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NATO – a still valid alliance or merely a tool of American diplomacy?

by on April 4, 2014

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NATO, one of the most effective political and military alliances in history of mankind, was set up in 1949, as a mere response to a threat that Soviet Union and its allies possessed for the Western World. In the end of 20th century, global politics saw events, which have changed the whole balance of powers. Democratic revolutions and reforms in Eastern and Central Europe, the collapse of the Soviet Union signaled the end of the bipolar world, the system that was determining during the Cold War era. With the end of the Cold War, Russia lost all its Soviet bloc allies, which not long before that, were in the Warsaw Pact agreement. At the same time, NATO kept and strengthened its military and political capability. However, as the Cold War was over after 1991, the major reason for NATO’s existence was now gone, Communist opponents now turned pro-democratic, which meant that in order to keep the alliance up and running, it became clear that it had to transform and evolve to find its new functions in a post-bipolar world. 

NATO, by many, can be seen as an extremely persistent alliance. Notably, none of the members of the alliance have ever spoken of leaving it, on the contrary, there are signs that NATO is keen on expanding. The reason for the states remaining part of the alliance for so long, according to Eunika Katarzyna Frydrych, is that: “NATO is still the better arrangement than any other alternative[1]. NATO is seen by the member states as a useful mean for their security and protection, which is achieved mainly via developing their relations with the United States, the dominant military and economic superpower in the world. Due to that, the United States is fairly seen as a force that can ensure protection, military and humanitarian support to any member state if needed. This idea, theoretically, is also favored by the member states, as it brings the idea of collective security, which means that every individual state does not have to keep high expenditures for its armed forces due to expected help from larger and more powerful states, like the United States.

 

It can also be argued that one of the main purposes of NATO from the very beginning was not to tackle the potential Soviet aggression, but to promote democracy and peace. The proof of this idea can be found in the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949. “They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law[2]. This could mean that from the very beginning, the purpose of NATO as a military alliance was not that simplistic. Moreover, as the Eastern Bloc collapsed, the Western States surely felt a lot safer, however Eastern Europe became an area filled with a political vacuum, a process of democratization just kicked off in late 80’s – early 90’s, they were right in the middle of this transitional period from being communist to becoming liberal democracies. The idea that democratic states have never gone to war with each other became very popular at that time, and this ultimately pushed the following idea that it was NATO’s moral obligation to protect and spread liberal principles in Eastern Europe at that transition period. And even if Eastern European states did become liberal democratic countries, no longer possessing any threats and being centers of instability in Europe, it never meant that NATO had to be dismissed, as new threats could have been emerging, threats that new millennium and digital era were about to bring. To counter these, NATO need to transform and according to Ivo Daalder it succeeded. “On the military side, internal adaptation has taken the form of a streamlined and more flexible command structure capable of deploying military forces rapidly and over greater distances than was the case during the cold war. Politically, the Alliance has sought new missions to retain its relevance – from peacekeeping to countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In the process, NATO has not only survived but been transformed into a politico-military entity that differs in many significant ways from the organization that stood ready to meet a Warsaw Pact tank assault.”[3]

 

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However, some of those democratization processes did not go the smooth way in former socialist states. In mid 1990’s the Balkan Crisis was tearing former Yugoslavia into fighting with each other parts. Instability in that region was seen threatening by the Western European states, it was a place of uncontrolled arms market, of known examples of human trafficking and continuous genocide from all sides of the conflict. In order to bring peace and stability into that region as well as to protect their security, NATO states agreed to conduct military operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. As a result, NATO managed to kill two rabbits with one stone, they did protect democratic principles by intervening and stopping atrocities that were happening and they brought a seeming peace into Balkan Peninsula.

This absence of the defined and well-known enemy, which was the Eastern bloc, ultimately meant another serious threat that NATO’s officials had to find way of solving. That threat, mentioned by Ivo Daalder, was the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), which included not simply nuclear warheads, but also chemical and biological weapon systems. The Soviet Union possessed the second largest WMD arsenal in the world after the United States. With the USSR breaking up, some of those weapons were stocked in newly created independent countries, some of which had seemingly unstable governments. NATO state members became extremely anxious that these states could easily sell these arsenal stocks to even more hostile states, especially in the Middle East in return for significant investments, which could mean that WMDs could end up in wrong hands, an extremist group for instance. This idea was first introduced by Madeleine Albright the threat was: “the combustible combination of technology and terror, the possibility … that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the hands of people who have no compunction about using them. Halting this threat, which emanates largely from the Middle East and Eurasia … is the

overriding security interest of our time”[1]. These statements made by the Secretary Albright highlighted the idea that NATO was extremely worried about the spread of the WMDs and therefore became one of the great concerns and reasons for NATO’s existence. Weapon selling problem was another dark legacy of the Soviet Union collapse. The end of the Cold War did seem to bring peace and democratic values for former communist states, however these changes did not get rid off significant stocks of small arms of all kinds. NATO was extremely afraid of these stocks being mismanaged by the CEE’s not less than the stocks of WMD’s. To tackle that issue, NATO states agreed to start cooperation programs on utilizing those massive SALW stocks. “NATO is helping to address these issues by encouraging dialogue and cooperation among Allies and partners to seek effective solutions. It has two very effective mechanisms: the Ad Hoc Working Group on SALW and Mine Action (AHWG SALW/MA) and the NATO/Partnership Trust Fund mechanism. NATO also supports initiatives led by other international bodies, such as the United Nations (UN) Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in SALW in All Its Aspects (commonly known as the PoA) as well as the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT)”.[2].

