NATO: Past, Present, and Future.

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进入专题: NATO  

Vojtech   Mastny  

主讲人:By Prof. Vojtech Mastny (威尔逊国际学术中心华约与北约项目主任)



Thank you very much. It is a pleasure for me to be here. It’s a very special day for me for two reasons: first of all because it’s the first time that I come to Peking University. And secondly as I mentioned in the introduction that it is also a day my book has published and translated to Chinese. I am very pleased about that. It is very great for you professors for inviting me here. I recently have joined a project about NATO. I will circulate here the latest brochure about the project.

Before I go on, I assume that everybody can understand me very well, because I was expecting you to understand English. My English is somewhat indistinct. My wife often tells me about that. If you think that I am speaking too fast, just let me know it. I think that will help me to improve my performance.

Well. What I present today is about NATO: its past, present and future. Because I am a historian, so I will talk mostly about the past. But at the same time, I keep an eye on the present and also say something about the future. Maybe I will not narrowly focus on NATO, but also make some reflections about general security issues, even some issues about China. I will speak about those China-related things from a perspective of a man who is not a specialist in the area, although I am very interested in China. I am very concerned about the future of the United States and China relations. The relations are particularly important not only for the two countries but for the world at large. In the long run, I will have more chances to be here. Next time I will be here much longer but I hope the result will have more influence on the relations of two countries.

Let me speak about the history of the NATO. When the Cold War ended in 1989, or maybe 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. That gave us two better things. First of all, it was the first time for us to get access to some of the documents which had been made inaccessible by the Cold War, particularly those Soviet Union documents. I myself still remember the time that I was first able to do research in Soviet Union archives in 1992 just after the end of the Soviet Union and I was excited because I touched those documents I never expected that I would be able to see. To see the documents in the Soviet Union archives. And the second thing is more important: we were not looking the Cold War the way we had been at the time the Cold War was still lasting. For one thing, the Soviet threat faced such an important change. During the Cold War, it was a motive for the beginning of the Cold War. The threat was no longer there. We could look at it more correctly. At the same time we could make some conclusions where is right and where is wrong. That caused the NATO’s establishment in 1949, when it was created. There was a great fear in the Europe in particular for the overwhelming Soviet power, particularly military power. At that time the founders of the NATO believed that it was necessary to create a new alliance in order to cope with this Soviet threat. But today, the documents in the Soviet Union’s side showed that the threat was not real, as it was believed to be in 1949 and also later. There was not evidence for those fears that the Soviet was actually preparing the attack West Europe. So many people believe it as a danger at that time. So was NATO necessary or just a mistake to create the military alliance for the main reason of the attack. My conclusion here is that it was still a good idea to create it as the longest lasting military alliance in the history. There was also a longest lasting peace time. As we know today, it never caused a war until the Cold War was over at a very different circumstance, the war in Yugoslavia in 1992.

So I believe it was a great war to create the military alliance for a number of reasons:

First of all, to prevent in advance any possibility that then Soviet leader, Stalin, might concentrate to their advantage to transform the countries from a political ideological realm, including military as well. We know today that there was no such intention, but we don’t know what his intention might be. The existence of a military alliance might raise the cost of the potential aggression. We should mention here an example you know very well, the Korean War. At that time, Soviet materials, as well as Chinese materials, were transited to Korea after the war started. Stalin was convinced by then Korean leader, Kim yee-sung, that the military aggression in South Korea would be an easy success and that it would not lead to the involvement of the United States which Stalin feared. He was afraid of that danger before he was convinced by Kim Yee-sung that this wasn’t a risk and of course he was wrong. And the American troops involved soon. And the historical war took place.

