Wednesday, 13 November 2019
Statements by Senators
North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Senators will be aware of the international concern at the invasion of northern Syria by Turkish forces. Among the critics of the Turkish action have been member states of NATO, Turkey's own allies. Senators will also have seen reports of the forthright comments about the NATO alliance by the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. In an interview with The Economist magazine he described the alliance as 'brain dead'. That is hardly diplomatic language. Other NATO leaders, notably the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, have been quick to rebuke him, but the cat's out of the bag.
There is reason to think that President Macron was saying publicly what other NATO officials and perhaps some other NATO heads of government have been saying privately for some time. Like him, they questioned whether the alliance can function if, as they claim, its leading member, the United States, is no longer a reliable ally. They cite the Trump administration's abandonment of the Kurdish militias in Syria and they cite the persistent belief that the Russian intelligence services have sought to manipulate elections in the United States and in European states. They also believe that President Trump is too close to President Putin of Russia. The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, while rejecting the French President's criticism of NATO, has supported his call for a European security council as a prelude to a new European defence framework.
Australia, of course, is not a member of NATO. Our alliance with the US arises from different strategic concerns. But these rumblings within NATO raise issues that are also matters for us. Last month, Senator Fawcett and I attended a NATO parliamentary assembly in London as observers. The assembly was held as the alliance prepares itself for the celebration of its 70th anniversary, but for NATO the anniversary has also come at a time for reflection on whether the alliance still serves the purposes envisaged by its founders. Many of the speakers, both NATO officials and academics, in the sessions that I attended spoke of a new threat to democracy: specifically, the rise of populist nationalism in NATO countries. These populist movements have arisen and in some countries gained office at a time when the global power balance is shifting.
NATO faces a range of challenges. Arms control has broken down, and the most powerful states in the world—the United States, Russia, China and India—have ceased supporting multilateralism. President Trump's often-quoted statement that 'the future belongs to patriots, not globalists' has become a slogan for populist nationalists everywhere, and at the same time rapid technological change is both transforming the structures of industrial economies and providing new ways for states to intervene in each other's affairs.
Climate change was given prominence throughout the proceedings of the assembly. It has transformed the Antarctic and opened up new issues with regard to resource exploitation and military deployment. All this poses serious problems for NATO, which has also presented itself with the great difficulty of how to deal with its stated claim of being the global champion of democracy. With a few early exceptions—there was Portugal under the Salazar dictatorship—NATO members have always been democracies. They've always sought to uphold human rights and the rule of law. They have sought to clearly contrast themselves in the past with the Soviet Union, but the Soviet Union no longer exists and NATO has expanded right up to the borders of the Russian Federation.
The Russian Federation, the successor of the Soviet Union, is still seen as an antagonist, although not in the same way. As the discussion of the assemblies made clear, the most perplexing threat to democracy now comes from within NATO states themselves. Some NATO members, especially Hungary and Poland, have governments that are increasingly authoritarian. Yet they are not single party states; they are governments that have curtailed basic freedoms such as the freedom of the press and the rule of law.
These populist governments can be seen as expressions of the resurgence of reactionary nationalism within Europe. They whip up xenophobic fears about immigration and about ethnic minorities within their borders; their rhetoric is straight out of the 1930s. They're a threat to the ideals of liberal democracy, and they treat the principles of liberal democracy with contempt. Yet they are, of course, full members of NATO.
Other countries seeking membership display similar characteristics. In those countries, corruption is rife. One of the contributors to NATO's debate, Celeste Wallander, wrote an article published last year, 'NATO’s Enemies Within', in the journal Foreign Affairs. She wrote:
To the extent Russia promotes ideology, it is that same combination of intolerant nationalism, xenophobia, and illiberalism that is on the rise in Hungary, Poland, Turkey and elsewhere in Europe ... Unlike during the Cold War, NATO's illiberal weak links now align with the Kremlin's tactics. They are the alliance's Achilles heel.
Populist nationalism is not only evident in Warsaw Pact countries like Hungary and Poland. It's also evident in the far Right movements in the long established NATO countries, such as the Alternative fur Deutschland, in Germany, the National Rally—formerly known as the National Front—in France and La Liga in Italy. We saw it in other parts; populism has driven Brexit's debate in Britain. There's more than a hint of it in the style of politics practised by President Trump. We've seen it in the belligerence of the Erdogan government in Turkey. Turkey's actions have angered NATO members not only because of the military incursions in Syria. They have known that Turkey has threatened to swell Europe's refugee crisis. Belgium delegates at the NATO assembly described this action as an action of an enemy and not of an ally.
Assembly delegates were keenly aware of the threats that populist nationalism posed to NATO's sense of collective purpose. They referred to it as 'democratic slippage' and 'democratic backsliding'. In terms of military capability alone, NATO remains superior to any potential external enemy. But military superiority can't resolve the internal challenges presented by reactionary, populist nationalism. So I'm sure that the view expressed by President Macron in his interview with The Economist would not have surprised delegates to the assembly. His remarks were unusual only in that they were so prominent and that a European leader chose to make them in such a public way.
There is a lesson here for Australia. I believe that, beyond the obvious fact that there is a weakening of that institution that has been central to the world order for 70 years, populist nationalism should be of a concern to people in the country. The upheavals caused by populist nationalism in Europe should be of concern to us because of the toxic nationalism that also exists in this country. It has been shown as capable of influencing election outcomes, as we have seen in this country, and, as we know, its voices are heard in this chamber.
Populist movements in this country, like those in Europe, seek to manipulate the anxieties of people who believe that politics and the economy don't work for them. Populists rely on a fiction that they are not part of the political system. They seek to pose as outsiders and for outsiders. They incite hatred of minorities, who they portray as the source of all the nation's ills. They do not seek real change to the political and economic system. What they seek are, of course, opportunities to be able to advance their narrow political interests.
The opportunities to participate in a conference such as the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, of course, was a privilege. In the run-up to NATO's 70th anniversary, the conference provided high-quality speakers and a high-quality dialogue amongst the politicians who participated. It was remarkable to witness the openness of the dialogue and the strength of opinions being expressed. Direct participation in conferences of this type, I think, is particularly important for members of this parliament. As our media has become increasingly and highly concentrated and hollowed out, the media coverage of world affairs has become extremely narrow. I think it's important for us to be able to get firsthand opportunities such as this.
We saw the recent statements in terms of our partnership agreement with NATO—principles that were outlined in the original statements set down in 2012—that Australia and NATO were dedicated to individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and that the partners re-affirm their original statements of adherence to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and that they are steadfast in their support for global peace and prosperity and a rules based international order.
While the rhetoric has changed, these fundamental principles are now under serious challenge throughout the West, and the institutional arrangements that support them need to be defended, particularly through parliament. (Time expired)