Major existential problems mean the organization may soon unravel.
Istanbul — April marked the 65th birthday of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, formed at the height of the Cold War to stop the huge post-war Red Army from overrunning Western Europe.
NATO in 1949 had only twelve members, comprising Western Europe, Canada, and the United States. Its original mission was simple. According to the alliance’s first secretary general, Lord Hastings Ismay, NATO was formed “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”
Western Europeans were terrified of the Soviet Union, which had just gobbled up all of Eastern Europe. They feared that the American army would go home after World War II, just as it had after World War I, consistent with its isolationist past. And the war-torn democracies were scared that Germany might quickly rebound to prompt yet another European war for the fourth time in less than a century.
Sixty-five years later, the Cold War has been won and has now been over for a quarter-century. Germany is quite up. The Russians are not so out. America seems not to want to be in anywhere.
Those paradoxes prompt some questions. Is NATO even needed in the 21st century? Can it survive its new agendas and missions?
Article 5 of the NATO charter calls for all members of the organization to come to the aid of a fellow member if it is attacked. Article 4 is a watered-down version that obligates NATO members to consult on mutual defense when asked by a threatened member.
Oddly, these two articles were never put into play during the nuclear dangers of the Cold War. They have been invoked only fairly recently — mostly for terrorist attacks, Middle East crises, and fear of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
An aging and tired NATO now suffers from three existential problems. Perhaps none are fatal in isolation. But when they are taken together, it is easy to see how NATO might soon unravel or be rendered irrelevant.
First, the military weakness of Europe has long meant that for all practical purposes, NATO is ATO — the American Treaty Organization. The European Union may have a gross domestic product and population larger than the United States, but on average its members spend far less than half of what America budgets for defense.
American protection of Europe has made Europeans reluctant to sacrifice some of the good life for their own defense. Being rich and weak is a dangerous combination. Worse, the subsidy has created European feelings of resentment toward the more powerful American big brother.
Second, Putin has compromised many NATO members through Russia’s many lucrative gas and oil deals. What would happen if Russia spread its aggression from Georgia, Ukraine, and Crimea to other former Soviet republics? Tiny NATO member Estonia, with its large Russian minority, would seem a likely next candidate for Putin’s machinations.
Russian intervention in Estonia probably would not prompt NATO to invoke Article 5. Or, if it did, it is dubious whether all NATO members would go to war to save an independent Estonia, which is nestled right next to St. Petersburg.
It is said that Putin fears provoking NATO. More likely he will soon seek to wreck it by deliberately bullying weak and distant NATO members like Estonia, over whose independence Europeans are unlikely to start a war.
Third, the expansion from twelve to the current 28 members vastly complicated the alliance’s responsibilities — and vulnerabilities. To paraphrase Frederick the Great, protecting everything now means often protecting nothing. Turkey is now becoming an obvious problem.
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in his eleventh year of undermining Turkish democracy and Islamicizing the country. Erdogan is a friend of anti-American and soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. He despises democratic Israel and is unashamedly pro-Hamas.
Erdogan also has had various beefs with war-torn neighbors Syria and Iraq. Occasionally he has intervened against semi-autonomous and pro-American Kurdistan.
Turkey still has territorial disputes with fellow NATO member Greece in the Aegean and over Cyprus. Erdogan still resents being turned down for European Union membership.
If Erdogan’s growing rivalries ever escalated into real wars, it is likely that many NATO members would more readily sympathize with his enemies. Yet Erdogan has exercised Article 4 more than any other NATO member.
NATO is not fully supported financially or militarily by its own members. Its expansion has created obligations that it has no intention of honoring, nor the ability to do so. And it has members whose politics and policies are becoming antithetical to the original idea of defending the liberal values of democratic Western Europe.
One day soon we will wake up and NATO will have simply vanished with a whimper.
© 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
13 thoughts on “The End of NATO?”