Before NATO was established, there was not the same kind of organization which emphasized its risk and reactions in west Europe. Of course I wouldn’t speculate here what would have happened if there had been a NATO in Asia, for one thing it is difficult to find who would be a member of NATO in Asia. All I am saying is in Europe there was no war in 1950 or even later. There remained peace. So that could be seen as an accomplishment of NATO at that time. As the Cold war continued, as the competition between the east and the west in military sense, the arms race and particularly the nuclear arms race which was a feature of the Cold War, the nuclear weapons became only the deter any possibility of attack. From the view today, I would say that the importance of nuclear weapons was much exaggerated at that time. They did more harm than good. Other countries became inclined to see nuclear weapons as necessary in order to deter an aggressor. They believed that without nuclear weapons, the aggressor will take any opportunity to attack. The existence of nuclear weapons was certainly a deter effect, and all kinds of nuclear weapons were deployed in such an enormous numbers during the Cold War. Again looking at China, we could find that Mao’s decision to develop nuclear weapons could support the argument. He only developed very small amounts. France also developed its own nuclear weapons. They wanted to become nuclear powers and they believed they need them to become respective countries. But they never wanted to develop them in enormous numbers as the Soviets and Americans. I think that was an unfortunate decision in 1950’s by the United States under pressure from the Europeans, from NATO to develop tactical nuclear weapons. These tactical nuclear weapons accounted in enormous increase in the number. Also it was a very dangerous idea that somehow these weapons could be used in combats. Of course the nuclear arms race followed, leading to insane numbers. All of these weapons were held by both the superpowers.

Today it is not necessary and dangerous because the war expectation has disappeared. So the number could be controlled by the partial cutting treaty. I wouldn’t praise those leaders who developed nuclear weapons in small numbers, as in China and France. I wouldn’t regard them as good either. Nuclear weapons had no negative consequences for Soviet Union and the United States, but certainly they were not needed for either China or France to be recognized as powers. It was for other reasons that these countries, particularly China, became important and respected.

I think an interesting question is that NATO may not contribute to the ending of the Cold War, and I would call it a happy ending of the Cold War. It was done without the use of force and dangerous confrontation which could easily happened. I want to emphasize here is the importance of what happened in 1970’s and 1980’s. In one hand, nuclear arms race began but they would never be used. But at the same time, NATO and the United States developed new conventional weapons. On the other side, the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union was not able to develop them. In other words the west alliance was able to the advantage of the technological superiority. Its creativity in developing technologies and its new conventional weapons convinced the Soviet that the advantage of numbers——numbers of troops, numbers of tanks, numbers of artilleries——really did not matter because they could be matched by the conventional weapons of the west. That convinced the Soviet that they might lose the competition. They became clear that their system was not able to match the technological advantage of the west alliance.

I also point out the superiority of the organization to other nonmilitary organizations since the NATO evolved from 1940’s to 1980’s. The difference of the Warsaw Pact is that it is not a voluntary alliance. The different countries did not have to belong to what they wanted to belong. They often resented the American leadership within NATO because United States is much stronger that everybody else and did not always use its strategy in the way other members of NATO liked. But importantly, their mechanism still allowed the alliance to mitigate the natural differences among the members. That gave all the members a feeling that their participation, their membership mattered. In other words, despite the disparity in power, the voice of even small members could be heard. That was an advantage that the Warsaw Pact was not able to compete. The Soviet Union was not very good in mitigating its strongest power compared with other members. I do not have to emphasize that in China, it have to endure the unhappy experiences with the Soviet alliance. The Soviet alliance tried to exert its superiority in its relations with China. I do not emphasize that NATO provided a very good model of how countries distributing different power. It brought to the peace time in the military alliance, despite all the predictions that NATO would collapse because of the tension which always existed in the alliance. When the Cold War ended, one alliance disappeared and one remained. In that happening, military issues were not really very important. That was a surprise because everybody thought that it was important. They thought that the military rivalry would be important between the alliances. We could say that in 1991 or 1990 the Warsaw Pact and NATO provided lots of service as serving as the channels or the frameworks within which the enormous tensions that had been accumulated in Europe during the Cold War but eventually dismantled. The tactical nuclear weapons were strong unilaterally for Europe.

