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NATO - Past, Present, and Future?

Updated on January 10, 2017

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.

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      Howard Schneider 3 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      The President Trump trip to the Middle East, the Vatican, and Europe highlights the critical threat that the Trump administration offers to NATO. He gushed and kissed up to the Middle East authoritarians but insulted and would not invoke Article 5 to his fellow NATO leaders. Trump is an authoritarian in the making. He idolizes Putin and other tyrants. It is what he strives to be. Very scary. Be alert America.

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      Howard Schneider 7 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Prime Minister May is correct and I totally applaud her comments. Unfortunately, I fear that Trump will trust and blindly make deals with no real thought or strategy. His personal verification process is his gut feel which I believe to be a dangerous course in foreign affairs especially regarding Putin.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Fair enough. but I think May hit the nail on the head when she told Trump "Trust, but verify" to quote another US President.

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      Howard Schneider 7 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I am all for having other NATO members pay more of their fair share of NATO expenses but the U.S. is far larger than any of the other members so we pay more which is fair. I believe that President Trump is using this as an excuse to distance himself from NATO and cozy up to Putin. Also Trump is notorious for reneging on contracts over his many business years leaving others holding the bag. He also idolizes strongmen. He has many ties to mob leaders over the years. This is not uncommon in his business but it helps to inform his world view. The peace accord in Syria is holding but that is because the opposition has been beaten down with little fight left in them. Maybe the British and the Americans should have talked earlier but the Russians were fully intent on Assad remaining in power and I doubt it would have mattered. I would have liked to have seen this standoff but unfortunately the national legislatures of both countries opposed any direct military actions in Syria leaving their positions fatally limited and virtually toothless. Thank you for your further comments, Lawrence.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      HSchneider

      Fair enough, but is it right that the USA should be spending four times the amount the nearest rival is?

      I don't agree with Trump's 'freeze' on taking in people from war-torn countries, but New Zealand is critical, yet refuses to take more in herself!

      Trump has stood up and told the rest of the world to 'put their money where their mouth is'

      I agree with you though, he really does like himself more than is normal, or healthy, but most analysts agree that we've been in far more danger of nuclear holocaust in the last ten years than at any time in history.

      Also, note, there's a ceasefire in Syria that seems to be holding, it was Turkey and Russia working together, and doing something that Russia told the World three years ago must happen, TALK TO THE SYRIAN GOVERNMENT (the Assad regime). It was the British and Americans that refused!

      Aleppo need never have happened, if the west had talked to the Assad regime in the first place.

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      Howard Schneider 7 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for your comments, Lawrence. I am in no way saying that President Obama has no blame in regards to this Syrian civil war disaster. I am also not saying that President Putin had no support or even no reason to be in Syria. Unfortunately Putin's military support for the Syrian government has led to the massacre and dislocation of most of the Aleppo residents. This is a war crime no matter their initial intentions. Yes, President Obama's leaving Iraq at a certain date helped lead to ISIL but he was only following the agreement that the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government agreed to earlier. I have a far less encouraging view of President Trump. His actions to this point have been extraordinarily reckless including his ban on Muslims from some Muslim nations traveling to the U.S. He is creating enemies all over the world and I believe it will work out but possibly as a devastating global war. Trump is not just another leader to come on the stage with new views. I believe he is a narcissistic megalomaniac who seems to be forming strange bonds with President Putin while alienating everyone else not just the NATO members. Nuclear war is not out of the question especially with North Korea involved and China angry with us. I hope you are right and my alarming views are unfounded. Unfortunately I do not think I am wrong.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 7 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      This was pretty good. It was 'to the point' but I think it missed a few things that need to be mentioned.

      Firstly I'm not sure if I 'sit' in any camp, both for Trump or against the man, I think he's started well' if somewhat controversially.

      The biggest mistake President Obama made was telling the Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban when US troops were going to leave! All they had to do was 'go quiet' and wait, that's exactly what they did!

      I still maintain that the huge mess we have in those countries was because Obama was dumb enough to think they would 'play nice'

      Sorry, but that doesn't happen!

      NATO has not one, but three Nuclear powers, that is if you count France as being part of NATO, officially they left it in the 1950s as they disagreed with only American and British 'fingers' on the Nuclear trigger! They still haven't re-joined! France is likely to send troops wherever NATO might need them, but when I was in the British Military I was with the 'Allied Mobile Force' that was made up of members of all the NATO countries (including Luxembourg) and France never sent troops!

      As for Putin, did you know that he was requested to get involved in Syria by the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church?

