NATO or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was formed right after the second world war, as a formal pact of “democratically elected” western European and North American states, as a security alliance against what was then thought as a growing menace of communism. It was formed as a super national organisation of almost similarly governed countries, not only to stop the communism advance from the East of Europe, which was already under puppet communist governments formed by the Soviet Union, but also to maintain the supremacy of the USA which was determined after the second world war, when even though the manpower cost of US was massive, no particular infrastructural damage was done on its soil, as compared to the war ravaged rest of Europe and Russia. Also, US economy was the strongest in the world at that point of time, due to weapon sales during the war period.
Like, General Lord Ismay, the first secretary general of NATO so eloquently said, the object of NATO was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”.
Naturally, the war ravaged, economically weakened, and fearful Western European states, in a rapidly decolonising world, thought it prudent to join the nuclear umbrella of the predominant global power with a similar value system and society.
However that was over 60 years back.
Like all good things, NATO is also past its prime. Here are the reason’s why:
1. The lack of credible threat :
The overwhelming threat of nuclear Armageddon was over when the Warsaw pact was dissolved, with Eastern European communist states liberated by round of peaceful revolutions, and an imploding Soviet Union, which ceased to exist. In a post cold war world, NATO suddenly found itself without any credible opposition. Not that the world suddenly became very peaceful…no. But in this newer world, the threats were also different. They were disproportionate, scattered, shadowy, expansive, and ever mutating. In a new world, with new security systems, actors like Somalian Pirates, hackers, religious terrorists, proliferation of WMDs, drug trafficking and other non-state transnational actors became major players. NATO, with its military machine and cold war mindset, found itself craven, senile and obsolete in front of all these factors. Even though immediately after the post cold war world, NATO, in order to keep itself relevant tried to reinvent roles for it to fill, it was not much successful evidently, from its peacekeeping roles in Srebrenica, Kosovo, or Afghanistan.
Which brings us to the second point…
2. Fighting will of the member states :
Robert Gates said at a Munich conference in February, 2009, his final speech, that NATO could not survive if it became an alliance “of those who are willing to fight and those who are not.”. I think that sums up the point pretty much. Apparently NATO member states like Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Belgium, etc. couldn’t identify with the threats in the modern times with what it faced 20 years back, and the reason why it actually joined NATO. Peacekeeping in Herzegovina, according to them essentially was under the jurisdiction of United Nations. There were a lot of infighting and reluctance from a lot of members in NATO over the mandate of Bosnia, as it was the first European war in over 50 years. There was also a lot of urge by some major non-anglophone European powers to show the world that they can actually manage a conflict in their neighbourhood without the active involvement, leadership or guidance of United States. Due to the resulting dilemma the conflict was so horribly mismanaged, that it would have been hilarious if not the tens of thousands who actually perished. Ultimately the United States had to force everyone to sign the Dayton accord. Similarly, recently in Libya, Messers Cameron and Sarkozy, due to different political motivations but with an apparent will to show their leadership skills, launched the intervention, but within two weeks of the assault, the massive mismanagement and lack of ammunition that I would quote again Robert Gates, from the same address, “Future U.S. political leaders – those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me – may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost. Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform, not counting the U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more. The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress – and in the American body politic writ large – to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense. The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference. ”
Which brings us to my third and fourth point, which I have clubbed together due to lack of time, and as they are interconnected,
3. and 4. Economy and military capability :
The economy of USA was always the driving force behind NATO. While it was tolerable during the height of cold war, it is hardly affordable now, with the economic situation changed worldwide. Also, one important and often overlooked factor is, the western European societies are mostly welfare, and even the most watered down text of President Obama’s healthcare bill will be considered absolute right in Europe, while it would be considered absolute left in US. So a fundamentally different paradigm exists among the US and its allies as to what amount of national cost is to be spend on defense, and what on welfare. Now, while during the cold war it was justified for US to keep thousands of troops in Europe, while European governments happily spend on the welfare, it is becoming desperately tricky now, to explain the same thing to the American electorate, as to why would the US soend American tax dollars to secure Europe, essentially when the Soviet threat has vanished. Hence all the outbursts from elected US officials urging Europe to “shoulder their own defense and responsibility”. Secondly, with the massive expansion of NATO, a myriad of states actually joined, which are in no way equal in standards as far as military capability or efficiency, national economic power, will and stomach for a fight, mindset of electorate, or governance. Many eastern European states like Latvia, actually joined NATO during the second wave of expansion just out of a fear of Russia, and also to some extent for the glamour of being in the World’s mightiest alliance. However, as the classic example goes, majority of all those who went to party, were reluctant to mop the floor after the party was over. The contribution of some members are quite comical and symbolic in this ever unequal burden sharing, like Iceland, a NATO member send 4 soldiers to ISAF Afghanistan, and 2 to Iraq coalition force. Luxembourg send 11 to Afghanistan. Reminds us of the famous quote of Eisenhour, “Because we had had our troops there, the Europeans had not done their share, they won’t make the sacrifices to provide the soldiers for their own defense.”
Finally my 5th and 6th point :
5. and 6. Legality and Practicality :
NATO was “victorious” at the end of the cold war, without even a single shot fired. Infact the only time NATO article 5 was invoked was after 9/11, even though it was not from another sovereign state or group of states, even though the World’s mightiest alliance couldn’t stop it, just like it can’t stop the everyday hacker attacks from China. However, bending the rules that was probably the only time, NATO acted in self defense, all the other conflicts it were involved were wither preemptive, or interventionism. Even then though they were plagued with problems, as NATO was neither experienced a long drawn battle, nor was it experienced in successful peacekeeping, asymmetric warfare, policing, or nation building. “By multiplying its security guarantees, the U.S. is becoming less secure,” Cato institute defense policy expert Ted Galen Carpenter said, “the alliance is “superficial” and a “hollow façade,” a dinosaur with a “feck less military performance” in Afghanistan.”
As of practicality is concerned, this mindless expansion of NATO in the east might sooth the egotistical nerves of policy makers in the German Marshall Fund, it is actually pushing a sullen Russia further away into revanchism, which in the long run would actually be counterproductive as far as security partnership is concerned. Perhaps Sir Malcolm Rifkind puts it most practically “The U.S., Britain and France would not go to war with [Russia] to force South Ossetia back into Georgia.”
Even though it is not strictly within the scope of my discussion, I think, perhaps it is time for NATO to undergo a complete overhaul, and restructuring, trim down additional flab, limit the scope, and prioritise its aims. Perhaps it is time for them to have a long look at the mirror.