So that was NATO during the Cold War. And then we will talk about the present. When the Cold War ended, NATO found itself without the reasons for existence. The Soviet Union, the Soviet threat suddenly disappeared and the alliance had to find new missions unless it would be dismantled. There was such thought that it would be dismantled but it is very soon the thought was abandoned because there was a general belief that it was still a good idea to keep it, the military alliance, just because it was still needed for some future contentions. The problem became what the contentions would be, because suddenly the Europe found itself in 1991 more superior than any time in history. I see that it is possible to say that from a historian’s point of view we could not find a period in history where there was not a threat from the horizon. Soviet Union was gone and Europeans would not fight among themselves. That was an important consequence of the Cold War and it called down the possibility that Europeans fighting each other again. They could still remember the World War II when they had fought each other with such terrible consequences for themselves. And they learned the lessons and became to know that there were other threats. In some countries of East Europe there was a persistent belief that Russian would again become a threat. I will never give much weight to that possibility under the decline of Russian power in 1980’s. Russian will never again emerge as an important world power, only a regional power. It has lost its status as a global power. Nevertheless, there were other beliefs in 1980’s that it was still possible the threat come from the east which convinced Americans it was necessary that those East European countries join NATO. It happened that three new members in 1997 emerged. I believe that it was a mistake, or not necessary. It was not needed for those countries, neither for NATO. As NATO was enlarged, a new institution of the organization was created and the form was established under a very awkward name. But I still think it was a good organization, because it still provided opportunity to other countries to cooperate. Those countries could decide how much or how little they become members. That was for all powers, not only for members. They could decide how much or how little they cooperate with NATO. I will say more about it later. It was also important that it included not only European countries but all other countries from the Soviet Union to cooperate with NATO, including the successor republic in central Asia.

Well, let me say a few words about the military campaigns that NATO engaged in. It engaged in the conflict in Yugoslavia, the war over Kosovo in 1999. As all people know, it was a victory in the end in the sense that the enemy was defeated. It was, in my opinion, not a very glorious occasion for NATO. It worked in the end but it did not work very well. First of all, it started the war under awkward circumstances after opportunities to prevent the aggression by Serbia. Opportunities had past and the military action was not well prepared. And it last too long and created unfortunate incidents. I do not need to explain what it is. In the country, smart weapons were used in the war. They proved themselves so smart by hitting the Chinese embassy, and showing the smart weapons are always so smart as the people who eventually operated those weapons. (laugh) So I think considering the shortcomings of NATO as it has been organized in the Cold War, when the command was pregnant and military effectiveness would sacrifice the political consideration that could not be clearly expressed.

More recently, NATO are play a role in a larger picture. As we know, the terror attack to the United States last year, NATO members cited the article 5 that announced that the attack to one member would mean the attack to all. They expressed their solidarity with the United States under the attack. In the end, it did not have much military significance and the political significance of this particular incidence. It did not use its power very successfully or effectively. That it did not show much military significance was very understandable, because it did not make preparations well militarily for this campaign, which needed the kind of the military power only the United States, had. Other countries had only secondary roles in the campaign. So NATO did not play a role militarily and politically.

That is the most recent involvement of NATO. There will be a further enlargement of NATO including such countries as Romania, Bulgaria and so on. They are regarded as the members which deserved it, because they behaved well in the Balkan War recently. It is more for political reasons not for military reasons. They may or may not be admitted, because of the similarity of their political systems, of their communist experiences. They are experiencing a transition to market economy and democracy. It would be a different NATO. It brought some profound changes, changes in the importance of the distribution of military power. Let me start with the distribution. There is no doubt that the United States is militarily a superpower that was shown in the Afghanistan war. It has the kind of power that no one has and no one is likely to have in the future. New weapons of high technology are enormous expensive. Skills to operate them are also very important. So there will be, likely or not, disproportional distribution between the United States and other members. In the war of Afghanistan, there is no other country which could have the power as the United States that could ensure its success so well. That would not mean that military power will be still the most important thing in the future. Both the United States and other countries are going to recognize that there are other things that matter. Place of other countries in the world is not measured. Military power is not the most important thing today, because there is a clear cut situation where military power is needed as in Afghanistan. Economic, political and other dimensions of power will matter. So for that reason I would think that will also change NATO. It will change all of it.


1. A Chinese scholar wrote that NATO is now a collective security organization and the second one is during the Bosnia confrontation in the first half of 1999’s, NATO had a relatively better troops than the United Nations. During the Kosovo crisis, their relations has been challenged. Could you explain the reasons?


OK. Collective security organizations are basically the question of the terms. You can understand it as a collective security organization rather than a military organization. If it means that the emphasis is on the war prevention, peacekeeping, cooperation in security matters other than military, it is a correct description, the collective security organization. I think the notion is right.

