NATO brought peace to the most violent continent on the planet by binding its states together in a collective security pact that forbid them from fighting each other and committed them to coming to one another’s defense. In this way, the emphasis on NATO as a hedge against Russian aggression overlooks its role in bringing peace to its member states and gives the false impression of a zero-sum relationship wherein Russia can win only if Europe loses. Since its establishment in 1949, NATO has created a hedge against potential Russian aggression, but it is far from its only purpose.
In keeping Europeans from killing one another, NATO opened the continent to trade and the free movement of peoples, thereby paving the way for the European Union, as Timothy Andrew Sayle points out in his epic history of NATO, Enduring Alliance. It made social-democratic institutions like universal health insurance and paid family leave possible by sharing the costs of defense among a multitude of states. It helped spread democracy by demonstrating that democracies are safe and secure, prosperous and peaceful, in their relations with one another. Thus, an ever increasing array of states sought entry into the club of wealthy democracies as a refuge from violence and disorder. And in bringing such a diversity of peoples together, NATO helped transform some of the most militaristic and nationalistic societies in the world into some of its most peaceful and cosmopolitan.
In this way, it probably also played a part in transforming colonial regimes like Britain and France, Portugal and Spain, into normal nation states.
If the vast majority of us have forgotten what a danger European states were to one another and how militaristic European societies could be, it is largely due to the way collective security arrangements allowed them to let their guards down. Thus, the idea that NATO is an imperialistic military organization bent on expansion misses the point. NATO was always a critical hedge against the Soviet Union, but when the Berlin Wall fell it remained essential to the institutional architecture at the heart of the European Union. Its abandonment would have come coupled with dramatic increases in military budgets and corresponding decreases in social safety net programs. And it would have brought about the remilitarization of Europe’s most vulnerable states, which it would have set on a quest for new protectors, thereby spurring the creation of new power blocks.
In so doing, it might have spelled an end to the fledgling European Dream.
Of course, collective security pacts also send a signal to would be aggressors that if they ever did attack, they would be up against several states at once, and in the case of NATO dozens. But NATO has been an astonishingly peaceful military pact. Over the course of its near three-quarters of a century existence, it has carried out only three military interventions, a statebuilding mission in Afghanistan, and a small counter-terrorism operation in Iraq. It stopped the Bosnian Genocide, which had already killed well over hundred thousand people, through a limited bombing campaign in 1995, which killed only 27 civilians. It halted the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo, which threatened to displace hundreds of thousands of people, through a more extensive bombing campaign in 1999, which according to Human Rights Watch killed up to 529 Serbian civilians.
Finally, NATO helped bring down the Gaddafi regime after he embarked on the most intensive killing spree of any leader in the Arab Spring and then threatened to go “door to door” hunting down the rest. According to Libya’s own ambassador to the United Nations, who Secretary General Ban Ki Moon described as begging the U.N. to intervene in an unprecedented display of sobbing before the General Assembly, Gaddafi had just given the signal for his troops to commit genocide. According to Gallup, 75 percent of Libyans told pollsters a year after the intervention that they had wanted NATO to intervene, in spite of the intervention having killed 60 civilians, according to the UN Human Rights council. It was only three years later in 2014, following the degeneration of the world order brought about by Putin’s unanswered theft of the Crimea and Assad’s unanswered obliteration of his own country, that Britain and France would allow the Libyan statebuilding mission to fall apart as the country slipped into civil war.
All in all, over the course of its three-quarter century history, NATO military missions were probably directly responsible for less than a thousand civilian deaths spread out over three humanitarian interventions, the vast majority of which involved a state that is now an associate of NATO, which is on track for entry into the European Union in three years. The only other major campaign it engaged in was a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan, where member states mostly helped with statebuilding, police trainings, financial management, and the provision of aid following the United States’ unilateral invasion in 2001. In a remarkable act of coordination, NATO member states each took on a different element of the statebuilding mission in Afghanistan, with only the United Kingdom engaging in heavy fighting in one small province, which they had committed to keeping secure.
If these campaigns are remembered as being vastly more violent, and if a narrative has emerged that sees NATO as an expansionist imperial force, it is mostly because NATO missions are often confused in our collective memory with those of the United States and the former empires of Europe. It is also the result of Russian propaganda, which claims a “sphere of influence” tied to its former imperial possessions, many of which have joined NATO. And this points to another misunderstanding about how NATO actually works. Potential members request to join it, and far from being pressured, they have to demonstrate a commitment to democracy and the rule of law if they are to be let in.
