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Is It Time to Disband NATO?

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THE PROGRESSIVE REVIEW - April 7, 2008
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Is It Time to Disband NATO? -by Adrian Hamilton

It was British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, ever 
shrewd in the ways of politics, who said that the only way 
to hold a successful summit was to have the communiqué 
already written before you arrived. On that reading, the 
NATO summit in Bucharest has all the elements of a truly 
miserable failure.

The participants are at odds over expansion to the East, 
with the US, backed by the new entrants, urging Georgian 
and Ukrainian membership against the public doubts of 
Germany and the vehement opposition of Russia. The core 
members are at odds over their individual contributions 
to the war in Afghanistan. 

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If this were a family it would compete with the Royal 
Tenenbaums for disfunctionality. Of course it won't be 
allowed to end in a climax of slammed doors. The North 
Atlantic Treaty Organization is regarded as far too 
important, and prestigious, for that. Indeed no NATO 
meeting is complete without a chorus of pronouncements 
by premiers, politicians and pundits stressing just how 
important the alliance is to the West and how, despite 
the end of the Cold War that was its raison d'etre, it 
is still needed more than ever in the post-9/11 world. 

All true, no doubt — or at least in part. NATO has been an 
extraordinarily effective organization in locking the US 
into Europe militarily and in containing the Soviet Union. 
But past pre-eminence is no guide to future purpose, and 
it is the lack of definition of what NATO is for that is 
now producing all the strains. 

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With the Cold War, the organization had a defined enemy 
and a clear function — to defend Western Europe against 
conventional or nuclear assault. Without the Cold War, 
it has no clear enemy or function, only the persistence 
of a well-honed military structure. The "War on Terror" 
proponents see that honed structure as a ready-made means 
of combating the new enemies in a world of Muslim extremism 
and nuclear proliferation. If Europe was its theater of 
operations in the Cold War, NATO's role after 9/11 is, 
according to this doctrine, to go "out of theater" to 
engage in operations in Afghanistan, the Middle East, 
Africa or wherever else a threat is perceived. 

At the same time President Bush, in pursuit of his vision 
of "democracy" around the world and in search of a legacy 
for his failing presidency, wants to use NATO membership 
to secure the new democracies of the Orange and Rose 
revolutions. Hence his enthusiasm to start the process of 
entry for Ukraine and Georgia. Add to that a new president 
of France who wants re-entry to full military participation 
in NATO as a means to take France back to the heart of 
international decision-making, and you have more energy 
for movement in NATO than in a generation. 

Only it is an energy without consensus or agreed direction. 
The reluctance of member states to send more troops to 
Afghanistan or to send them to the hot spots is not, as 
Washington would brief, a matter of cowardice or parsimony. 
It is because, for a number of European countries, there 
is no public support after Iraq for an operation which 
makes NATO troops into a white, Western occupying force. 

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In the same way President Bush, and the Ukrainian and 
Georgian leaders, would make eastward expansion into a 
matter of facing down Russia. But fear of Russia is not 
the main reason for German (and French, Belgian and Dutch) 
doubts. The problem is that expansion this far east would 
take NATO right into the middle of the conflict between 
Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking halves of Ukraine, never 
mind the problem of the breakaway parts of Georgia, 
disputes that could easily escalate into confrontation 
with Moscow. For the very reason that the two countries 
want membership, the organization should be wary of it. 
For, as Moscow not unreasonably argues, if Russia is no 
longer regarded as the enemy, why are we doing it and in 
such haste? 

This isn't a case of if we didn't have NATO we'd have to 
invent it. The opposite is true. If we didn't have NATO 
we'd invent something quite different at this point. We 
would be involved in a different way, if at all, in 
Afghanistan. We'd be using membership of the EU as the 
means of securing the democracies of the former Soviet 
republics. And we'd be developing an independent European 
defense capability. 

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