The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is the most successful military alliance in modern history. For 40 years, NATO protected Western Europe from the hostile power of the Soviet Union until this empire ideologically collapsed in 1990. Victory in the Cold War, however, would be the beginning of the end for NATO, an alliance that has outlived its time and is today a larger group of disparate nation-states incapable of hear about its current goals.
the 72 year old alliance has become the victim of its own success and of the simple passage of time. In NATO’s heyday, the glue that held it together was a very realistic fear of Soviet Russia and its immense military establishment. Today, most NATO members do not feel threatened by today’s post-Communist Russia – and worse still, feel reluctant to militarily support the few “front-line” states (eg. example, Poland, the three Baltic countries) who feel threatened.
The polls of recent years confirm this new reality. In 2015, a Pew Family Foundation survey found that among NATO members only the United States and Canada supported a majority military force to assist a NATO member that was invaded. Earlier this year, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) surveyed 60,000 people in its 11 member states and found that, by a margin well over 2 to 1, public opinion believes their countries must remain neutral in disputes between the United States and Russia or China.
These sentiments categorically contradict the fundamental tenet of the NATO Treaty – Article 5, which requires all members to militarily support a member who is under attack. If the European members of NATO prefer to remain neutral in any Russian-American conflict, what is the point of the alliance from the point of view of the United States? Add to this the fact that almost all European NATO members have long been failing on the financial obligations demanded by the treaty, and the American skepticism towards NATO in recent years is quite understandable.
The seeds of NATO’s decline were sown at the time of the alliance’s greatest triumph, and the context was the issue of NATO’s expansion into former Soviet satellites. The not unreasonable view of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and later of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, was that once the Cold War ended, the the Warsaw Pact dissolved, and with an economically prostrate Russia struggling to become a democracy, there was no justification for expanding a Western military alliance hundreds of miles closer to the Russian border.
Initially, Presidents Bush and Clinton seemed to agree. The then US Secretary of State, James Baker, assured Gorbachev in February 1990 that NATO would not budge.one thumb east. “In October 1993, Clinton’s Secretary of State Warren Christopher assured Yeltsin that there would be no NATO expansion, but rather a new organization,”Partnership for peaceâ, This would include all the former satellite states and Russia as well. Yeltsin has embraced this concept with enthusiasm. However, his fury knew no bounds a year later when Clinton turned the tide, expanded NATO to include satellites, and excluded Russia. Yeltsin insisted that what had been agreed was “Partnership for all, not NATO for someAnd he spoke of betrayal and willful humiliation of a weakened Russia. On the sidelines, Gorbachev lamented the rejection of his concept of a “common European house. “
This toxic problem has since haunted relations between Russia and the West and became particularly dangerous when President George W. Bush declared in April 2008 that he “strongly supportedâNATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine and would not accept any Russian attempt to veto it. Bush’s proposal, however, was strongly rejected by six NATO members led by Germany’s Angela Merkel, who called such a NATO expansion “unnecessarily provocative.” An indignant Russian president Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich Putin Cruz to get Nord Stream 2 vote in Biden candidate deal Overnight Defense & National Security – US still warns Putin to consider invasion of Ukraine White House says Putin did not decide to invade Ukraine MORE said Georgia and Ukraine’s membership in NATO was a direct threat to Russia’s national security and that he saw it as a “red line” that could not be crossed.
Putin further responded by getting involved in Georgia’s savage ethnic politics by supporting breakaway separatist groups in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and ultimately recognizing them as independent republics backed economically and militarily by Russia. In 2014, when mass protests supported by the West led to the overthrow of a pro-Russian Ukrainian president, Putin acted quickly to intervene militarily in the regions of eastern Ukraine whose inhabitants were predominantly of Russian (Crimea 65%) or Russian-speaking (Donbas 70%) stock.
It is ironic that with all of its internal problems, NATO is to chase high-risk policies on behalf of countries that are not members of NATO; are not allies; and would undoubtedly bring many more burdens to the alliance than assets. As for the United States, which has suffered serious damage from long wars in remote places, why would we risk the same thing more in places so unconnected with our true national interests?
It is clear that it is time for NATO to reexamine the reasons for its existence well beyond its prime.
William Moloney, Ph.D., is a Fellow of Conservative Thought at Colorado Christian University Centennial Institute who studied at Oxford and the University of London and obtained his doctorate at Harvard University. He is a former Colorado Education Commissioner.