States have the right to join whatever international associations they want, and spheres of influence are a dated claim seldom invoked today outside of the Putin regime and Trump administration. Meanwhile, states on the periphery of Russia have a better reason for seeking entry into NATO than ever before. Yet, in overlooking the way collective security pacts foster the peaceful relations and prosperity of their member states, we help foster a narrative that sees NATO as an expansionist military organization locked in a zero-sum competition with Russia.
Yet, Russians will only win when they establish genuinely democratic institutions, the rule of law, and the domestic respect for human rights. If Putin has overplayed his hand as much as it seems, they might soon find themselves lining up for NATO membership as well. And if that turns out to be the case, it would not be a reason to disband NATO but rather extend the order it has brought to Europe to Russia as well.
This vision of a liberal internationalist order, wherein democratic states extend the rule of law and a respect for human rights to an ever increasing array of voluntary members, may appear utopian amid the threats and crimes against humanity of autocrats today. But it is no more fantastic than the “European Dream” of a peaceful continent of democratic states would have appeared at the end of the Second World War.
Stranger things have been known to occur than democracy breaking out following the downfall of fascist strongmen and peace breaking out after war.
Bangladesh-UK strategic dialogue: Significance in the post-Brexit era
On September 12th, Bangladesh and the UK held their fifth strategic dialogue. The future of Bangladesh’s ties to the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit has been the subject of much conjecture. Analysts questioned Dhaka’s duty-free access to Britain, which has been generous to an LDC economy like Bangladesh’s, as the UK prepared for its exit from the EU. However, the United Kingdom and Bangladesh have weathered these worries quite well. Rather, the statement by FCDO Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Philip Barton during the dialogue, sums up the strength of Bangladesh-UK relations in current times- “The Dialogue is a reflection of the growing relationship between our two countries, and our desire to work together more closely on our economic, trade and development partnerships and on regional and global security issues.”
Dhaka and London are having a great year on cooperation and connectivity. In the post Brexit era, the year 2023 seems like to be the year that will shift the ties between these countries from a bilateral partnership to each other’s crucial strategic partner in the current geo-politics.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina went to participate in the formal inauguration of the new King Charles III of the United Kingdom earlier this year. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had only good things to say about Bangladesh during the visit. This is also reflected in London’s post-pandemic approach to Dhaka.
Bangladesh-UK held their first ever defense dialogue in March of 2022 where they discussed various ways of strengthening cooperation including defense, security and trade and climate change. This year started with the second Bangladesh-UK Trade and Investment Dialogue on February. Both the UK and Bangladesh agreed during the discussion that they would want to enhance their trade connection in order to increase their prosperity. This discussion was followed by signing an agreement on March for working together in climate action bilaterally and multilaterally to help deliver the outcomes of COP26 and COP27.
UK’s Indo-Pacific Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan signed the doctrine during her visit to Bangladesh which also signifies UK’s understanding of Bangladesh’s geostrategic importance in the Bay of Bengal and in the Indian Ocean.
So, this dialogue was surely a much anticipated one among the foreign ministries of these countries.
The provisional agenda included the state visit of President Mohammed Shahabuddin to the United Kingdom in November and the possible visit of British King Charles III (Charles Philip Arthur George) to Bangladesh in 2024. Other than that bilateral trade, investment, and market opportunities; migration, mobility and a new visa scheme for students are expected to be at the top of the agenda. Discussions on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the Rohingya crisis will also be featured.
The more complex agendas this year include discussions on mutual legal assistance and the extradition of convicted persons.
But Bangladesh has failed to gain an extradition treaty with UK. Although both countries agreed to constitute a joint working group to discuss migration, mobility and mutual recognition of qualifications, and agreed to sign a standard operating procedure (SOP) on returns of Bangladesh nationals in irregular situations in the UK.
The discussions regarding extradition issues if was fruitful, it might have helped the government to bring fugitives to national justice finally. Except this, the strategic dialogues between these countries in recent years have usually brought deep discussions and decisions on bilateral issues.
On the first of this strategic dialogue was in 2017, the issue of defense purchase was discussed- a much needed ground setting for the Forces Goals 2030 of Bangladesh. On the last edition of this dialogue, held in London back in 2021, the UK pledge to extend duty-free, quota-free access to its market until 2029, aiming to facilitate Bangladesh’s export-led growth.
Not only that, UK also added Bangladesh’s name to the list of the Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS) where the country will experience a more simplified regulation system and reduced tariffs on its products entering the UK. This only adds to UK’s commitment towards Bangladesh’s development – where the country is already one of the biggest developing partners of Bangladesh.