Not soon enough. Related…it would be next to impossible to get 50 US states on the same page suggesting a similar fate sooner or later in the US. Hmm..maybe what the planet needs is a really serious global war to combat global warming.
Victor forgot about France selling a helicopter aircraft carrier (and another navy ship) to Russia. You would think one of the first rules of something like Nato would be “we don’t sell arms to our enemy”. But I guess life is complicated and the French economy is so messed up Hollande will sell to the devil himself if if means a few well paying jobs.
I hear the French are offering the Russians a really good deal on rope, too.
Why is Russia being treated as “the enemy”? What has Russia done to Europe? The reality is that the US is trying very hard to revive the Cold War against Russia and pull Europe away from Russia in its own favor. American leaders are worried about the US losing its global power and leadership status, and Russia happens to be a major contender in this arena. In fact, this article touches on many points of America’s current narrative for the global situation, reminding us quite unnecessarily that Iran is “anti-American” and “soon to be nuclear”, both of which are silly, simplistic, unfounded assertions.
Russia isn’t being treated as an enemy. You forget that Russia shot down a plane full of Europeans? Ukrainians have decided to move to a Western style of government and not Putin’s autocracy. Russia is intimidating a nuclear free and weak neighbour who is trying to transition peacefully into a country totally opposite to Russia.
Western Europe reminds me of a child whose parents always made his life easy, and who never learned to fend for himself. I suspect that as long as we continue to commit to defend the EU against their enemies, they will have little incentive to spend time and resources to develop an adequate military structure. We need to not abandon them as the current administration seems to be doing, but to slowly wean them from their position of dependence.
In the USA, it’s finance. In China, it’s manufacturing and outright thievery. And in Europe, its slow decay. In 5 to 10 years, the United States shale oil bubble goes bust—as does Opec’s and Russia’s ability to export enough oil from very old fields. Couple the statements above with the build out of the Chinese and Russian military…… Pray for a republican sweep in 2014 and 2016, The USA needs to get it’s house in order to meet the coming chaotic changes. With more Leaders of the free world in mom jeans and a nancy pelosi style wussification of the country, You can kiss Europe and the Middle East’s oil goodbye.
When European factions begin to rearm due to Islamic threats, internal rivalries, Russian aggression and an American military pullback its going to get ugly. Add that to that the potential for conflict in the South China Sea to say nothing of the Middle East feces storm and you’re looking at bloodshed on a massive scale. America needs an economic turnaround and militarily renewal for us to just weather the coming conflagration.
To even the most casual observer, the Crimea has bogged down despite the “threat” of Russia’s so-called military superiority. Therefore it should be obvious that Russia is no more of a threat to Western Europe today than it was during the Cold War. The American “boogie-man” paranoia still promotes the idea that Russia wants to roll across Europe and that somehow we Germans owe our peace and prosperity to a few military units stationed around our country.
Let me point out a few facts about Germany your press fails to mention. All our citizens have health care, we’ve had it for over 100-years and our private industry, not government, actually promoted it to ensure workers health. We don’t have homeless people living under bridges or the unemployed living in their cars. We don’t under-pay our workers like Wal-Mart and Amazon, forcing them to use government subsidies such as food stamps and welfare, or other services paid for by tax payers. Why do you think Wal-Mart failed here in Germany? Because we believe a civilized country has an obligation to care for its citizens and private business must be socially accountable. Yes, our taxes are high, but unlike the US, we actually get what we pay for.
German, and most European militaries, are limited to a small contingent of professionals. Why should we spend millions tax Euros to grow or expand NATO when the USA is more than happy to provide seemingly unlimited military support. While over 5-million private manufacturing companies have closed in the US since 2001, your military industrial complex continues to promote the production and sale of military hardware at a seemingly unlimited capacity; all on the backs of taxpayers. You complain that you can’t afford a decent schools, or rebuild your failing infrastructure, yet you can afford $400-billion for a single fighter aircraft program. And exactly how do your citizens benefits from that?
