NATO At A Crossroads
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
European countries bound with North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) appear to be finding it difficult to free themselves from the captivity of the Cold War mind-set though the world security paradigm has undergone a momentous shift. Established shortly after the Second World War at the US initiative, NATO played an active role for nearly six decades as a bulwark of collective security of Europe against what was called the communist menace and as a staunch ally of the United States in its strategic rivalry with the Soviet Union.
The Warsaw Pact, which had come into existence as a countervailing force against NATO, remained potent a military block consisting of Russia and the East European socialist countries effectively polarising the world in two massive military camps. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved in disarray after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and crumbling of socialism in East European countries in the 1990s. NATO however maintains its existence though in a much weakened form and with limited mandate.
NATO is facing increasingly serious problems and is finding it difficult to define its role as a guarantor of collective security of Europe in the new context of rapidly changing world order characterised by multi-polar power equations.
In post-Cold War context NATO tried to take upon itself a role of a power to oversee the maintenance of Post-Cold War political order in Eastern Europe, Eurasia and the territories covered by the former Soviet Union. During that period, NATO tried to expand eastward bringing former East European allies of Russia into NATO raising concern of the Russian Federation. Russia quickly reacted by taking steps to stop the drift of its former allies to NATO. It took steps to stop Georgia from joining NATO by interfering in its conflict with Ossetia and Abkhazia. It also restrained Ukraine’s anti-Russian activism by occupying Crimea in 2014.
As an ally of the US, NATO has often been called upon to play an awkward role of propping up the former’s hand whenever it embroils itself in others’ internal conflict. NATO participated in the war unleashed by the USA against Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya and currently it is working as an extended wing of the USA in its putsch against Syria. NATO’s pro US posture has irritated Russia. It has, however, not been able to please the United States either.
By playing a subsidiary role to bolster US’s ambition for global supremacy, NATO has drawn censure from other emerging global powers, specifically China and Russia. Since 2014, Russia has been coming down on NATO as an organisation which was created for international confrontation. On the eve of the summit conference of NATO which opened in Brussels on Wednesday, Russia criticised it as a relic of the Cold War. Kremlin Spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov even warned NATO against its eastward advance towards the borders of Russia.
In view of the long history of animosity, it is not strange for NATO to draw Russian anger. What is ironic is that it is also at the receiving end of the America displeasure. On the eve of the NATO summit, America President Donald Trump accused NATO member countries for being burden on the US by failing to contribute a fair share of cost for their own defence. It is an accusation which the NATO member countries refute.
At present NATO is facing an immense pressure from the United States. With Donald Trump accusing them of taking a free ride, the NATO member states are feeling more and more cornered in the increasingly volatile international security situation. The US is pressing NATO countries to invest 2 present of their gross domestic product. President Donald Trump is consistently fuming about having to incur huge expenses from US tax payer’s money for the defence of the NATO countries. But the NATO countries say that US’ accusations are not true and that they are making enough contribution for theirs as well as the US’s defence.
In recent years, their commitment to the defence of pro-western East European and Baltic countries has brought the NATO countries nearer to the possibility of run-in with the Russia. The military exercise of Russia along the borders of Estonia, Latvia, Ethiopia and Poland deploying 33,000 troops and with the use of ‘hidden transponders air raid’ system has brought a serious concern for the NATO member countries.
Russia’s military posture in the Baltic and Arctic Sea area are manifested in its construction of a huge military base in this region. Russia is on the way of claiming its superpower status by developing stealth bomber, high precision air raid system, cyber warfare platforms and state of the art submarine fleet.
In response to Russia’s resurgence as a global power, NATO, too, has tried to acquire cutting edge weapons system, one of them being AEGIES ashore system, a highly sophisticated missile system. In turn, Russia has deployed A2AD anti-missile system. The on-going defense build-up threatens to start a new spiral of arms race between the NATO and Russia.
As the challenges mount, NATO has failed to forge integration of Europe and win trust of the United States. As the NATO leaders gather in Brussels to discuss pressing contemporary issues, Donald Trump accused Germany of being a captive of Russia by creating a situation of dependence on Russia for 60 to 70 percent of its energy needs.
Angela Merkel views the dependence on the Russian gas and fuel as a business issue. The USA feels that Germany is boosting Russia’s economic capabilities by paying it billions of dollars annually and weakening its situation of self-reliance. Differences between the NATO and the United States are widening. With exit of Britain from European Union NATO no longer remains monolithic. The pressure of real politic has divided Europe between liberal camp which wants to pursue a policy of appeasement with Russia and the hard-line camp which wants to develop deterrence against Russian resurgence.
During the past 60 years, the US and the European countries thought that they were promoting western values through NATO, but now it appears on the course of inevitable decline and is desperately trying to reinvent itself as a force capable of reviving the collective security and prosperity for Europe and the world. But how it will do it is a big question.
In the post-Cold War context, NATO has been undergoing transition from a combative global alliance to a forum bound by peaceful obligations to carryout humanitarian interventions, contributing to conflict resolution and fighting global terrorism. NATO’s role in containing terrorism in Afghanistan, combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and establishing peace in Somalia and other countries has not gone unnoticed. However, its present ambition for expansion as a military power block, its obsession with modernisation of weapons and its tendency to acquire highly sophisticated weapons system is fraught with serious consequences.
At the present context, the best option left for NATO is to find a way for transforming itself into a regional forum for economic cooperation instead of preserving its historical legacy as a military block so that its action does not escalate international tension, start fresh alignment and realignment of forces, trigger a new spiral of arms race and lead the humanity to the brink of yet another world war.