UK’s such generosity towards Bangladesh isn’t only because of the benevolence of its heart. The country is now out of the shell of EU, certainly has to widen its reach across other regions. Indo-Pacific is its preferred place to start.
Bangladesh’s geostrategic location between China and the Indian Ocean with its advantage of having a gate way to Southeast Asia makes Bangladesh seemingly the perfect candidate for UK’s strategic interests. Both countries have also announced their Indo-pacific policies which focuses mainly on their economic aspirations. With such resonating goals for the region, the countries can definitely build a bigger stage of collaboration with each other.
The countries used this occasion as the pinnacle of their further economic cooperation as Bangladesh and the UK have agreed to create new institutional cooperation to promote business, trade, investment and are considering signing a new MoU on economic cooperation. They also discussed potential increase of cooperation and capacity building on global and regional security issues of mutual interest, including maritime and blue economy goals in the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean.
The UK also announced a further £3m contribution to the Rohingya response, taking its total contribution since 2017 to £368m.
Another important discussion was on defense and cooperation where UK expressed its interest in selling advanced weapons to Bangladesh for protecting its air and maritime territory.
UK already recognizes Bangladesh as a critical stability provider in the Indo-Pacific and as both the countries have played their cards right, one could argue that bilateral ties are stronger than ever before. The dialogue has served as a further golden thread binding their visionary future together.
Greece-UAE Relations through a Personal Lens
Bilateral relations between two countries are cultivated over time through shared values, partnerships, as well as common strategic interests and concerns. This is the case between UAE and Greece, as described below as per my personal experience.
As part of the bilateral military cooperation, the F-16s of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) came to Crete and trained with the Greek crews in the operational environment of the Eastern Mediterranean. Emirates aircraft have also frequently flied from Greece during operations in Libya.
Any strategic analyst, in order to study, understand and then successfully analyse the complex issues of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, should have visited the countries in the region and should have exchanged views with their citizens and experts.
I visited the UAE as a member of the Greek delegation of the Ministry of Defence, but also, I was member of the team hosting the UAE military delegations in Greece, for the signing of the annual bilateral military cooperation programs.
The First Official Experience.
The first official visit to the UAE was my participation, as a representative of the Greek Ministry of National Defence, in IDEX-2001 (International Defence Exhibition & Conference). The entire event was held under the patronage of Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The hospitality was excellent with accommodation at the Abu Dhabi Officers Club which is an impressive building with a bat-shaped architectural design, with hydro-cultures in the inner corridors and wonderful gardens in the surrounding area.
At my disposal was a luxurious white car with the Greek flag on the windshield and an officer of the Emirates Air Force as my escort. This officer had studied for ten years in the United States, attending professional development Training Schools. He was an outstanding professional with military training and strategic thinking.
During a break in the scheduled activities of the Exhibition, the attendant offered to give me a “surprise” as he called it and show me something that connects the UAE and Greece. I accepted the challenge. We visited a small harbour in the north, where colourful boats from Iran were moored. Merchandise was spread out on the dock and on the boats, creating a great bazaar like a flea market. The strange thing was that around this peculiar bazaar there were iron bars and a strong police presence.
My escort explained: “we have serious problems with Iran, but we wish to maintain good relations with Iranian citizens through trade. For this reason, we allow this trade bazaar to be organized at regular intervals”.
Relations between UAE and Greece
“What does this “bazaar” have to do with Greece?” I asked, and my escort explained: “Iran claims islands of the UAE and has taken a military operation on Abu Musa Island where there are oil wells, as well as on the Little and the Great Tunb islets. These are near the entrance to the Gulf, inside from the Straits of Hormuz. Due to the depth of the sea, large ships must pass between Abu-Musa and Tunb, giving to these occupied islands great geostrategic importance, that Iran has been exploiting since their military occupation.
The UAE has submitted a formal proposal to the UN for a negotiated settlement of the disputes with the goal of a final settlement at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), based on International Law. On the contrary, Iran has militarized the dispute by occupying the islands with military forces. The Iranians do not accept the validity of International Law for these islands, because as they believe, historically they once belonged to the Persian Empire and were occupied by the British, who then handed them over to the UAE under an international treaty.” Iranians do not respect this International Treaty.
Concluding, my escort mentioned that the tension in the relations between the UAE and Iran resembles the corresponding relations between Greece and Turkey, especially after the Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus. “Our staff monitors and analyses the way Greece deals with Turkey’s aggression, both diplomatically and militarily, and draws useful conclusions that we apply in our relations with Iran. This is our unique strategic relationship with Greece,” he told me.