The other question is interesting that NATO’s troops are good. During the first stage of the war in Bosnia, they were both good and equally ineffective. The activity of the UN, the NATO and the United States, all of them did too little to prevent the conflict from getting worse, from more and more people getting killed. So there was a good and smooth relationship between NATO and the UN. But it was not good for anyone, least of all for those who were getting killed. And in the Balkans, in the later stage, in the war of Kosovo, the UN more or less got out of the picture, in fact got out of the picture already. Bosnia war was stabilized and NATO faced the Soviet aggression in the way I have discussed which in the end was effective. And in the UN, NATO’s figure was more prominent because it supplied troops which were needed to keep the situation. So that the reason why the relations between the two organizations became different in the war.

2. Do you think there is any similarity between NATO and the idea the American president, Woodrow Wilson expressed in 1920’s?


Ain’t you really believe there is much similarity between the idea of Wilson in the twenties and the NATO? Wilson’s idea called for an international organization to end wars. The way international cooperation developed since World War II has been different from the one in the past. The United Nations started from the different promise Mr. Wilson couldn’t see, making five of the members higher than others. They are fundamentally different.

3. I heard many American scholars say that there are soft power and hard power in international relations. Maybe you can determine economic and military power as hard power but something else such as cultural and psychological as soft power. So I want to know just now you mentioned very much military power about NATO. I wonder whether there are some soft power such as cultural influence of the NATO on its members.

The second question is about other relationship between NATO and the United Nations. Frankly speaking, I think the UN should play an important role in the world such as peacekeeping, but actually I do not think it is playing such an important role. So I want to know your opinion about this status.


Where about the soft power, in my view, NATO’s soft power perhaps is the most important power: the advantage or superiority of voluntarily cooperation which gives the weak the opportunity to speak despite the predominant power of the United States that was an very important soft power within the organization itself. NATO was not only about planning for possible military action, but also about everyday cooperation among the ministry of different countries, among the politicians of different countries who could know each other, who adopted common ways of working within it. Over the decades NATO existed, to simply conclude, it had a much more common things than different ones. NATO was a community, regardless of any military ingredients in it. I would call that as soft power in NATO. Now of course in a wider sense, regardless of NATO, despite what has been happening recently, it is the soft power in the end making the difference. Maybe in a particular period and in a particular part of the world, military power is very important to defeat Taliban, where soft power is not needed. But increasingly, other dimensions than military ones matter. The ability to influence and induce cooperation by other means is what soft power means.

The second question is about the desire for a greater role of NATO. Sometimes it is difficult enforcing a greater role of UN. I cite here as an example that in the Balkans crisis, the UN failed to do elementary things to save people’s lives in face of the aggression. So as to avoid the limitation of UN, if we use the potential of NATO in other areas and peacekeeping work, maybe it will be better than the UN does alone. But it is not always the case. It should be sensitive to the advantages and disadvantages of NATO. In general it is true in those dimensions where non-military security issues matter, by definition, it is the UN should play a role. Yet as we know, the United Nations has over 180 members and is a very inefficient organization. So it cannot always do well and efficiently.

4. As the counterpart of the Warsaw Pact, NATO continued to exist after the Cold War. You gave us some reasons why it continued to exist. Could you give us a more detailed explanation about that? Especially, do you think whether the internal operational mechanism of NATO contributed to its existence after the Cold War?


Yes I think it is true NATO was able to survive the way it did because it operated better than the Warsaw Pact. As I really indicated, it operated better because it was better able to reconcile the different interests of different members. To cite an obvious example, the nuclear planning, in the Warsaw Pact the nuclear planning was a monopoly of the Soviet Union. Nobody could say anything about Soviet Union’s planning. But in NATO, there was a nuclear planning group established in 1967 which had a mechanism which gave the NATO members the sense of participation. Of course in the end, United States said more than others. But it was not a monopoly the way the Soviet Union did. And there are very many examples in different ways of operations, because of the difference between the political systems in the Soviet bloc and those in the west. The great advantage gave NATO the ability to take into account the diverse interests of different members and the diverse interests as the source of strength, rather than the source of the weakness. In the end, NATO was able to thrive because it could reconcile those interests that the Warsaw Pact’s leader was always afraid. So it fell into disintegration at last. Different styles of management may decide whether the organization could become stronger or weaker. In my opinion, the ability of the NATO and the inability of the Warsaw Pact was the main reason why NATO survived while the other disappeared.

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