Monday, August 18, 2008


Paul Reynolds, world affairs correspondent for the BBC News Web site, has filed an interesting analysis piece with the arresting headline:

Nato wonders what to do about Russia

This is the elaborated with the following summary sentence:

On the eve of a special meeting of their foreign ministers to discuss the conflict in Georgia, Nato governments are divided on what to do about Russia.

While Reynolds has done an admirable job is filling us in on the current state of play, I would suggest that a bit of historical background on the origins of NATO might serve as useful prerequisite reading. This is one of those situations in which Wikipedia is likely to be as good a resource as any. Here are the first two paragraphs from their entry on NATO:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO); French: Organisation du Traité de l'Atlantique Nord (OTAN); (also called the North Atlantic Alliance, the Atlantic Alliance, or the Western Alliance) is a military alliance established by the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949. Headquartered in Brussels, Belgium,[3] the organization constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party.

For its first few years, NATO was not much more than a political association. However, the Korean War galvanized the member states, and an integrated military structure was built up under the direction of two U.S. supreme commanders. The first NATO Secretary General Lord Ismay, famously stated the organization's goal was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down".[4] Throughout the Cold War doubts over the strength of the relationship between the European states and the United States ebbed and flowed, along with doubts over the credibility of the NATO defence against a prospective Soviet invasion - doubts that led to the development of the independent French nuclear deterrent and the withdrawal of the French from NATO's military structure from 1966.

Quaint as Lord Ismay's language may seem, it is unclear that there has ever been a revision of the organization's goal in such explicit language since the end of the Cold War; and it is hard to read the "original version" without a strong sense of irony. Taken in reverse order:

  • Not only have the Germans "come up," they have developed a robust democratic governance structure and an economy that is as sound as any other in the current global conditions (along with a generally conscientious attitude towards addressing economic difficulties).
  • On the other hand, as a result of the success of the current Administration in lowering the value of the United States in the eyes of the rest of the world, the idea of keeping "the Americans in" (particularly in terms of the presence of American military facilities on European soil) does not seem like the good idea it was 60 years ago.
  • Finally, the extent to which Russia has pulled itself together enough to become a major supplier of oil to its Western neighbors has led those neighbors to question the desirability of keeping "the Russians out."

If the goals of NATO have not been revised de jure, then the de facto situation seems to indicate that the goal of NATO is to supplement American defense resources for whatever objectives the United States government may have in mind. How many of the current NATO members (or, for that matter, countries trying to join NATO) would accept that de facto goal (considered, again, in the wake of the "achievements," so to speak, of the Bush Administration during the President's term in office)? My guess is that every one of those countries, at some time or another, has experienced an American attitude that goes all the way back to the original "Red scare:" "There's no one left but thee and me, and I'm not sure of thee!" Combine that with the Administration's overt disdain for the United Nations; and any non-American NATO member country must be wondering when it will become the next target for such disdain. If the only purpose of NATO is to provide the United States with more toys to play with, isn't it about time that someone with a strong sense of responsible parenting take away the toys?

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