hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Saturday, 31 May 2014

The NATO Club

2BS Conference, Budva, Montenegro. 31 May. Budva lies cupped in the clasped hands of a rocky giant nestling in a deep bay alongside the azure Adriatic.  This is a beautiful place in a beautiful country waiting its patient turn to take its full and definitive place in a Europe whole and free – something the rest of us too often take for granted.  Indeed, the powerful 2BS (to be secure) conference at which I am writing this blog is by its very existence a reminder of a Europe as yet unfinished.  Something of which the stupor-awakening fate of Ukraine this year is all too eloquent.  Montenegro waits in hope and expectation that along with three other aspirant states membership of NATO will be offered at the Wales Summit in September. So, what does it mean to be a member of NATO in 2014?

Perhaps the best way for me to answer that question is to admit something I have been trying to keep secret; I am a golfer. Now, I am not a very good golfer.  Indeed, I am probably what one might term a Scud missile golfer – good range, no direction.  In fact I play what can best be described as Beatles golf with each round a Magical Mystery Tour that takes me to exotic places on courses hitherto undiscovered.  Indeed, if I got a pound for each shot I hit I would be a very rich man indeed.

NATO is a kind of golf club.  There is the one really rich bloke who has the money all the latest golf kit and can indeed play.  However, he tends to wear loud trousers (or ‘pants’ which to the rest of us are a form of underwear) and talks a lot.  Then there are a couple of newly-rich who have gone out and bought the kit, but cannot play and rarely turn up.  For them what matters is being seen alongside the rich bloke from time-to-time even if they find golf rather distasteful.
There are one or two old, snobbish formerly rich members who can still play (although they are getting on a bit).  However, they do not like the way the club is changing and in any case can no longer really afford to play.  For them hiding the fact of their decline is what matters even if the state of their ageing kit is a dead giveaway. 

The bulk of the paying members are made up of the aspirant middle class for whom membership is all about, well, membership.  They cannot really play at all and can only afford a few clubs. However, membership gives them a real sense of social standing denied their parents.  

Finally, there are a few young members who are absolutely broke, hang around the club house but given half the chance would be all too happy play with a bit of tuition.  Sadly, they are routinely ‘bumped’ by the older, richer members who hog the course, make a mess of it, a nuisance of themselves and turn golf into a form of trench warfare.

Then there are the people who would love to get into the club if only the committee would deem them worthy of access.  These poor people are placed on interminable waiting lists and often given long, stern lectures about the club’s values, traditions and ‘standards’ which members are 'required' to uphold.  Of course not one of the members actually uphold the values or the standards of the club. And, if one took a careful look at the true financial status of not but a few it would reveal the dangerous relationship between snobbery, bankruptcy and golf. 

NATO faces a choice.  The great age of enlargement is ending and a new age of strategic engagement is beginning.  One only has to see how Russia is extending its soft influence again into places like Serbia to realise the relationship between Open Door enlargement and strategic engagement.  Those seeking membership cannot be kept waiting indefinitely to join either the NATO or EU clubs, although the EU club has so many rules and regulations that no-one actually ever plays golf - they just talk about it.  

Some of these aspirants may be a bit rough round the edges and have table manners that may leave something to be desired.  That said, one only has to see the manners of the rich, loud bloke with the loud pants to realize that the great uncouth can also be found within the club house.  However, because he has real money he is routinely forgiven.  Where did he get those 'pants'.

The Wales Summit was meant to be the Partnership Summit.  It has been hijacked and rightly so by the Ukraine crisis.  However, partnership must mean something and if the Alliance is to be a club made fit for the twenty-first century it will need young, new members.  Indeed, once membership is offered then not only will the ability of the Montenegros of his Europe to play improve but a whole host of other manners will also be finessed – democracy, governance, rule of law and anti-corruption.

For all the hypocrisy and hubris at my golf club at the end of the day we are all golfers – good, bad, rich, poor and utterly rubbish. We are also members of the same club. If we fail to offer membership to the young and upcoming there is always the danger they will go and join another club which observes no rules at all!

Julian Lindley-French

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