NATO losing war of narratives while Russia emerges as leader of nationalist bloc

nato-vs-russia

 

2016/08/10 • Analysis & Opinion, Military analysis, Russia

NATO’s most functional dimension has been its “soft-power,” which may seem bizarre as ostensibly it is a military organization. However, NATO contributed to the efforts to ensure world peace thanks to its preventive role, fulfilling the old Roman prophecy si vis pacem, para bellum.

In this regard, NATO’s diplomacy as an independent entity, as well as the diplomatic skills of individual members, is no less important  than the second strike capability or technological advantages on the battlefield.

But lately NATO has been neglecting an important aspect related to soft power and now facing the consequences, which now emerge as internal threats.

An organization’s common diplomacy and communication require a narrative which is shared by all participants, setting the main frame for strategies and tactical improvisations. However, NATO’s current narrative lacks a central axis, leading to conflicting diplomatic strategies of its members, which resemble a clash of narratives, when one side calls black what other calls white. This concept is sometimes defined as a “war of ideas” but is better called a “war of narratives.”

Basically, a narrative unites all tactical components of a strategy, enabling them to be efficient within a strategic umbrella.

A prominent example of a war of narratives was the “Free World – Iron Curtain” clash in the Cold War era, which to Soviet eyes was a “Capitalist Exploitation – Freeing the Proletariat” conflict.

Similar clashes of meanings have had various manifestations throughout history. However, all of them have one thing in common: narratives wear out.

Nowadays, it seems the whole western “narrative”, the Free World concept, is wearing out.

For example, when the Byzantine and Persian narratives wore out in the 7th century, a new narrative led by Mohammad stirred the once-decentralized Middle Eastern tribes and united them, turning them into one of the most dynamic forces which quickly conquered regions one by one. In his book “Histoire des Turcs,” historian and Turcologist Jean Paul Roux explains the conversion of Turks to Islam by a refreshment of the narrative which eventually led to the destruction and replacement of Byzantine empire by these energetic warriors driven by the dream of the promised heavens.

When the established narrative wears out, a new and energetic narrative arises, utilizing the problems and latent tendencies in the structure and creating a new hegemony. Nowadays, it seems the whole western “narrative”, the Free World concept, is wearing out.

Bogged down in internal affairs, the West forgot the “international war of narratives” component, allowing Russians to thrive in the vacuum. Russian irredentism tries to change the main narrative in order to undermine the western reaction against Russian atrocities. Pluralism, liberty, peaceful coexistence, and other western values and heritage are manipulated by impressive orators, who utilize them to disintegrate the EU and USA and undermine the strength of NATO.

Russia is emerging as the new leader of an also newly-emerging nationalist bloc.

Hatred against the USA and its allies, Israel, or propagation of conspiracy theories in many countries have become obligatory in many EU countries to be acknowledged as an intellectual. This definitely influences the public opinion. With the success of far-right parties in the EU, many of which have strong links to the Kremlin, and rise of Trump in USA, this influence is soon to realize itself as a change in the policies and decision-making process.

Russia is emerging as the new leader of an also newly-emerging nationalist bloc. The West, while being covertly nationalistic, has always despised nationalism in the open, and the reaction in the developing countries is the rise of a new wave of nationalism, rallied by the Russian leader Putin.

Even in Turkey, Erdoğan who once openly denounced nationalism, is now utilizing it to ensure the continuation of his reign. And since these nationalistic reactions in developing countries have rightful grounds, the West cannot suppress it. As Russia is creating its own framework of narrative on this nationalist wave, the West should embrace and create a favorable version of nationalism and endorse it.

However, in Turkey’s case, there is a worrying possibility that NATO sees Islamism a better option than nationalism. The USA’s refusal to extradite the influential cleric Fethullah Gülen on Turkey’s request feeds speculations that Turkey’s recent coup, led by the Gülen movement, was backed by America. As President Erdoğan continues to purge thousands of officials in the aftermath of the coup, resulting in the debacle of Turkey, Turks ostensibly become  more and more pro-Russian with anti-NATO sentiment high on the rise.

In this regard, it’s possible that NATO’s largest mistake was its lack of progress in enhancing and renewing its main narrative, thus jeopardizing its prospects to remain united in diplomatic and mental terms.

Unlike NATO, Russia has invested effort into renewing its narrative after the fall of the Soviet Union, which did not, however, significantly change its international strategic goals. During the Soviet era, Russia utilized the anger of class differences as the driving force of its narrative. Now Putin, using propaganda tactics would make Goebbels jealous, is convincing his people that the West is responsible for all the debauchery in the world, and also exporting this sentiment to Russia’s neighbors along with oil and gas, reinforcing the local nationalist tendencies with his narrative.

Facing the uprising of a new and fresh narrative, NATO, like the Byzantines or Romans of the past, was slow and inefficient in reacting and adjusting itself. Thus, it is losing the war of narratives. Currently, there is no common background or framework within NATO – all countries seem to seek their fate by themselves.

In order to prevent democracy becoming a disadvantage when facing the firm and iron will of an irredentist strongman once again, NATO must create a new, nationalism-embracing narrative based on the foundations of previous ones, to ensure that the policy and strategy remain the same no matter how frequently governments change. The public in the West lacks the enthusiasm and will to react to Russian aggression, making Putin bolder, feeding his hunger, which grows fiercer the more he is fed.

Edited by: Alya Shandra

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  • Ben Skinner

    Is it just me, or does the psychology involved seem downright mundane? Pavlov’s bell comes to mind, here. Yes, we understand that any large organization requires a consensus of trajectory, a common purpose. Is a lack of unified focus truly the deciding factor in Russian aggression and propaganda running unchecked?
    I don’t see this “vacuum” mentioned above, maybe my vision is poor. I instead see a lack of action, because perhaps that lack of action is what will yield the desired outcome for those allowing events to occur. NATO is not beholden to billions of common people, nor their desires. If NATO wanted to flex it’s muscle, or lay down a genuine ultimatum, it could have done so. A common narrative is hardly required in order to see that Moscow is out of line. The problem is excruciatingly simple! Are we to believe that a disagreement between Belgian and German beer brewing methods has crippled the abilities of an alliance dedicated (supposedly) to assuring safety and sovereignty of it’s member states and allies? Can we get past the fear of offending the poseur heroes, and just honestly say that something smells rotten?
    We all know that Putin has sleazy friends occupying key positions in foreign governments, industry and media. I say it’s time to call them all out, and stop making excuses for why NATO and the UN are so counterproductive. Oligarchy… it isn’t just an Eastern European thing!