Even if Russia did head west, the question must be asked, “What would they gain?” Germany, despite the Euro crisis, is the still the backbone of European economic strength and was basically unscathed by the 2008 Great Recession. Unlike our neighbors, we don’t live on credit, we live modest lives and have no concept of a government that would promote a system of credit to people who simply can’t afford home loans as you did which resulted in the housing crash.
I should point out that France, Spain, Italy, Greece and the UK are still in trouble and America is in the worse economic shape in over 30-years with declining wages, huge unemployment and massive deindustrialization. Now your shortsightedness promotes fracking to ensure a cheap supply of gas, while polluting what little groundwater you have during yet another year of drought.
The German people have enjoyed over 70-years of peace and prosperity, why? because we work smart, we work hard, we live within our means and we believe in a culture that contributes to the social benefit of all citizens, not just a few, not just the wealthy elite. Germany, and most Europeans, simply don’t see Russia as a serious threat. They view the current Crimean situation as nothing more than typical corrupt Ukrainian/Russian gangster mentality. Given the 70-years of war your country has endured in Korea, Viet-Nam, and now the middle-East, most Europeans believe it’s just another place the US would like nothing more than to become engaged in order to promote the one thing is it good at, war.
Dear Karl, the country that starves its populations to pay for its military, the one you are talking about, actually does exist. It is called North Korea.
Let me assume you have a Samsung smartphone. The US military protects South Korea so that you can use a Samsung smartphone. Never mind the origin of iPhones.
Would the US protect Germany even if we do not produce smartphones? Yes, because we are in NATO. The Crimea-crisis should educate you that NATO is higher in the foodchain than the EU. Or higher in the Vodka-chain in Putin’s terms. Freedom and honour rank higher in both the food and the vodka-chain than peace and prosperity.
As a fellow German let me remind you of the blockade of Berlin in 1948. Yes, it was an excessively large american military that supplied the city. The american population, not as taxpayers, but as free citizens, donated goods.
I fear you cannot even correctly spell the word “ingratitude”.
At best, your expertise about Germany seems not to run very deep:
Social security was introduced by the authoritan Prussian government, according to the German public broadcaster WDR there were close to 140,000 Germans without health insurance in 2013, according to the German weekly Der Spiegel 284,000 had no home in 2012 and of these 24,000 were living on the street. When I was living in Berlin I did not only daily meet homeless beggars in the streets but also had some of these same homeless living in different corners of our dorm.
I also do not see why Germany as the legal successor of the German Reich of 1871, Nazi Germany and the GDR should be seen as such a “civilized” place. The Stasi murderers and oppressors are still among us and enjoy a nice retirement.
I gladly would keep all the money that I pay for them, the “Energiewende” and other German big state pipe dreams and I also rather would not like to pay another big part of my income for the soon to be bancrupt German “umlagefinanzierte Sozialversicherung” (a Ponzi scheme like any other).
Germany according to Die Zeit at the end of 2013 had a national debt of 2.147 Trillion Euro (legal obligations resulting from social security payments, e.g. pension claims not included). Germany thereby is in breach of the Maastricht stability contracts.
Your insight into the dynamics of Hydraulic fracturing is also not very impressive. Your moral pompousness (“Ukrainian/Russian ganster mentality”, US only good at war) is breathtaking.
All that together with your pride in European freeloading in regard to defense makes you almost seem like a cartoon character of a contemporary German. I bet you are not alone. But you have no monopoly on Germany and surely are in no position to teach Americans about the true situation here.
Don’t worry everyone. Our favorite German has dropped by to assure us that Russia is not a threat, socialized medicine rocks, Germans owe their “peace” in the last 70 years to their smarts and America will soon be destroyed because of pollution in our groundwater due to fracking. In no way do his remarks mean to sound like a desperate Euro trying to convince himself of anything other than his homelands impotence and decline.
Dear Dr. Hanson,
Maybe this is off-topic, but I don’t think so. Is Marxism figuring out it can be more effective by working through first world nations rather than third world nations?