Transatlantic Relations Initiative: Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Security Policy Alejandro Alvargonzalez speaks on NATO
Students who gathered to hear Alejandro Alvargonzález’s answers to the complexities of current global politics left the event “NATO: Mapping of Challenges, Causes of Anxiety” with even more elaborate reflections. The talk, hosted by the IE School of Global and Public Affairs on Oct. 8 at Maria de Molina 2, sparked curiosity as the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs and Security Policy of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, discussed topics ranging from Russia to the United States and from the role of institutions to threats to democracy.
Alvargonzález was set up by an introduction about the erosion of the current global architecture — NATO being its cornerstone —, with the world order being more questioned now than at any other time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO’s challenges, as well as where it stands in the changing global order, were at the forefront of the discussion. IE adjunct professor of International Relations, Michele Testoni, introduced the assistant secretary general, who started the lecture by laying out the current state of geopolitics. We are living in a complex time, with a global social revolution tendency, widespread concerns about security especially as it relates to borders, and overall great uncertainty, he said. The balance between world powers is at risk and is being disputed.
NATO’s Alvargonzález proceeded to talk about Russia, indicating that the most controversial actor of current global affairs will likely continue to struggle with its neighbors and with the world order, as long as it has not defined its identity and the kind of player it wants to be. The period between the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the 2014 invasion of Crimea was constantly referred to by the assistant secretary general as the “times of red wine and chocolate.” It was followed, however, by Russia starting to question the West’s capacity to deter and respond to its threats and actions. NATO’s core value of unity gradually started to be challenged, and the alliance moved from having defensive spending at its lowest just four years ago to now having to assess a hybrid and more complex state of warfare. Disinformation, cyber attacks, interference in elections and a wide range of new issues completely changed the condition and scale of global conflicts.
This generation’s biggest threats, Alvargonzálvez said, revolves around trans-Atlantic and inter-European frictions and the gradual erosion of faith in institutions such as NATO and the European Union, not to mention in democracy itself. He described NATO as mainly a political organization, but with a military toolbox at its disposal, and based on agreements of increasing cooperation. This relationship, he added, is vital to our free societies and needs to be preserved. Alvargonzález also addressed the several existing threats to democracy and the underlying competition between it and authoritarianism. A solid transatlantic partnership, he said, is an essential element to keep democracy in good health. With this hook, he proceeded to discuss the changing role of the United States and its recent shift in foreign policy, adopting a more isolationist posture.
Europe, feeling populism breathing on its neck, cannot think of leading alone or leading in solitude, Alvargonzález said; there is no sense in being aloof, and the United States and the European Union need one another. Before taking questions from the audience, the assistant secretary general concluded by saying that in this vital time full of contrasts, geopolitical actors cannot claim that the challenges presented are not their responsibility anymore, and excuse themselves from the difficult leadership tasks ahead. We have learned to build institutions that serve the common good and need to protect it in times of crisis, he said.
The questions and answers portion kicked off with an inquiry about the ability of NATO to maintain relevance in the current context of global affairs. The student that addressed Alvargonzález noted that NATO weakening from within as Europe becomes more fragmented, Russia trying to dictate their own rules and the moral authority of the West being questioned could all be symptoms of a crisis regarding the alliance’s capabilities.
Alvargonzález responded by noting that NATO is but a reflection of a group of nations unified, an organization, a military alliance; the symptoms reflect that maybe the West itself is weakening, not NATO. He added that NATO took the role of an alliance when there was no existential threat, then became an organization, and now is going back to alliance models, adjusting to what is required of it in different contexts. The assistant secretary general closed the event arguing strongly for the continuous need of an alliance based on a common set of values defending freedom and exercising leadership. Since 2014, NATO has been recovering from a weakened state, and he added that he would love if such an alliance and at times “global police” was not necessary — but added that the leadership is very much required.
Written by Giovanna Z. Rinaldo is a journalist and a Master’s of International Relations student at IE University. She can be found on Twitter @giozrinaldo and on LinkedIn.