Changing NATO

NATO is changing and its coming 20 years after it should have happened.

Since the fall of communism, NATO has found itself increasingly irrelevant, its role as a self-defence pact seen more as a disadvantage then an advantage. The problems:

  1. It’s original purpose for existing, combating the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, not only doesn’t exist anymore, but large portions of it have joined NATO since 1990
  2. The US, always the main player, has become seen as the leader of a hegemony rather than simply the biggest part of a strong alliance.
  3. NATO’s image has become tarnished due to its role in the Afghan and Iraq wars.
  4. Linked to the above, the mutual defence part of the organisation can no longer be seen as an advantage for most members who found themselves embroiled in the Middle Eastern wars despite a lack of cause.
  5. The organisation has balked at admitting certain members like Georgia due to its geo-political situation.
  6. It’s hard to see any major differences between NATOs current operations and the peacekeeping/nation-building exercises that the UN undertakes.
  7. The European members have started to turn more and more (very gradually) towards the creation of a combined EU defence force, rather than more co-operation with the United States.
  8. As a consequence, NATO can be seen as something that the US, who are ever looking more and more short of strong allies, needs more than the other members.

So, what can be changed within reason?

Adaption to the current situation in the world. Yep, my suggestion really is that vague. More specifically, responding to my own problems as above:

1. NATO lacks an enemy to justify existing? It’s mission statement must change to make its remit to combat terrorism in all its forms. If the member states were especially brave, they might also include despotic and rogue regimes but I doubt they’d go that far. A commitment to non-military methods to deal with such states might be a better thing to go for.

2. The organisation of NATO must change to reflect its multi-national make-up to a greater degree. No one is denying that the US is the big player, but you can’t push Britain, France and the other European nations aside. Most of them have lost soldiers in wars that were really only the US’s concern. They deserve a bigger say in how the alliance works, all of them. It’s their troops lives on the line, just as much as America’s. So, if a majority of the membership don’t want to do something, it shouldn’t happen. In fact, more then a majority. Membership of NATO should also only be as a result of approval by the people in a referendum regardless of the nation.

3/4. The organisation needs one of the following: the dropping of the mutual defence article, an opt-out for countries that feel any conflict that is involved under the article does not concern them (which essentially renders it moot) or a firm, open and legally binding agreement that the United States will conform to the letter of the article in the event that a European country invokes it. That is, if Britain, France or even Kosovo invokes the article, America will come to their aid without hesitation, something that is dubious at the moment in the extreme.

5. A more open, honest and firm membership application procedure. You either let countries like Georgia in, regardless of what Russia thinks, or you shut membership down. In essence, NATO either has to become closed, or find the balls to stand up to Putin and co.

6. Either a declared commitment for better cooperation with the UN in military operations or a declared commitment to not tread on their toes. If NATO is switching its focus to counterterrorism work, then its remit should not include humanitarian intervention, peace-keeping or peace-enforcement. It’s possible for a nation to be in the UN and NATO and their areas of responsibility can be clearly defined.

7. The US backs off. It’s none of its business what the EU is doing and I t has no right to interfere or attempt to disrupt such movements. Again, its possible to be a member of NATO and contribute to EUFOR or whatever its successors will be called. As long as their roles are clearly defined and differentiated. The US has to realise that Europe, the most democratic continent on the planet, is always more likely to be its ally.

8. The US has to acknowledge, publically if it can stand it, that Europe and its NATO members are important as is its position in the continent. America can pull that irritating “we’re number 1” act all it likes at home, but you know what? The rest of the world, Russia, China, the Middle East, and Europe must know that the US is not the all-conquering superpower it once was, that had to be obeyed without question. They can’t take on the whole planet by themselves. 9/11 and the years that followed have shown that. America is talking about pulling out of Europe all together and that comes with a pullout from influencing Europe’s ability to defend itself independently.

