Monday, August 29, 2011

NATO and "free markets"

I just heard a broadcast (on C-Span radio) of part of a discussion held last week by the Atlantic Council on "Libya and the Future of the Atlantic Alliance" (that may not have been the exact title of the meeting, but it's close). Several aspects of this discussion I found somewhat jarring. One was the use by speakers of the phrase "free markets" when referring to the values shared by NATO members, as in "democracy and free markets."

I dislike the phrase 'free markets' for a number of reasons and I was a bit surprised, though I probably shouldn't have been, to find it being used, apparently as a piece of boilerplate, in this context. If it is meant as a synonym for "capitalism" (the similar phrase "free enterprise" is sometimes used in this way), why not just say "capitalism"? But especially given the different varieties of capitalist economic systems represented by the member states of NATO, one could argue that an alliance commitment to spreading and/or defending capitalism would be odd, an argument that would apply to "free markets" as well.

One of the speakers at the Atlantic Council session, responding to a question about how to answer criticisms that NATO had strayed quite far from its original purpose, said that the alliance is a "living, breathing entity" that has adapted itself to new challenges etc., and he referred to the Strategic Concept adopted at the NATO summit in Lisbon last November. I just downloaded this document, and glancing at the opening paragraphs I see a reference to the shared commitment of member states to "individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law." Nothing about "free markets."

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