Paul Anderson, review of After the Cold War: Building on the Alliances by Mike Gapes (Fabian Society, £3), Tribune, 19 October 1990

What role, if any, will Nato and the Warsaw Pact have in a post-cold war Europe? For most of the eighties, nearly everyone on the British left would have answered: “None”. There was a widespread con­sensus that the military bloc division of Europe should be ended and the blocs mutually dissolved – a feeling that found its way into Labour policy.

However, for all but the last couple of months of the eighties, an end to the cold war seemed at best a very distant prospect and possibly a wildly Utopian dream. Hardly anyone had begun to think about how a post-cold war Europe might come about, let alone about what “mutual dissolution of the blocs” would mean in practice. The British left was unprepared for the col­lapse of “actually existing socialism” in eastern Eu­rope and the unification of Germany, and even now the debate about how to respond has barely begun.

In such circumstances, this pamphlet by the Labour Party’s senior international officer is most welcome, if only as a means of stimulating discussion. Gapes ar­gues that a hew security system for Europe is a high priority, and that the best way of proceeding, in the short term at least, is to merge the military and politi­cal structures of Nato and the Warsaw Pact to create a new European Security Organisation.

Gapes justifies his rejection of simple “mutual dis­solution of the blocs” on three grounds. First, it is essential to have some sort of structure to prevent a resurgence of competing nation states in Europe, in particular to keep a united Germany well integrated with the rest of Europe. Second, the new security system must not exclude the super-powers, both of which will have a military presence in Europe for the foreseeable future, or the countries of eastern Europe. This rules out a central role for either the Western European Union, of which nine West European Nato states are members, or the European Community as currently constituted. Third, there is no existing non-exclusive structure that could adequately replace the blocs as the basis for a new security system. The 35-member Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe might eventually play a major part, but it “currently has no staff, no facilities, not even a tele­phone number”.

Much of this makes good sense: there is indeed a need for a pan-European security structure, and it is imperative to resist calls to strengthen a purely Wes­tern European military alliance. But it is question­able whether Gapes’s joint Nato-Warsaw Pact ESO is the best way forward. The Warsaw Pact is in a far more advanced state of decay than he admits, while Nato is thrashing about in confusion: at the same time as welcoming the end of the cold war, it has clung to its strategy of nuclear “flexible response” and is still planning modernisation of its air-launched nuclear forces. Even so, merging these two obsolete alliances would be a long and difficult task, and the process could all top easily produce a horribly bloated military organisation – all joint brigades and multi­national arms procurement projects – when what is needed is a means of ensuring demilitarisation of Eu­rope. Basing a new security system on the CSCE pro­cess from the start, with early negotiated disbandment of Nato and the Warsaw Pact, would be simpl­er and less likely to bring forth a monster.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.