Branching Out – PfP & NATO

The PfP issue raises a number of questions. One of these is the link that there is between PfP and NATO – and it is brought up in the context of Malta’s neutrality clause. We had an interesting exchange of views between Mike Briguglio and Fausto Majistral on this blog. Here’s part of Fausto’s comment:

Mike, irrespective of whether one agrees with PfP membership or not, it is rather obvious that it is not a “branch” of NATO. A bilateral agreement between an international organisation and a country does not make that agreement a “branch”. Go and tell that to Vladimir Putin whose country has been in PfP since 1994.

I guess that the choice of the word “branch” is unfortunate in this context. To be part of the branch you have to be a part of the whole and this is evidently not exactly the case. Nevertheless there is no denying that the PfP does not exist independently of NATO but forms an integral part of its workings as a programme of collaboration with non-members. Here’s Ivan Camilleri reporting on today’s Times:

Malta’s application to re-join Nato’s Partnership for Peace programme (PfP) is expected to be given the green light tomorrow by the 23 heads of state and government of the alliance meeting during a three-day summit starting today in Bucharest, Romania. […] Nato’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council was set up in 1997 and provides the overall political framework for Nato’s cooperation with partner countries and the bilateral relationships developed between Nato and individual partner countries with the PfP programme.

So yes, the word “branch” is definitely a no-no. Whether that absolves PfP from any links with NATO and whether this has bearing on the interpretation of the “neutrality” clause is another thing altogether. The Nationalist party seems to be convinced that the constitutional clause is obsolete. Parts of the Labour party seem to think the same. Of the two, none are ultimate guardians of the constitution. Until the constitution is changed (in accordance with the constitutional mechanisms), the Constitutional Court remains the ultimate guardian of the definition of the neutrality clause and its application in the particular circumstance.

What many people, including myself, consider as a fact is the obligation of any government to tread carefully on such an issue. No matter how convinced one side or the other is about the constitutionality of its position there is no denying that circumventing the debate process, ignoring the electorate’s representatives and forging ahead in the hope that nobody challenges the move before the right court is a constitutional faux pas in itself. The damage has been done when, in the words of today’s Times editorial “To add more spice to the debate, the government chose to trip itself over its decision to re-apply for membership of the Partnership for Peace without first properly consulting the opposition or raising it in Parliament”.

Shifting the debate onto whether PfP is a NATO “branch” or not is a bit like missing the wood for the trees. Which is what I meant by “hard of hearing” in the first place.

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