Is NATO Still Relevant?
The NATO alliance, first created in 1949, is the longest alliance in history. The creation of this alliance came about with the gradual realization that Stalin’s Soviet Union had superseded Hitler’s Das Dritte Reich. With the creation of NATO, should Stalin or one of his successors have decided to drive west all the way to the Atlantic, creating Orwell’s Eurasia, he would have encountered stiff resistance and possibly defeat. As such, NATO was ipso facto anti-communist and anti-Soviet. Predictably, it was condemned in the West by fellow travelers, although the anti-communist George Kennan admittedly made a good case against its formation.
But NATO also had several unforeseen benefits. For one thing, it kept the peace in Europe between its otherwise belligerent members for 68 years. In a continent that used to go into civil war almost every decade, that was a major achievement. This came about by unintentionally creating an undeniable feeling of cohesion (which the creation of the über-bureaucratic European Union has undermined). After all, it is kind of embarrassing to go to war with a country that is your ally, no matter how obnoxious that ally may be (yes, I am talking about France). To be sure, Greece’s perpetually infantile, regressive, hostility towards Turkey came close to doing that in 1974, but the allies ordered them to stand down.
Another benefit was that it rehabilitated West Germany. After the Second World War, the Germans were unfairly blamed as being Europe’s eternal warmonger, conveniently forgetting the bloodsoaked histories of France, Austria, Britain, Russia, Sweden and Spain. It came very close to being permanently dismembered.Germany, like it or not, was now their ally and although it took time for bitter memories to fade, later generations have felt no knee-jerk hatred towards Germans.
Throughout, the backbone of NATO was always acknowledged to be America and by the late 1970s the unofficial attitude of Europeans was “To defend Europe to the last American.” To a large extent this attitude persists and is the reason for those countries not contributing their fair share to collective defense and was the basis for President Trump’s and President Obama’s criticism of member states. Trump’s position is simply that America’s benevolence will no longer be taken advantage of. His position has resulted in the usual hysterical attacks by the American media---on anything and everything that he says (which, ironically, is exactly what conservatives used to do with anything and everything that Obama proposed).
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a golden opportunity for perpetual European peace and Russian democracy was lost. First, following all bureaucracies’ innate characteristic to endlessly expand like a cancer, NATO membership started expanding eastward. This was an understandable reaction by the Soviet Union’s former slave states, as they craved protection from future Russian imperialistic ambitions, particularly by Poland, but it should have come to a screeching halt in central Europe with Czechoslovakia and Poland. When it continued to expand into the Balkans and the Baltic states---Estonia is a stone’s throw from St. Petersburg---Russia’s chronic paranoia understandably hit the roof. Including Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia into NATO contributed next to nothing to European defense---it could be characterized as only a truck with a flat tire---and exacerbated friction with Russia (at the time of this writing tiny Montenegro is set to join NATO, in spite of Putin’s foiled assassination attempt of the country’s prime minister; one can only speculate that in case of a European war, Montenegro’s contribution to stop invading tanks will be to throw a rock at them. Now, it remains to be seen whether Andorra or Vatican City will also be included in NATO).
But the real opportunity was lost when Boris Yeltsin made the logical suggestion that with the defeat of communism, with its expansionistic philosophy, Russia should be admitted into NATO. This was a truly golden opportunity that was rebuffed by the fossilized minds of Europe and America. Had NATO welcomed Russia with open arms---with the proviso that it dissolved that branch of political repression and mass murder, the KGB---there would be no tensions today with Russia, there would be no Putin with his dreams of Sudetenlands, and Russia would have remained democratic. There would also not have been the increase in paranoia by including the Baltic States. Instead, we have Putin’s aggression with Georgia, Ukraine (and more to come). It was stupidity, sheer criminal stupidity, unforgivable, on the part of Western leaders.
There is a postscript: many Swedes and Finns (and Georgians and Ukrainians) have justifiably become alarmed at Putin’s militarization and aggression and have debated to join NATO. Time will tell. But the inclusion of further countries encircling Russia into NATO can have no beneficial effects whatsoever to the alliance and only justifiably increase Russian paranoia to go through the roof. Americans, who have an infuriating, bottomless, ignorance of other countries, their histories and their cultures, would do well to learn that Russia has been repeatedly invaded again and again over the centuries. From the east. From the west. From the north. From the south. They may be unquestionably paranoid, but their paranoia has a historical basis.
Donald Trump appears to have realized that since Russia is no longer globalist-expansionistic as was the case with a Soviet Russia, it holds no direct threat to the United States. True, Putin has attempted to have closer ties with authoritarian regimes that are hostile to the United States, like Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and China, but realistically most of these countries can have no direct serious threat to the United States and some of them are moribund, anyway. Furthermore an American president who has expressed respect---not admiration---for Putin (which he desperately craves) can only result in a lessening of hostility. This is not to deny, of course, that Putin is authoritarian with an inferiority complex who has committed crimes.
Besides, the world is full of murderous dictators and authoritarian leaders.
As such, simply because Russia has an increased presence in Syria does not mean that America has to automatically counter that Russian presence. So what if it does? Who cares? This is not a race, nor a competition, nor is American security, nor NATO security, at stake. Besides, Russia has had long close ties with the country, for over half a century. To have the sense of urgency that we have seen this past year, or panic in the media, because Russia is propping up the Assad regime in Syria, should mean nothing to America or NATO and such psychology is the product of minds petrified in time back to the Cold War era. Anyone who heard Hillary Clinton’s serious proposal of a no-fly zone over Syria, which would have meant shooting down Russian planes---that was the time to truly have a sense of panic.
Having said that, it would nevertheless be a catastrophic mistake for the United States to leave NATO, not only because NATO might unravel and cohesion among its members lost, but because the future is unforeseen and no one knows what lunacy may crawl up as a result of America leaving the alliance. We might even revert back to another European civil war. And, as usual, we would be dragged back in. Besides, in any situation, it is always wise to have allies rather than stand alone. We just simply have to insist that they carry their own weight.
Armando Simón is a retired college professor and is the author of A Cuban from Kansas, Very Peculiar Stories and The U.