Turkish Ministry of Defence Industry
Within the framework of the IDEX Exhibition, the Turkish Deputy Minister of Defence Industry invited all participants to a reception at one of the luxury hotels in the area. After proper advice from Greek Ambassador Zoes, I accepted the invitation. On the evening of the reception, I approached the Turkish Deputy Minister for the formal reception. The “allied” official offered me the emblem of his Deputy Ministry saying: “I want you to have as a gift from me the emblem that symbolizes the development efforts of the Turkish Defence Industry. We plan to be self-sufficient in the production of weapons systems in a decade.”
The emblem was a red glass ladybug with a large eye on her right spine. I thanked him and walked away to my companion who witnessed the brief conversation and commented, “the Turks are making a very strong presence at this IDEX. They are trying to secure Arab funds for the development of their Defence Industry.” In a period of about ten years, they managed to gain access to Arab funds from Qatar, while in 2013, in their favourite tactic, they managed to establish a military installation in Doha.
For the Hellenic Aviation Industry (HAI)
In the year 2009, I visited the UAE once more time as member of a delegation of the Directorate of International Relations of the Ministry of Defence/National Defence HQ. One of the topics discussed was related to the Hellenic Aviation Industry (HAI). The ground technical personnel of the UAE Air Force were trained in the past at the Hellenic Aviation Industry (HAI) in Greece. The UAE officers resided in the town of Chalkida about 80 Km north of Athens, contributing to a certain extent to the economic life of the town. I had been informed by Chalkidian friends that the Emirati military were very friendly and were beloved by the locals.
The training of the UAE Air Force Staff was halted after an unfortunate moment of misunderstanding occurred by the representatives of the Police and Diplomatic Authorities of Greece at the expense of the Sheikh when his aircraft made an unplanned landing at the Hellenikon International Airport of Athens on March 2000.
Being in the UAE, I requested to meet with Colonel Mohammed who was the head of the last group of UAE technicians trained at the HAI. In the context of traditional Arab hospitality, the Colonel offered a working dinner. During the discussion, he mentioned the pleasant memories he had from his stay in Chalkida, but also the professionalism with which HAI organized the training of the technicians he supervised. Of course, the decision to resume technical training was far away from the jurisdiction of the Colonel, but he promised to work to support the resumption of bilateral cooperation between Greece and the UAE for the training of UAE Air Force technicians in Greece.
Finally, after ten years, the efforts succeeded and in 2019, an Agreement was signed to restart training of UAE AirForce technicians in HAI.
The Last Official Visit to UAE.
In November 2011, I visited the UAE once again, as representative of the Hellenic Ministry of Defence. During this visit, an extremely important event happened, precisely on the day of the opening of the Airshow and specifically during the day of the official reception. All the guests formed a line in front of the host Sheikh Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The protocol of introduction and greeting was a formal process that unfolded in a calm and repetitive pattern.
When I approached the Sheikh and presented myself as representing the Greek Ministry of National Defence, something spectacular happened. Putting formalities aside, the Sheikh grabbed me by the shoulders and with genuine interest asked me: “How is Greece dealing with the economic crisis?” Will she be able to overcome it?” Impressed by the Sheikh’s reaction, I replied: “Your Highness, those of us who love Greece will help it deal with whatever economic problems the recent international crisis creates.” “Yes, indeed this is what we have to do” he replied.
After the reception was over, I headed to the exit of the hall in order to watch an aerobatic demonstration. Suddenly I felt a light tap on the shoulder. Turning I saw a gentleman in a grey suit, who politely asked me: “Excuse me, do you know the Sheikh personally? Because this appeared from your conversation. I replied that it was the first time I had ever met him in person, but we were connected by our common interest in the economic future of Greece. The gentleman nodded and handed me his card. He was the Defence Minister of India.
Thoughts and Conclusion.
The strategic threat faced by the UAE from Iran is like the strategic threat faced by Greece from Turkey. To counter this threat, the National Defence Policy that is formulated in both friendly countries is almost identical. On this basis, it is possible to develop relationships that are not temporary and situational, but a strategic cooperation that will be strong due to mutual understanding and mutual respect.
The development of the Greek Defence Industry is suffering due to the lack of vision, political determination, and long-term strategic planning. There is great opportunity for collaboration between the UAE and Greece on the field of Defence Industry. In contrast, the competitive Turkish Defence Industry, despite its structural problems, managed in a single decade, after succeeding to receive Arab funds from Qatar, not only to develop and cover much of the needs of the Turkish armed forces but also to export defence systems.
