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NATO’s Relevance and Europe’s Search for an Alternative

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The North Treaty Organization (NATO) came into being to guarantee security to the war-torn Europe after the most devastated war in human history called “World War II.” It was precisely meant for containing “Communist” threat from the former Soviet Union. The “Warsaw Pact” was the response to NATO during the height of cold war by the Soviet Russia. The tug of war between the two security blocs, i.e. NATO and Warsaw Pact continued till the end of the latter with the demise of the former Soviet Union. End of the former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact did bring an end to communist threat to Europe. So, the logic demanded to abolish NATO too since the very threat for which it was made was gone. But, interestingly, the NATO survived and still continues its presence. The NATO’s relevance was justified on the grounds that new threats, i.e. cyber and terrorism could harm Europe and for that matter it must continue. In post-9/11 period, the NATO’s role was increased beyond the European theater and we witnessed NATO operating in Afghanistan, which could not declare victory and left.

There is no denying the fact that NATO is well-equipped with the latest defence technology and the partner states would like to see it as a security guarantor. But there are many factors, which might play role otherwise. Recently, European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker has pushed for an EU defence force. Mr. Juncker said: “By 2025 we need a full-fledged European defence union. We need it and NATO wants it.” This statement did annoy Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach of the UK, who becomes NATO’s top military officer next year (2017) as a Chairman of the NATO Military Committee. Mr. Peach warned not to “duplicate” the NATO and said: “Nato is…a hard power. It has divisions, it has cores, it has aircraft, it has ships, [and] it has submarines. It has a proper sense of direction and leadership…So, all of that is the offer to the people of the 29 nations who have chosen to join the alliance that creates collective security. Why would you duplicate? The answer, of course, we believe, is you wouldn’t want to duplicate.”

The United Kingdom has recently opted for Brexit through referendum so its displeasure for an alternative defence alliance/system within the EU is understandable. The EU doesn’t want to duplicate NATO, but replace it. The NATO could not do more on Ukraine and Crimean issues and it did make European states wary of NATO’s effectiveness as according to alliance’s website “NATO strongly supported the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine by diplomatic means and dialogue.” The NATO has further been found ineffective in countering the ghost threat of terrorism inside Europe. Terrorist incidents in major European states coupled with President Trump calling for burden sharing and money bill for NATO from the major EU countries have damaged the confidence of these states in the alliance. President Trump, while chairing meeting of NATO member states had said: “Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.” This is very strange and unexpected as the US was the main country to establish NATO during the cold war and now the same state seems reluctant about contributing more in the bloc. There is a point to ponder that President Trump, during his election campaign in 2016, had also termed NATO “obsolete.”

According to Joseph V. Micallef, NATO’s strategic objective, in the words of Lord Ismay, its first Secretary General, was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.” Today, the communist threat from Russia is not there, American President Trump seems bit angry about NATO and its benefits for America at an average of cost the US is paying, and Hitler’s hostile Germany is long gone. Also, if one looks at the state capabilities of the major European nations, i.e. France (the nuclear power), Germany (the economic giant in the bloc), and Britain (yet to decide about Brexit is the second nuclear power). France and Britain have their nuclear doctrine, which are loud and clear, i.e. “doomsday for the enemy” if their existence or survival is at stake. So, the reliance of European states on NATO in general and the US in particular for their security has also become murky. The other options, i.e. other bloc/alliance on the pattern of the NATO are on table. The EU did succeed in bringing the common currency “Euro” and now it intends to have its own common defence. The debate has started and only the time would translate it into reality. Actually, the debate is bit older for deeper military cooperation in the bloc through EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Article originally published in Regional Rapport on September 29, 2017.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.

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IPRI is one of the oldest non-partisan think-tanks on all facets of National Security including international relations & law, strategic studies, governance & public policy and economic security in Pakistan. Established in 1999, IPRI is affiliated with the National Security Division (NSD), Government of Pakistan.


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