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NATO - Past, Present, and Future?
NATO - Past, Present, and Future?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed in 1949 to be a bulwark against the threat of Soviet Union expansion especially in Europe. This alliance was crucial in eventually defeating that threat and was a major influence leading to the Soviet Union's dissolution. The dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of a democratic Germany proved to be the signature moments for this historic NATO victory.
The fall of the Soviet Union led directly to some very fundamental questions for NATO in the early 1990's. What will be NATO's purpose with the Soviet threat now extinguished? Is there a purpose? Should NATO be disbanded, remain the same, or be expanded?
The NATO members chose to expand their ranks to promote further peace in the region and the world. They also chose to continue to protect their members from all threats that might arise to any of them. That was the 1990's and these policies continued to be in effect with brief fits and starts right up to now.
Unfortunately times have dramatically changed. NATO nations seem to be retrenching in many different ways. Nationalism and populism have grown extensively in many of these countries. This can be viewed most vividly with Great Britain's Brexit vote to leave the European Union (EU) and Donald Trump's November 2016 Presidential victory in the United States. Elections in France and Germany in the coming months will give us an even clearer picture into this alarming trend.
What does this all mean for NATO? Donald Trump has called for other NATO members to contribute more to the alliance or he will consider lessening the U.S. role or even abandoning it. He has also hinted at closer ties with Russia to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as well as other threats.
EU members are considering closer and stronger ties among themselves in response to Donald Trump's warnings. These are very dire developments as the threats to Europe and the world grow and diversify.
I will begin this Hub by giving a brief history of NATO and the rationale for its existence up to this point. Then I will examine NATO's current state along with its many conflicts and threats that need to be dealt with. Thirdly, I will describe a few possible avenues this alliance may follow in the face of its current problems. Finally I will explain how I think NATO will evolve or not evolve as well as the paths and actions I feel they should follow.
The United States emerged from World War II as the clear superpower in the world. Russia was weakened economically but was still strong militarily. Russian President Joseph Stalin was extremely paranoid of Western intentions against his country and quickly began to flex his nation's muscles against Western Europe and the U.S.
Western Europe formed a common defense organization in response to the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia and the Berlin blockade in 1948. Both actions were orchestrated by Russia. On April 4, 1949, the United States joined this group to form a new and stronger alliance called NATO. This became a joint military organization based initially for the defense of Europe and North America.
The Korean War begun in 1950 with the backing of the United Nations cemented the idea of fighting Communist expansion in the minds of NATO members. This led to the strengthening of the organization into a solid and complex military organization. Russia and its satellite countries created the Warsaw Pact in 1955 which became the counterbalance military organization against NATO. The Cold War which began to foment in the late 1940's was now set in stone.
NATO remained rock solid as a strong deterrent to the Soviet Union and its plans for continual expansion. Soviet forces were always much larger and stronger than NATO forces within Europe but the threat of nuclear retaliation that an offensive Warsaw Pact action would cause always kept there forces at bay.
The cost of maintaining Soviet military might became prohibitive in the 1980's when the Russian economy began to fail and American President Ronald Reagan proposed creating a Strategic Defense Initiative also known at the time as the Star Wars defense. Newly appointed Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev saw that the Soviet Union could no longer compete with the U.S. in weapons systems and began to look at ways to change both Russia's military and its economy.
Gorbachev soon began to loosen both the economic and political constrictions on Russian society and the dominoes began to drop. Soviet satellite nations such as East Germany and Poland began to fall in 1989 and the Soviet Union within a short time no longer existed. Russia was now almost a solitary nation with few strong allies but continued its reforms and sought to become much closer to the NATO member nations. It was now apparent that the West had won this political and ideological struggle. Now what? Was there still a role for NATO?
NATO is in a strong position before Donald Trump is inaugurated on January 20, 2017 albeit a precarious one. There were 12 founding member nations in 1949. Now there are 28 member countries and 37 others in affiliated organizations. This is a very strong and vast assembly of nations which helped to eliminate the Soviet Union and quell battles around the world.
Unfortunately, nationalist tendencies have sprouted and exploded throughout the electorates of NATO member nations including stalwarts such as the United States and England. Now Donald Trump is actively questioning if other member nations are adequately contributing to NATO.
He has made glowing comments about Russia's President Vladimir Putin as well as musing about letting him take care of our Syria and ISIL problems. These comments represent a total reversal of America's total support for NATO's preeminence in dealing with the problems in these regions. The U.S. and NATO have never outsourced our international responsibilities to any nation especially an adversary.
NATO has always been united in their opposition to any Russian aggression. Will this hold true if a President Trump turns a blind eye to every Russian power play? Will these same nations continue to oppose Russian aggression if Trump is constantly haranguing them about their economic contributions to NATO especially in light of the nationalist rumblings within their own populaces?
This direct attack on the foreign policy status quo by our President-Elect and other new leaders in Europe will prove to be a crucial crossroads for NATO. The new embrace of Russia and President Putin could destroy NATO and destabilize Europe. A backlash against this possible new alignment if Putin overplays his hand could eventually strengthen NATO. It could also lead to a war with devastating results.
The future of NATO faces question on many different fronts. These questions extend beyond Trump's criticisms of NATO as it stands now. Firstly, what should NATO do if Putin moves on annexing any of the former Soviet states?
NATO was virtually powerless to respond to Russia's taking of Crimea away from the Ukraine. It appears that with the future President Trump's tacit approval, they could do the same again without the dissenting voice of their top adversary. On the other hand, they might not feel the need to do so without the fear of the West with a much less united and threatening NATO.
Secondly, how strong of a NATO ally will Turkey be in the midst of Donald Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric? Trump has attempted to ameliorate this situation by praising Turkish President Erdogan soon after his November election.
Unfortunately Erdogan has demanded and received vastly stronger Presidential powers since the military coup that was launched and failed against him last year. What will President Trump do if Erdogan creates a Putin like democracy where he is the clear dictator?
This question is especially critical since Trump has vital business interests in Turkey. Will he simply roll over to protect his business interests or will he help to protect the civil rights of the Turkish people and their religious minorities?
This leads to my my third concern for the future of NATO. Our fight against ISIL is progressing well and steadily. President Erdogan is an enemy of the Kurds because that minority in Turkey has been rebelling against the Turkish government for many years. Therefore he is also strongly opposed to the Iraqi Kurds who are one of our strongest fighting allies on the ground against ISIL. What will Trump and NATO do if he attacks the Iraqi Kurds or threatens to withhold support for the fight against ISIL?
Russia's President Putin has flexed his muscles in Syria in a very major way. Will he now try to expand this new Middle East influence in the name of fighting ISIL? President-Elect Trump has already stated that he welcomes it. This is a very dangerous time in the Middle East as well as around the world.
The neoconservatives in the George W. Bush administration pushed for and received a robust interventionist foreign policy especially in the Middle East. President Obama scaled this way back by eventually ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He also has been supporting and enabling Middle East allies in their war against ISIL.
President-elect Trump's foreign policy direction is cloudy at best. His public rhetoric is often combative yet he also talks of outsourcing the ISIL battles to Russia. He also seems to be espousing a non-interventionist policy. Only time will tell about which direction the Trump administration will take or if there will be a coherent one.
What are we to make of all of these Trump signals? How will they effect NATO? Let us begin by stating that we are in uncharted territory so no one really knows what a Trump administration will do possibly not even Donald Trump.
My belief is that Donald Trump is essentially a deal maker and will seek to extract greater monetary and maybe even military commitments from the other NATO member nations. He will probably attempt to lessen our own share of these commitments. This is how he has operated as the head of his own business organization and I do not believe he will deviate from this path. At least not in the beginning.
He will also seek to engineer deals with Russia that are beneficial to the United States at least in his view. The big question is what is this view and does this also involve his own business empire. I fear that he will simply seek better economic deals with Russia with no thought as to how they will effect us strategically in the world.
Vladimir Putin is a highly effective and experienced manipulator on the world stage. Donald Trump has always valued his own reputation and personal brand above all other considerations during his long business career. We are seeing this trend continue with all of his post-election tweets attacking anyone who dares criticize him in any way.
Putin knows exactly how to deal with this narcissistic personality. He will attempt to drive as many wedges as he can between Donald Trump's United States and and our NATO allies. Putin's main goal in the world is the dissolution of NATO or at least its weakening to a point of irrelevance. This is his and Russia's biggest existential threat at least in their world view.
My view is that the new Trump administration and its NATO allies should explore strengthening their organization while creating a clear message for Russia as well as any terrorist groups that they will be opposed whenever any of the NATO countries are attacked or encroached upon. Unfortunately this path appears to be the one that will be avoided by both the U.S. and its NATO allies.
Many of the NATO member nations are experiencing the same nationalist or populist trends that Great Britain and the United States have faced in their recent referendums or elections. The electorates of these countries are responding to fear mongering and are trending towards throwing out their more traditional and liberal governments and replacing them with much more reactionary governments.
I fear that this alarming trend will reverse the decades long trend of nations uniting against tyrannical enemies and preserving our yearnings for justice, equality, and freedom for all peoples. My sincere hope is that this current tendency is simply a manifestation of our troubled times. People all over the world are fearful from terrorism, wars, inequality, and a sense of powerlessness.
We all must strive to fight these fears within ourselves and between countries. The vast majority of all peoples of the world simply want to exist in peace and within societies that promote growth for all of its citizens. This is true of Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners, Far Easterners, and all countries around the world.
Unfortunately, people become fearful and distrustful during trying times when good people remain silent and let demagogues be vocal without vigorous challenge and rebuttal. NATO and other security organizations are now in trouble with the ascendancy of nationalists and purveyors of the fear of others. President Putin knows this all to well and is happy to feed these tendencies.
The dissolution of NATO is far from a done deal. The world's descendancy into individual nations sheltering themselves from other cultures and ideas can only occur when the majority of the people in those nations remain silent and allow it to happen. The Russian government is counting on this. President-Elect Donald Trump ran on this.
We must all be vocal and stand up to our governments and state loudly and proudly that we stand for peace, prosperity for all, and the common unity against despotic governments wherever they are. NATO has been a beacon against this tyranny for almost seventy years. Let us now stand up and state that this union will grow and become stronger and last for years to come. Do not let the demagogues and purveyors of hatred win.