As 2019 came to a close, the coincidence in timing between the Nato summit in England and the UN’s COP25 in Madrid could not have been more telling of the international system at a crossroads inflection. This convergence underlined an important dimension they shared in common: global security in crisis; that is, global security in the traditional sense of geostrategic dynamics involving military threat perceptions, alliances and preparedness and in the more recent sense, dealing with the climate crisis.
This latter non-traditional threat perception increasingly exacerbates traditional ones as environmental security imperatives inform national strategies motivated by competitive access to resources and how they must be shared regionally among sovereign nation-states. Or we witness population movements driven by droughts and floods generating “climate refugees” along with cross-border international tensions caused by smog from out-of-control fires of deforestation threatening natural ecosystems.
Hence, we have entered a dangerous age of traditional and non-traditional threat perception inter-linkage while the world seems no closer to coming to terms with more traditional threats emanating from a return to late 19th- to early 20th-century geopolitical power politics. Which brings us to French President Emmanuel Macron’s determination that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, Nato, is experiencing “brain death”. Macron’s temerity triggered an almost instant rejoinder from Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Nato “ally” Turkey. Erdogan shot back that Macron is experiencing his own “brain death”!
With joker US President Donald Trump watching in the wings, predictably, no one among mainstream punditocracy ventured the possibility that both Erdogan and Macron are right. Yes, Nato is experiencing “brain death” and so is Macron! Why so? — and we will in due course bring this back to the climate crisis. But first, Macron vs Erdogan.
A decade after venerable departed Zbigniew Brzezinski penned his exhaustive Foreign Affairs commentary “What Next for Nato?” billed as his charting “the future of the world’s most important alliance,” little progress has been made in navigating the terrain Brzezinski mapped out as “An Agenda for Nato” for adjusting to a transformed world. After having united the West, secured Europe and ended the Cold War, a fundamental failure Brzezinski did not acknowledge was the continuing East-West fault-line in global geopolitics. Brzezinski did, however, suggest a need for Nato to go beyond the Russia-Nato Council by engaging Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organisation in arriving at a Nato-CSTO agreement while reaching out to Asia by establishing a dialogue with the Sino-Russian led Shanghai co-operation Organisation (SCO).
Was Brzezinski on to something? The SCO has emerged as the premier trans-regional co-operation platform throughout Eurasia, expanding to include India and Pakistan as full members. They will eventually be joined by observer members Iran and Afghanistan. Moreover, SCO has its own working group on Afghanistan.
The CSTO, meanwhile, remains on the margins of Eurasian trans-regionalism while Moscow has launched its own Eurasian Economic Union as its adjunct to Beijing’s SCO dominance, a convenient mechanism for pursuing its Belt and Road Initiative. With India now a full SCO member, the RIC trilateral between Russia, India and China, all belonging to BRICS, presents Nato with a trans-regional interlocutor on security issues which could be engaged in eventually defusing the East-West divide.
Instead, this cleavage continues animating “great power” dynamics when the SCO could be elevated within the Nato strategic imagination as a counterpart peer forum for multilateral problem solving; this way, there could be a transcending of unilateralist compulsions in favour of accommodation such as in offering a multilateral exit for the US and Nato from the Afghanistan “nation-building” quagmire which should more properly be stabilised under SCO aegis with UN Security Council imprimatur.
Scandalous revelations in the Washington Post series on how administration after administration misled the American public on Afghanistan (already likened to the Vietnam Pentagon Papers) underlines an urgently needed radical foreign policy rethink. Such a scenario could signal institutionalising a Nato-SCO security partnership for Eurasian stability, transcending East-West divisions. This could apply to Syria as well. It might also facilitate updating the collective security calculus to advance world peace as preconditional to mobilising for global climate change defence.
Yet Macron seems far from raising anything along these lines despite unsettling Nato members when suggesting a more relaxed posture toward Moscow instead of Russia remaining in the cross-hairs of Western threat perception. This is where a Nato-SCO linkage might multilaterally mediate such power political specificity in what could unfold as more manageable East-West engagement across this enduring divide. Instead, Macron is more concerned, and rightly so, about intra-Nato capacity and especially Europe’s credibility and strategic autonomy within the alliance. This is no doubt influenced by Trump’s assaults on Nato as obsolete. Yet, Macron may have psychologically reversed Trump into an uncharacteristic show of support for the alliance.