And further, outline, not public of course, but agreed between the member states and their military leaders, strategy of approach to a number of areas, to be agreed to and stuck too. This includes terrorist activity all over the world, the ocean pirate issue, the limitations of involvement and intervention in Africa, how it’ll deal with Russian and Chinese aggression in the future and so on and so forth.

I have very little faith in NATO’s ability to actually pull all of that off. The organisation is a dinosaur and I would consider it more likely that it will simply fall apart or be wound up within a decade in favour of its former role being delegated to the UN, EU and other regional associations.

That, and America would rather see the organisation die off then give up the throne of power willingly. They see the defence cuts in Europe and view them as a problem. They’re worried that if trouble strikes, they’ll have to carry the slack.

But, the thing is, the last few years have all been about Europe helping America carry the slack, in Kosovo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Somalia. It’s been American led or pressured operations being backed up by European manpower.

Europe is waking up to the realisation that it doesn’t have to be that way. We can look after ourselves collectively, without needing to call on the obnoxious asshole across the way. What’s he done for us lately? Europe has already taken the first steps towards a unified defence plan, one that does not require American support, not in the form of NATO.

That’s fine for Europe but not for America. It’s up to them to save it. If they want to, they can, but they might not like how they have to do it.

This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency (COIN), History, Iraq, Middle East, Politics, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Changing NATO

  1. Lenny says:

    Very good clear analysis of the situation. I agree with pretty much all of it, though I’m of the opinion Europe should just drop NATO. No matter in which of the realistically achievable ways NATO changes, it brings very little benefits compared to the costs of being involved in American military escapades. And, honestly, American military escapades are all NATO has ever done, and all it will ever do.

  2. Hey Dave,

    interesting read, would you be interested in doing something on the EU battlegroups? Their capabilities (especially the unique capabilities each country brings to certain groups) and the legal implications for Ireland?


  3. HandsofBlue says:

    Having talked about this with more knowledgable sources, there are somethings I want to add:

    NATO does provide other benefits then those that I’ve mentioned though I would question some of them being worth the risk of being dranw in to another Iraq-style conflict.

    Access to US strategic airlift capacity is a huge advantage to the, comparativly, underfuned EU Aif Forces. Then again, this really only comes into play during NATO operatioan which are, as noted, nearly always American endevours.

    NATO also spreads the US intelligence network around. While the true extent of such things might never be known, for good reason, it might actually be NATO’s most important fucntion at the present time.

    Lastly, it has been pointed out to me that while criticism of NATO has increased markedly in the last few years, the organisation has remained intact and will probably be much easier to maintain during peacetime. That is, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drawing to a slow close, it will be easier to be a member of an military alliance that has (relativly) nothing to do.

    I still question its abilty to last and remain relevant in the current day and age, though maybe its upcoming conference will alter that perception. As it is, I offer the opinion that another Iraq-level war, perhaps a conflict with Iran or North Korea, would seriosusly threaten the existence of NATO (if, like after 9/11, the self-defence pacts were initiated). Great Britian simply won’t steadfastly follow the US into the breach again, and France have never seemed interested. Many NATO nations were iffy about commitments to Afghanistan which does not bode well for such a scenario.

    Thanks go to Newbreed.

    The EU Battlegroups are an interesting topic of discussion and one that I might tackle in the future. Certainly, one could argue that our involvement with them is testing the limits of our neutrality.

    An interesting day if it happens.

  4. Cecelia says:

    would be interesting to see a revisit to this post in light of current events. Two points -Don’t the battlegroups exist on paper only? the closest thing to a functioning one is the Nordic Group and none of them could put anything in the field without US support re:ISTAR not to mention airlift and mid air refueling. Consider France is one of the EU’s most capable military and they could not invade a third world country (Mali) without huge assistance from the US. Second – Americans want out of Europe. They see no need to pay the bill for a prosperous continent especially one that moans and groans about Americans all the time. I was struck by how many European strategic analysts – when Putin moved into Crimea – immediately started calling for two US battalions to be returned to Europe. Huh? There aren’t any European battalions? US disenchantment with Europeans is a huge factor to be considered when speaking of NATO.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s