NATO: Still alive and well
The United States just scored a diplomatic/military coup by getting the ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to vote unanimously to station tracking-radar sites in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland. Although the missile defense system is designed to protect Europe and Israel from Iranian missile attacks, Russia’s Valdimir Putin was put out by the NATO decision.
Another burr under Putin’s saddle was the recent U.S.-backed independence of Kosovo. Indeed, post-Cold War, the U.S.-led NATO has steadily expanded its membership eastward into the heartland of the Eurasian landmass. Even so, following the NATO meeting, Putin was a gracious host to the U.S. President and First Lady at Sochi on the Black Sea --Russia’s opulent version of Camp David.
Following World War II, the efforts by Hitler and Mussolini to turn Europe to a fascist form of national-socialism had literally gone up in smoke. From Norway to Greece, Europe was a shambles. Only the victorious Allied military possessed any vigor. But the Red Army, which was not demobilizing, was poised to invade westward to fill the political vacuum created by the war weariness of the western democracies.
In 1950, to counter the Soviet threat, the Americans and the British conceived of NATO. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was placed in command of the first five nations to join. By the end of the decade, NATO had 14 member nations. Now, there are 26.
NATO commands were interesting places to work. The top NATO commander is an American, his deputy is most often British, although some German generals have served as second banana. This layering of nationalities is a feature of all the various NATO headquarters. The official NATO languages are English and French. Later, when French President de Gaulle decided to withdraw France from the military portion of NATO, French faded.
At the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) headquarters in Moenchengladback/Rheindahlen, the staff was jokingly instructed as to which languages to speak on which days: “Monday: English; Tuesday, Dutch, Wednesday, German; Thursday, French; Friday, Danish; Saturday, Norwegian; Sunday, AMERICAN (we are closed Sunday).” The sign was posted where visiting American intelligence agents could not miss it. We found it only mildly amusing.
But once all the “spooks” got to recognize each other as members of “the club,” our joint efforts were, sometimes, hilarious. During the Christmas season, it was the custom for each nation’s spooks to make a formal “call” on the others. The visiting group would come with gift-wrapped whisky or cognac bottles in hand. The bottles were presented with great ceremony. The host group would then lavish the visitors with fine drinks and food. This routine would be repeated until all the groups had called on each other. This took weeks.
But giving away tax-payer purchased booze presented an accounting nightmare. So, our office would place the bottles presented to it --unopened -- in a secure cabinet, to await the time when they would be “re-gifted” to some other intelligence agency. A covert mark was placed on each bottle to make sure it was would not be given back to the original giver.
Eventually, it became apparent that all the intelligence agencies were playing the same booze-recycling game. Our marked bottles were reappearing. To avoid filling out the detailed forms demanded by the bean-counters at higher quarters, none of the NATO intelligence agencies were opening and drinking their tax-payer provided schmooze booze.
What was being consumed during those convivial holiday visits was being paid for out of the pockets of the host agents. Finally, the charade became so obvious that all the agencies confessed to each other. But the camaraderie was too enjoyable to stop.
We thought the accounting problem was solved. Then, higher headquarters sent a blistering cable: “Because you are not expending the gifts we have provided, you must not be conducting necessary liaison with your NATO counterparts!” Go figure.
Syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, William Hamilton, is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and a former research fellow at the U.S. Military History Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is a member of the Association of Intelligence Officers. He is also the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy – two thrillers about terrorism directed against the United States.
©2008. William Hamilton.