Otherwise, Macron is very much concerned about a role for Nato in and around Europe’s periphery as in the southern Mediterranean and beyond with his G5 initiative. This is where Erdogan’s riposte regarding Macron’s own “brain death” carries substance. After all, why should Nato have a security role in this EurAfrican interregional space when France continues implicitly supporting the absence of an African Union regional economic community in North Africa, one which might help fill a gaping security vacuum but for a Western Sahara stalemate preventing operationalising of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU)? Instead, Paris remains committed to its divide-and-rule imperium as an “African power” via Morocco’s intransigence combined with Libya’s internationalised destabilisation.
Given Turkey’s entry into the Libyan equation in support of the UN-backed government, were Nato to play any sort of stabilising role in the Mediterranean, this would have to involve it and/or the EU in dialoguing with the AU in negotiating a shared sovereignty regime in the Maghreb between Morocco, the Saharawis and Algeria, activating the AMU inclusive of a self-determination referendum under UN auspices.
It remains to be seen if South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who assumes chairmanship of the AU in 2020 (while South Africa remains on the UN Security Council) will press the new EU leadership — and Nato — regarding this vital AU-EU security “things to be done” with more imagination than the usual solidarity diplomacy. Franco-Moroccan undermining of AU integrationist integrity needs confronting — or has “brain death” migrated below the Sahara to Addis Ababa and Tshwane as well? An equitable Saharawi resolution between the AU and EU should be of no small consequence for Europe’s positioning in the unfolding future balance of global power with Brussels situated between Asia and Africa while America retreats into not-so-splendid Trumpian isolation.
Barely coping in Madrid
Yet the coincidence in timing of Nato’s London deliberations and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change talks in Madrid could not have been more striking in illuminating a widening disconnect in global security discourse. With Nato stuck in a bygone era revisiting great power issues that ought to have long been resolved while the urgency of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agenda looms ever larger in a year of horrendous deforestation infernos, from Brazil and Bolivia to Indonesia, Australia to California, the global security disconnect between past and future could not appear more ominous for planetary and human sustainability.
In short, the new threat perception should be framed as a shared urgency of Climate Change Defence. However, if Madrid is anything to go by under the COP25 chairmanship of domestically embattled Chile, the international community is barely coping; and this is while a geopolitical balance of forces realigning on the climate change strategic landscape is rapidly emerging from the more longstanding East-West fault-lines.
Here, the new incipient alliance broadly perceived pits a Europe in search of “strategic autonomy” threatening the US and other major emitters with carbon tariffs joined by developing countries, including small island states; these urgently need of technology transfer and underwriting of “nature-based solutions” for reforestation, restoration of forests, wetlands and mangroves while protecting the livelihoods of communities intertwined with sustaining ecosystem biodiversity.
But the deadlock on emission reduction targets resulting in COP25 failing to agree on carbon markets appears geopolitically to underline shifting fault-lines. Thus, the BRICS-aligned BASIC comprising Brazil, South Africa, India and China has evaporated into a big emitters right-wing alignment of Australia, Brazil, China, India and the US (pending the outcome of 2020 elections).
However, the dominance of the emission-cum-carbon markets stalemate as the COP agenda centrepiece obscures the biodiversity threat within climate change defence equations and whether or not sanctions might not have to enter into consideration in combatting rampant deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia while beefing up environmental security forces throughout the global South.
Or whether or not on emissions as well as biodiversity and ecological security there should not be established an Environmental Peer Review Mechanism within the COP process in driving Paris Agreement accountability and beyond.
If a return to a neo-Cold War between the West and what some perceive as a Sino-Russian condominium can be avoided by arriving at a Nato-SCO accommodation, then maybe a UN Security Council-UNFCCC architecture might ultimately transcend all that transpired — and didn’t in London and Madrid. DM
Francis A Kornegay Jr is senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with the University of South Africa and co-editor with IGD executive-director, Dr Philani Mthembu of the forthcoming Africa and the World: Navigating Shifting Geopolitics published jointly by Jacana Publishers with the Mapungubwe Institute of Strategic Reflection.
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí