#34 – NATO at 70 – Suffering Dementia?

NATO Summit – 70th Anniversary 

In London, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), will show how it is ready to fight Cold War 2. It will showcase its readiness initiative – the ability to deploy 30 battalions by land, 30 air squadrons and 30 naval vessels in just 30 days. Why? To confront future threats from China and Russia’s hypersonic missiles and cyber warfare?What for? Will these questions be addressed at NATO’s summit? 

France’s President Macron, recently told the Economist in early November that NATO was “brain dead.” Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign declared that “NATO is obsolete.” Both Presidents are right, NATO is “brain dead” and “obsolete.” Maybe they should take this opportunity to cajole the alliance members out of their collective pact and rethink the whole philosophy behind NATO.


NATO, was originally founded by the United States and 11 other Western nations as an attempt to curb the rise of communism in 1949. The treaty sets out the idea of collective defense, meaning that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies. From its inception, its main purpose was to defend each other from the possibility of communist Soviet Union taking control of their nation. 

Six years after NATO was signed, Communist nations founded the Warsaw Pact and through these two multilateral institutions, the entire globe became a Cold War battleground. When the USSR collapsed in 1991, the Warsaw Pact disbanded and NATO expanded, growing from its original 12 members to 29 member countries.

While “preserving peace,” NATO’s resume is suspect, it has a history of bombing civilians and committing war crimes. In 1999, NATO engaged in military operations without UN approval in Yugoslavia. Its illegal airstrikes during the Kosovo War left hundreds of civilians dead.

In 2001, far from the “North Atlantic,” NATO joined the United States in invading Afghanistan. In 2011, NATO forces illegally invaded Libya, creating a failed state that caused masses of people to flee. Rather than take responsibility for these refugees, NATO countries have turned back desperate migrants on the Mediterranean Sea, letting thousands die.

NATO is a gigantic alliance with tanks, nuclear bombs, armies, aircraft, ships and submarines. It now accounts for about three-quarters of military spending and weapons dealing around the globe. Instead of preventing war, it promotes militarism, exacerbates global tensions and makes war more likely.

NATO Expansion

At its founding, NATO consisted of twelve countries: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In 1952, Greece and Turkey became members of the Alliance, joined later by West Germany (in 1955) and Spain (in 1982). In 1990 came the first ex-Soviet Block country to join NATO.

In 1990 with the reuniting of East and West Germany, then U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990. This was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents.

Not once, but three times, Baker tried out the “not one inch eastward” formula with Gorbachev in the February 9, 1990, meeting. He agreed with Gorbachev’s statement in response to the assurances that “NATO expansion is unacceptable.” Baker assured Gorbachev that “neither the President nor I intend to extract any unilateral advantages from the processes that are taking place,” and that the Americans understood that “not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.”

Encircling Russia

After Cold War 1, the United States ignored Russia’s historical insecurity about foreign encirclement by expanding NATO. This came at a time when Russia’s territory was the smallest it had been since the 1700’s under the reign of Catherine the Great.

President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, decided to expand NATO eastward from Germany. Since the end of Cold War 1, 13 countries have joined NATO; the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland (1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia (2004), Albania and Croatia (2009), and Montenegro (2017).

Democrats and Republicans have insisted that Eastern Europe is a “vital US national interest.” Those that understood Russian history opposed that folly and warned it would lead to dangerous conflicts with Moscow, conceivably even war. Russia has historically sought a buffer to protect itself from foreign invaders. The Soviets wanted territory from Turkey and Iran after World War II to act as a buffering territory to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.

It’s therefore not surprising that Russia was incensed when Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states and others were ushered into NATO membership starting in the mid-1990s. Boris Yeltsin, Dmitry Medvedev and Gorbachev himself protested through both public and private channels that U.S. leaders had violated the non-expansion arrangement. As NATO began looking even further eastward, to Ukraine and Georgia, protests turned to outright aggression and saber-rattling. 

Cold War Scholars React

Many of America’s most reputable officials and academics have opposed post-Cold War NATO expansion for substantive reasons. George Kennan, perhaps our most famous Cold War diplomat and widely considered to be the father of the United States’ containment strategy, famously opposed NATO expansion in the 1990s, writing in the New York Times that expanding NATO would be a “fateful error” that would “inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion” and “restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations.” Like Senator Paul, Kennan also worried about the problems of credibility and overextension.

In 1995, a group of almost two dozen retired Foreign Service, State Department, and Department of Defense officers who served during the Cold War signed an open letter opposing NATO expansion on grounds similar to Paul and Kennan. They argued it risked exacerbating instability and “convincing most Russians that the United States and the West are attempting to isolate, encircle, and subordinate them.” The signatories included Paul H. Nitze, former Secretary of the Navy and Deputy Secretary of Defense, as well as Jack F. Matlock, Jr., former Ambassador to the USSR, and John A. Armitage, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs.

Enter Putin

In the year previous to Putin’s presidency NATO had given the acceptance of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Then from March 24, 1999  to June 10, 1999 NATO bombed Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War. These provocative actions along combined with NATO expansion, support for the so-called “color revolutions,” regime change wars in the Middle East—have triggered historical Russian suspicions of foreign intervention and enraged the security sensitive Russians. Thus putting Russo-American relations into a historic impasse.

“At bottom of [the] Kremlin’s neurotic view of world affairs is [a] traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity,” wrote George F. Kennan, in his famous Long Telegram. “Whereas the West sees Russia’s fear of invasion as groundless, history has shown Russian leaders that foreign intentions are typically hidden or fluid. Each age brings a new existential threat; there would always be another Napoleon or Hitler,” writes Benn Steil in Foreign Policy.

Divorce – Attendant Circumstances

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed to commit its members to democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law, as well as to peaceful resolution of disputes. NATO was not to reconfigured Europe or to maintain U.S. domination, or to mobilize against Russia. It should not be expanding but disbanding, seventy years of militarism is more than enough.

The US should leave NATO. It should not be held hostage to an organization that  now stokes the embers of fear like terrorism; piracy; ethnic violence; inadequate economic reform; threats to energy supplies; arms proliferation; drug trafficking; cyber attacks; laser weapons; electronic warfare; health risks; climate change and something called “instability.”

“Brain Dead”

The idea that the US, for that matter 28 nation, be obligated go to war on behalf of one nation’s conflict is completely ludicrous, “Brain Dead.” When will we discard this Cold War mentality? Shouldn’t Americans want a less aggressive foreign policy that focuses on peace, diplomacy, and economic engagement instead of military force?


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