These fights on grounds of preserving human rights, democratic principles, human dignity and anti-extremism have given good credit to NATO, to its members and inspired a whole new purpose of the alliance itself remaining a very united and strong organization that has adapted for modern geopolitical and humanitarian challenges across the world since 1991. However, on many occasions as well, it looked like NATO was only using these noble excuses to perform certain actions in strategic and geopolitical favor of one of their members – the United States of America. Since the second superpower self-destructed in 1991, there was no longer a decent opponent that could hold America’s potential growing ambitions of global dominance; the world became unipolar for almost 2 decades. In those circumstances, some could say that to keep its face and reputation, the US officials could have been putting pressure on their NATO allies. This could ultimately raise a question of whether NATO is any longer needed, whether it has become just a complex tool of American realist diplomacy and whether the members of the alliance are no longer free to set their diplomatic interests.

 

 If studying certain examples, it could be argued that the American governments used NATO members as their puppets to gain dominance and strengthen their positions. In 1990’s and early 2000’s most of those states, including Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Baltic states became both, members of the EU and NATO, showing that North Atlantic Treaty Organization was expanding towards East, taking over states that previously used to be considered as enemy’s allies. For the USA Europe has always been and is still considered as a prioritized area in geopolitical spectrum. The existence of NATO allows America to express their will and put necessary political and military pressure on states in Europe, so consequently any other expansion of NATO leads to America’s positions in Eurasia being enforced. 

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More recent examples of Libya, for instance, indicated some interesting actions of the United States diplomacy and their NATO allies. It is known that the US and NATO share the same doctrine of protecting liberal democratic values, preservation of human rights. With these in mind, their actions in Libya and attempted actions in Syria are perfectly justifiable, both the US and NATO viewed Gaddafi and now vie Assad as dictators that neglect those inalienable for human kind values and as a result, in Libya, the rebel groups were aided with weapons and air strike support. However, these actions went against their principles on fighting global terrorism. Both in Libya and Syria, the groups that fought against governmental forces had links with Al-Qaeda. Some of those rebel commanders were interviewed and they did admit that they had links with the terrorists. “Abdel-Hakim al-Hasidi, the Libyan rebel leader, has said jihadists who fought against allied troops in Iraq are on the front lines of the battle against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.”[6] These examples ultimately showed that quite often NATO, with the US in charge, sometimes use the double-standards principle if they feel some action went against their strategic interest, as well as could simply mean that NATO and its European members became merely a tool of America’s foreign policy, a tool of spread of influence.

[1] http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/1999/4/nato%20daalder/reportch1.pdf (p 20, quote on Albright, Statement at the North Atlantic Council, December 16, 1997, p. 5) 30/03/14

 [2] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_52142.htm?selectedLocale=en%20,%202009 Article on NATO’s actions regarding former Soviet bloc states’ disarmament

[3] http://connections-qj.org/node/1000 (a downloadable PDF file on NATO expansion, accessed on 27/03/14)

[4] NAT 1949 (accessed through google books Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements: A to F, p 1636) 30/03/14

 [5] http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/1999/4/nato%20daalder/reportch1.pdf (p 2) 30/03/14

 [6] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8407047/Libyan-rebel-commander-admits-his-fighters-have-al-Qaeda-links.html (an article on one of the Libyan rebels’ commanders admitting links with Al-Qaeda)

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3 Comments
  1. themanisred permalink

    Before reading the blog itself, my initially thought was – ‘No’, NATO is a tool of Western Imperialism (which is usually lead by the USA anyway. after reading however, I do feel that you put some good points across regarding the USA’s use of NATO and in my opinion it can even be argued that NATO is essentially an American offshoot.

    • I was trying to make a balanced argument, but to be honest with you I do also strongly believe that NATO member states expericence too much of American diplomatic or economic pressure on themselves, regardless whether it is voluntarily accepted by them or not.

  2. A lot of work has gone into the entry on the blog. Unfortunately, as with your earlier piece on US foreign policy, it isn’t clear how it addresses a central theme of the module. NATO is interesting because it has its own public diplomacy division – it is unusual for an international organisation to use that terminology – which it developed following the public relations problems it encountered during the bombing of Serbia in 1999 and its intervention in Afghanistan in 2001. However, you do not address these issues. As it stands, it would not win you many marks if you include it in your portfolio at the end of your module.

    Your posts on Chinese soft power and propaganda address key themes of the module. But this post and the one on US foreign policy do not. The latter will require a lot of work to make them relevant to the module.

    There are also some questionable turns of phrase (e.g., the world’s biggest military alliance was a ‘mere’ response to the Soviet threat!).

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