High Time for Multi-Track Dialogues between Greece and Turkey
Dialogue is a valuable communication process that fosters mutual understanding among warring parties, paving the way for conflict resolution. Dialogue can take the format of track-1.5 and track-2 diplomacy to sustain channels of communication either when discussions between officials have ceased or when there is need to engage civil society, and groups of experts. As known, Track-1.5 dialogue involves non-government experts along with government officials who participate in an unofficial capacity, while Track-2 engages only unofficial members. While both tracks constitute the so-called “back-channel” diplomacy, none holds the official importance of traditional diplomacy.
Since members of these meetings participate unofficially, they have unprecedented freedom to exchange views informally with counterparts who they might otherwise see only as competitors or adversaries. These meetings allow time for one-on-one “walks in the woods” that can generate new ideas and fresh approaches to solving problems, without the must-achieve pressure of diplomatic summits.
It is upon this logic, that the Geneva Center for Security Policy (GCSP), an international foundation with 54 member states and the Canton of Geneva that facilitates discussions between civil servants, military officers, diplomats, experts, and civil society, provides substantive support and acts as secretariat of the Eastern Mediterranean Initiative (EMI). EMI is an inclusive dialogue platform for collective reflection and action that brings together experts from around the Eastern Mediterranean region.
Since 2020, GCSP has facilitated a series of Track-2 meetings between EMI experts from Greece and Turkey to discuss maritime differences in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean Seas. Swiss sponsored Track-II meetings have turned into an interactive conflict resolution process that developed concepts of sustained dialogue among Greek and Turkish experts during a period that tensions climaxed between Greece and Turkey.
In fact, nine Track-2 meetings were held along with respective meetings in Greece and Turkey where experts on both sides discussed differences over maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean Seas, and not issues of “national sovereignty”. Greek and Turkish experts, participating in their private capacities, have created dialogues that would otherwise be impossible because of frequent communication gaps among their countries. For example, exploratory talks resumed in January 2021 after a five-year hiatus.
As a result, these Track-2 meetings hosted by GCSP, free from the constraints of formal government-to-government discussions, have operated in a painstakingly fostered climate of openness. The meetings have created a sense of comfort and trust, encouraging otherwise wary and aloof experts from both countries to engage, share ideas, and develop a common statement. This statement comes at a time that Greece and Turkey prioritize dialogue to settle their maritime differences. The meeting of the Greek Premier with the Turkish President on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius after the devastating earthquake in Turkey, where Greek rescue teams were sent in affected areas, led to the reignition of the engines of an action-oriented formal (Track-1) dialogue between the two countries. Political dialogue, Confidence Building Measures, and the Positive Agenda are the three pillars of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement.
Let us Continue Dialogue
The statement by Greek and Turkish members of EMI, among them Prof. Yücel Acer, Lt Gen (retd) Ioannis Anastasakis, Ms Antonia Dimou, Prof. Talha Köse, Prof. Petros Liacouras and Prof. Zuhal Mert Uzuner, goes as follows:
One hundred years ago, Turks and Greeks put an end to decades of confrontations through the Treaty of Lausanne. Within only a few years, this led to an almost miraculous friendship between the two countries. Since then, however, new conflicts arose over issues that were not on the table in Lausanne, among them the delimitation of maritime zones in the Aegean and beyond, as the Law of the Sea evolved at the global level.
Nonetheless, the issues to be resolved are much less complex and painful than the ones that were settled one hundred years ago. And the reward for overcoming the differences would be a huge win-win situation for both nations. The way to a settlement is not going to be easy and will require a will to accommodate each other’s crucial and legitimate concerns. The fact that the supreme principle in both customary international law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is that of “equitableness”, could greatly assist overcoming differences.
The Greek and Turkish people have lived side by side for hundreds of years, sharing the same geography and developing commonalities in culture and customs. It is a fact, proven through countless personal encounters and by recent opinion surveys in both countries, that at a personal level, Greeks and Turks get along well and do not see each other as enemies. All of us, as individuals and members of our respective societies, can contribute in this spirit to overcome remaining prejudices and distorted concepts of the other side and create a degree of understanding of its legitimate concerns. This is required if common ground is to be found.
Thus, we can encourage and support our leaders in going down the road of completing the basis of peaceful and fruitful neighborly co-existence, that was established one hundred years ago. They have recently decided to engage in an enhanced process of dialogue and deserve our full support in this endeavor. Success in their search for common ground will have positive repercussions outside our borders in the whole Eastern Mediterranean and beyond. At a time when to the north of our region, political differences have led to unbearable bloodshed and destruction, this could inspire others.
Once again, the region of the Eastern Mediterranean, which is the cradle of various civilizations, could become a beacon of light onto humanity. Let us not squander this opportunity.
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