The recent annual UN General Assembly in New York was a good time to recall how some starry-eyed idealists believed the formation of this club would eliminate wars.
The logic was that one member of the club wouldn’t attack another. Since practically all countries quickly signed up for membership, world peace would soon be a done deal. While things didn’t turn out quite so nicely, at least membership in the club is relatively cheap.
Cyprus’ recent assumption of the rotating European Union Council presidency is a good time to look back upon the promise of a newer club – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. Unlike the UN, it’s designed for war scenarios. Its motto is “An attack on one (member) country is an attack on all (member) countries.” Unlike the UN, this club’s membership fees are very high.
Cyprus, the island, consists of two countries that have been in a state of war since 1974. The Greek part of the island, Cyprus the country, was accepted into the EU in 2004. The Turkish part is called The Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus. Nicosia is often referred to as the last divided capital in the world.
This bitter proxy war fought by Turkey and Greece was initially very hot. Now it is a cold war, but still bitter. Turkey is symbolically boycotting the European Union during the current Cyprus Presidency of the EU Council.
Both Greece and Turkey have been members of NATO since 1952. This causes an obvious conundrum for NATO when trying to follow through on its motto of “An attack on one country is an attack on all countries.
As NATO membership continues to expand far beyond its original geographic and functional charter, these kinds of issues are likely to flare up more often. There are now more than 25 members, up from the original 12. Just consider that currently NATO is evaluating membership for Georgia, a country in the heart of the Caucasus.
Indeed, what is NATO’s focus today? Formed in 1949, its purpose was to maintain a credible deterrent against Soviet temptations to sweep across the eastern plains of Europe in armored and tank brigades. That threat is over. More recently NATO tried to show its relevance by implementing regime change in Libya.
All the “lessons learned” analyses of that adventure concluded NATO was incapable of executing this basic mission without the U.S. Among other shortcomings, NATO was only weeks away from running out of bombs when the Libyan regime collapsed. Contrary to NATO’s Libya mission plan, the U.S. had to step in and do the heavy lifting to save NATO from embarrassing failure.
NATO members also played a minor supporting role in Afghanistan on quasi-voluntary basis. Poland, perhaps NATO’s most enthusiastic new member, was one of the largest participants. But even Poland’s enthusiasm is waning, as indicated in Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski’s recent speech to the UN General Assembly.
The highly respected politician said NATO’s operation in Afghanistan has shown that a “military-first approach is not the best way to resolve difficult internal conflicts.” He said that conflicts can’t be resolved without compromise, citing as an example the 1989 Polish Round Table Agreement where the communist authorities agreed to a road map for peacefully transferring power to the Solidarity opposition movement.
If NATO membership was as inexpensive as UN membership, there might be little urgency to re-examine the need for this Cold War relic. But, much to the joy of the military-industrial complex, it is expensive. Just the hardware requirements for entry into the club are breathtaking. For example, Poland paid Lockheed Martin $3.5 billion for an F16 fleet less than 10 years ago. Now, there are issues with its budget for spare parts and training to maintain pilot readiness.
Left unchecked, NATO will evolve into an ever larger taxpayer-supported self-serving bureaucracy that giant defense contractors feed off of. For the U.S., it creates risks of non-strategic foreign entanglements. Further, continuing expansion of NATO membership to countries such as Slovenia, Albania and Georgia, does not enhance U.S. national security. Re-examination of NATO’s mandate and strategic direction is long overdue.