosted elsewhere. It was a well-timed PR announcement, nothing more.

If we can take anything from this
- all of us, regardless of whether we approve of NATO or not - it's that Wales has proven we can cope with hosting major global events, though not without fault. I doubt many people care about moaning journalists, but there seemed to be very poor organisation of their transport which will do anything but leave a good impression of Wales.

The long-term impact and legacy of the summit (and all "major events") might be worth an Assembly committee inquiry at some point, because I suspect the bold claims will fall far short of outcomes.

From a nationalist perspective, you could also consider this summit a dry run for official state visits in an independent Wales. That's a teaser for what I have coming up next year (if I'm still blogging).

The Summit & The Peace Movement

"What do we want!?" - "We don't know!"
"When do we want it!?" - "........."
(Pic : BBC Wales)
I can see myself heading for the naughty step from here on in....

I mostly agree with Paul Flynn MP's (Lab, Newport West) assessment.

Apart from the demonstration the Saturday before the summit (on August 30th), the protests flopped hard. The expected numbers were massively over-estimated (figures of a potential 20,000 protesters were bandied about, I'd be surprised if it were more than 2,000 at its peak) and protesters were out-numbered by police - though everyone that took part deserves credit for remaining peaceful (ha!).

A protest against NATO and/or militarisation with a credible, united message should be welcomed, but it never materialised. There seemed to be too many conflicting messages, ranging from pro-Palestinian, anti-nuclear, pro and anti-Ukraine, anti-austerity, anarchists, communists and even a tiny minority of useful idiot(s) openly protecting the likes of North Korea. There's eclectic and then there's incoherent.

Some of the protesters clearly have their own interpretations of what NATO is, but it's not some all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing New World Order. The likes of David Cameron and Francois Hollande have proven beyond all doubt that they're just not that clever.

Despite being a powerful group of nations that's made serious policy blunders since the end of the Cold War, it has minimal involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example. All they can do is exert political pressure, and individual nation states have their own ideas on that. NATO have actually been pretty toothless as an offensive military alliance since Barack Obama's election. In a backhanded way they've been doing many of the things the protesters want.

The peace movement in Wales needs a revamp, lest it becomes a shrivelled rump of extremists looking for trouble, alongside what moderates and idealists/optimists are left. They had a chance with the proposed Peace Institute, but the plans weren't detailed enough. You can argue that this was another PR disaster, and NATO will probably be around a lot longer than they will if they're not careful.

Touchdown on Planet Plaid
Ah good, Plaid Cymru are discussing foreign policy and defence.
Oh no! Wait! Plaid Cymru are discussing fo...
Plaid Cymru are the only Welsh-based party that can comment on the global implications of the summit with a straight face. The trouble is that their eyes are pointing in different directions.

Plaid Cymru's statement on the NATO summit (here) envisages Wales taking a bold role in promoting peace and ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), also opposing NATO as a "nuclear alliance and product of the Cold War". There's nothing wrong with the sentiment.

A few weeks ago I said Plaid Cymru "adopt positions without fully objective appraisal". This may be an example. There was an opportunity to present a full, well thought through alternative – perhaps via another of their excellent discussion papers. Instead, we
got a vague statement with a Frankie Goes To Hollywood soundtrack.

There's plenty of spirit there, but little substance. If Plaid can back up their positions with a decent proposals, fair enough; but the wispy thinking coming out of the party on certain issues makes them look like knee-jerk radicals for the sake of being radical. It is possible to oppose the principle of NATO membership without being stridently anti-NATO.

It's continuously frustrating for nationalists like myself (and, by the looks of it, Siôn Jobbins and others) who have a lot of time for Plaid, but seem to acknowledge the many shades of grey in the world that they don't; a world that's still a lot more Game of Thrones than The Smurfs.

Article V is one of the few things preventing Russia violating the sovereignty of the Baltic States in the same way they have Georgia and Ukraine – many nations which are the same size, or smaller, than Wales.

Fortunately, Wales doesn't face this sort of threat, so participation in NATO isn't as urgent for us. We can oppose NATO membership because we don't really need it. It doesn't automatically follow that Wales should have a defence policy that wouldn't involve killing people - even if it goes no further than a glorified gendarmerie (once I've done foreign policy I'm planning on rewriting my defence posts).

I don't support WMDs or costly illegal wars either, but it's going to be a long march until the world is through with them. Until then, we need to know who our friends are, and we shouldn't start to pile ideological baggage on top of what are already very complicated issues.

It's clear that a lot of Plaid Cymru politicians look to the Nordic countries for inspiration. If they want to see what a coherent approach to NATO and defence policy is, then look no further than the aforementioned Finland and Sweden.

Armed neutrality and leaning towards NATO (without being part of it) would be in Welsh interests for practical and diplomatic reasons; plus there's no reason why we wouldn't be able to simultaneously promote peace and reject hosting of WMDs here - perhaps even working to eliminate them.

I mean, we consider the Americans and other major democracies allies and friends, don't we? Please tell me we do.


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