It’s Time To Recognize That NATO’s Time Is Past

Three years after celebrating its 50th anniversary in Washington, D.C. in 1999, it's time to take a cold, hard look at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). What we find today is an outdated, bulging military bureaucracy with a steadily declining relevance in the emerging international security landscape of the 21st century. The organization, which was formed after World War II in the urgent need to deter Soviet aggression against Western Europe, is now nothing more than a clique-like political association for the post-Cold War era. Most of its 19 member states figuratively cling to the organization by their fingernails, frantically searching for a purpose. The former military significance of NATO has eroded piecemeal since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact more than a decade ago. The alliance today hardly resembles the unified military force that for five long decades safeguarded its member nations from attack. Russia, the successor state to the regime that constituted the prime reason for NATO's military mission, last week became a junior member of the alliance. I personally recall my own trepidation that day - Nov. 9, 1989 - when the aspirations of millions of Eastern Europeans finally breached the long, mined border that had for so long divided a continent. But the joyous event marked the end of an era - with the fall of "the wall" and the subsequent dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, NATO lost its raison d'etre. The creation of NATO on April 4, 1949, took place in a post-World War II era that has long since vanished. At that time, the world was licking its wounds after the carnage of six years of global war that had ravished Western Europe, leaving it a destroyed heap of bombed-out rubble. The formation of NATO was necessary. The United States and the recovering Western European nations correctly viewed The Soviet Union as a dangerous adversary. And so American and European soldiers mounted their long watch along the Iron Curtain, and NATO matured in legitimacy and purpose. The last decade has been a sorry tragic-comedy as the NATO alliance foundered about in a vain attempt to develop a new, relevant mission. Some of the actual suggestions to justify NATO's future and rewrite its mandate, included protecting the environment, combating drug abuse and promoting student educational exchanges. (How many armored divisions does that require?) NATO supporters eventually concluded that the organization should devote its efforts and military might to international social engineering. So the alliance would endeavor to sort out all of the civil wars in the Balkans. Even today, NATO continues this misdirected peacekeeping mission, bolstered as usual with the usual massive infusion of American funding and equipment. Some 11,400 of our soldiers are currently attempting to enforce order in Bosnia and Kosovo, which have no strategic interest to the United States. NATO also evolved into a coercive instrument for European political and economic interests, serving to beleaguer, threaten and strong-arm the former communist states to fall in line. This policy, pursued by other than NATO is, however, widely considered global aggression. Playing ball with NATO also carried the promise of foreign monetary aid and investments as the alliance, in effect, became Western Europe's "seal of approval" authority. What few noticed or acknowledged was that this shift in roles led NATO to exclusively serve European interests - and not U.S. objectives. And now we come to the latest effort by NATO to redefine itself. Today, almost thirteen years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, there are rumblings out of NATO headquarters in Mons, Belgium, to realign the alliance to participate in the war against global terrorism. One wonders if the directionless NATO has finally gotten a genuine wake-up call. Could this be its big chance to jump on the rolling bandwagon - pulled and financed by the United States, of course -- of counter-terrorism? Read for yourself: Last Tuesday, the governments of Great Britain and Spain submitted a joint letter calling for the transformation of the 19-nation alliance. This action came two days ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers. U. S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld attended the meeting. The United States pressed its European allies to lift their defense-spending caps and narrow the cacophonous transatlantic gap in military capabilities. The four-page vision for the future of NATO, attached to their letter, called for alliance assets and forces to be "used flexibly whenever they are needed" in the fight against terrorism. This sounds like a proposal for NATO to stand up a multi-national military strike force that could be forcibly inserted into any global hot spot if NATO finds such an incursion justified. This ignores the real issue that undercuts NATO's long-term relevance. The European Union spends about half of what America has traditionally earmarked for defense. President Bush recently proposed a $48 billion increase in military funding. Just that increase alone is greater than what is spent on national defense by any other of the 19 NATO member countries. In short, Europe is nothing more than an endless drain that still consumes American defense resources and assets, including the lives of American soldiers. Europe's unquenchable thirst for American military might offers us almost nothing in return, with the exception of the amicable maintenance of alliances forged in the Second World War. It takes no military genius to predict that this rapid-reaction force will never be created without a generous portion of American soldiers, money and equipment. There simply is no precedent that the European countries would ever rise to support their own autonomous defense. The Europeans are fully capable of defending themselves and their continent against any plausible threats to their own interests, although it is a different question as to whether they could venture into global expansionism and force projection beyond the continent itself. The sooner NATO becomes a true, European-organized and European-led alliance, the sooner the United States can focus on the legitimate threats to its own security. It is time for The European Union nations to make it on their own, providing for their own defense and security. It's time to consider bringing the post-World War II American Army Of Occupation home from Europe. J. David Galland, The Deputy Editor of “DefenseWatch Magazine” and The Founder & President of “Bound & Overwatch - The Military Observer”.

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