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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, popularly referred to as NATO, was created in the context of the escalating political tensions between the Communist countries which were bound in a close alliance, and the western countries led by the USA. The aftermath of the World War II saw the emergence of two superpowers – the USA and the USSR. The USSR, having bound its eastern allies with the COMECON, had started to become an imminent threat to the European nations whose economic development was heavily aided by USA. The NATO was forged in 1949 as a cohesive military defense alliance between the USA and its European allies to guard against a military invasion of the Eastern Bloc.
The greatest success of NATO has been in holding off the burgeoning might of the erstwhile USSR for over forty years, from NATO’s inception in 1949 till the dissolution of erstwhile USSR in 1991. The combined defense guarantee of NATO warded off any possible attack on the European nations and on USA. Having survived obvious differences that arose among member nations from time to time, NATO has kept to its aim of bridging the gap between North America and Europe. Post 1991, NATO has played a significant role in protecting the North American and European nations from any crisis that threatens peace and stability - both internal and external. NATO's role in resolving the crisis in Romania, and to a large extent in Libya (the 2011 intervention leading up to the neutralization of Gaddafi) and in the other countries involved in the Arab Spring uprisings, cannot be undermined. The military intervention of NATO in Bosnia, following the breakup of Yugoslavia, is recorded among the organization’s success stories. Apart from being a military alliance, NATO has played a significant role in international diplomacy and peacekeeping as well. NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, launched in 1994, forms a cooperative forum between the NATO members and seven Mediterranean countries. In 2004, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative was launched to promote peace and security throughout the Middle East region. In the same year another significant activity undertaken by NATO, was the formation of the NATO Training Mission – Iraq, to support the Iraqi security forces and the multi-national forces led by USA.
Coming down from the success stories it is may be difficult to understand that the alleged irrelevance of the NATO mandate. In the wake of NATO’s recent missions in Afghanistan and Libya, and in the war against terrorism, NATO seems to be acting out its fundamental role as a collective defense agency. If, however, we pause to consider that NATO as a defense mechanism serves the same purpose as United Nations Security Council does but without quite the same outreach, the relevance of NATO becomes ambiguous.
Article V of the NATO mandate – “Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security” has been cited to raise questions about its efficacy, given that the decisions of the United Nations supercede the NATO. So much so, that the first ever time the Collective Defense Clause V of NATO’s mandate was evoked since the agency’s inception in 1949, was after the September 11, 2001 bombings. In the Afghan War that followed, NATO took over the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in 2003 - the only mission undertaken by the organization outside of the north Atlantic region.
The Georgia crisis has been cited as one of the major failures of NATO in recent times. By 2004, Georgia, having already joined Partnership for Peace, sought to strengthen ties with the NATO and by 2008 the nation had made a bid to receive the NATO Membership Action Plan. In the 2008 Bucharest summit, Georgia was promised admission. Russia was vehemently opposed to the idea and regional tensions led to the outbreak of the 2008 South Ossetia war. NATO’s failure to secure peace in the region and the reversal of its firm stance with regard to Georgia’s membership has found many critics.
In more recent times, Europe has been going through a period of crippling economic crisis. The Greek debt crisis, in particular, has accentuated the need for rigorous economic reforms and a cut on public spends. The resonant question now raised by most European nations is if it makes economic sense to sustain NATO. With most European nations pursuing a policy of diminishing spends on defense and military, NATO’s marginal returns as a defence alliance have made the organization’s financial viability a topic of heated debate. Concurrently, the debate on US subsidizing European defense, especially the NATO, is also a raging one. America’s military spends for 2011-2012 is estimated to be USD 750000 millions, about 5% of the country’s GDP. American economists are vociferous in what has now been termed the ‘free-rider’ problem and NATO is at the center of the issue.
Partnership For Peace
NATO’s Partnership for Peace is the program that was launched in 1994 and aimed at building an international community of trust, thereby strengthening relations between member states, European countries, and the states that formed a part of erstwhile USSR. In one dramatic sweep, NATO lost much of the dichotomy between the European countries and erstwhile USSR. The successful peace endeavor has over twenty-two member states and actively encourages a trust-based environment.
Why Is NATO Indispensable?
Defense apart, the immense efforts put in by the NATO in operations such as humanitarian relief for disaster-struck regions can hardly be ignored. The Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center of the NATO is a round-the-clock center for organization and coordination of disaster relief in the member countries. In 2002, NATO took a humanitarian approach instead of attending to a military intervention in Kosovo and came up with life-saving aid to the Albanian refugees. In more recent times the aid provided by NATO aircrafts and the assistance provided by way of setting up the relief camp in Hiati has been invaluable. From coordinating Armenia’s annual disaster response exercise to providing Pakistan’s flood victims humanitarian aid, NATO has been in global news for its commendable relief efforts.
With the original context of erstwhile USSR having been taken off the table, and with European nations in no imminent danger of an invasion, what now remains to be seen is if NATO becomes a successful counterpoint for USA to curb a rising China. With the rise of the economic stature of Asia and with a crisis stricken Europe, will USA provide NATO the support the organization requires to regain its vitality? The most important debate that centers on NATO’s initiatives is if the diplomatic and humanitarian efforts of the agency and the military operations can meaningfully go hand in hand?
Will NATO Survive As A Meaningful Organization?