      None of the groups (except the Syrian Kurds) were doing anything to protect the religious minorities in Syria and a number of opposition groups (not just ISIS) were actively persecuting them! (not stuff the media tells us, but I'm on the websites of Christian groups there a lot and you can check it out)

      Putin is playing an aggressive game, and over the Baltic states both British and German fighter planes are patrolling the skies to keep him away (at the request of the Estonian , Latvian and Lithuanian governments) on average they are making as many as forty 'intercepts' a month, more than were made monthly at the height of the 'cold war'

      Putin knows that he's not dealing with one Nuclear power with the capability of destroying him, he's dealing with three, and Trump wants them to 'pick up more of the tab'

      It's going to take time for these things to work out, but they will eventually.

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I fully understand that your blood is boiling because mine is also. I do believe that your belief that Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders have been gotten to is far off. Trump is ripe for manipulation by Putin and we are clearly seeing it already. Of course, greed is another major driver for Trump. Only slightly behind his own ego which is immense.

    • lovemychris profile image

      Yes Dear 8 months ago from Cape Cod, USA

      im sorry to keep hogging your comments, but this has got my blood boiling. and i think that russia has really played us for such fools! can it be simply that hillary humiliated him? i think not only trump was recruited, but jill stein and bernie sanders. how did he afford a half million dollar third home? and why hasnt he mentioned the hacking? he could have been the one senator to stand with those 3 brave women against the ec. and then he got this mysterious huge donation, and is another one who wont release his taxes.

      i just keep remembering that video of the russian spy back in the 60's....explaining how russia will infiltrait and take over. and khrushev. "well bury you without firing a shot."

      and theres another one...sean hannity! retweets "make russia great again...AMEN"

      just wth is,going on, here?

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for your additional, comments, Lovemychris. I was afraid and I am even more so now.

    • lovemychris profile image

      Yes Dear 8 months ago from Cape Cod, USA

      "do not be afraid of trump, hes a bully and a bluff, bullies end when theyre called out. america, stand out before its too late!-- vicente fox quesada

      ....and no, hes not now, nor ever paying for that wall. "if trump wants a monument to his ego, let him pay for it"

    • lovemychris profile image

      Yes Dear 8 months ago from Cape Cod, USA

      omg, that agents name is christopher steele, and hes gone into hiding for fear of his life.

      alleged rape victim of trump also recused lawsuit because she said she and her family were threatened. this is the gd russian mob

      wake up america!

    • lovemychris profile image

      Yes Dear 8 months ago from Cape Cod, USA

      this dossier is not just some fluke. not some fake story. it comes from a british m16 agent.

      read: trumps 'compromising' claims. how, and why did we get here

      --paul wood, bbc news, washington

      jan 11, 2017

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for your comments, and compliment, Rebelogilbert. I have very strong fears that Donald Trump's foreign policies plus his very thin skin and penchant for nasty tweets will lead to a very volatile world. I pray that it will not spiral out of control. This is the nuclear age and it could easily be catastrophic.

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for your comments, Larry.

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for your further comments, Ashutosh. I am not sure what you are referring to concerning Al-Qaeda and Bin-Laden. I believe that it was clear that the 9-11 attacks were an Al-Qaeda operation and Bin-Laden was in charge.

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I have always felt that Donald Trump will be impeached in a short amount of time. Surprisingly the Republicans will be the ones doing it and then they will have their own man, Mike Pence, in charge instead of Donald the interloper. It will come, Lovemychris.

    • rebelogilbert profile image

      Gilbert Arevalo 8 months ago from Hacienda Heights, California

      Howard, you wrote a thought provoking article. I loved the way you described the NATO situation from when it started to the precarious situation it faces now. White house foreign policy is only one area of the new Trump presidency that will engage our interest this year and following years to come.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 8 months ago from Oklahoma

      Interesting perspective.

    • AshutoshJoshi06 profile image

      Ashutosh Joshi 8 months ago from New Delhi, India

      @HSchneider, I am glad that you agree that WMDs were a false flag. As far as the whole Al Qaeda narrative and the assassination of Osama goes that's another controversial topic and some day the can of worms would just burst open and with Trump at helm of affairs, it's all the more likely to happen sooner!!

    • lovemychris profile image

      Yes Dear 8 months ago from Cape Cod, USA

      bbc correspondent: "more than one tape, audio as well as video, in moscow and st petersburg"

      our intel cannot discuss, but find it "very credible"

      *****

      and trump deflects to hillary clinton.

      4yrs ago, trump in interview, "yes, i know putin, and hes probably watching now."

      trump has got to go

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I agree. It does not look good and he may be in the bag for Putin's Russia. This is very scary stuff.

    • lovemychris profile image

      Yes Dear 8 months ago from Cape Cod, USA

      oh, its out there. that idiot has placed us in the catbird seat.

      bye bye usa. hello ussa

      youre welcome, over and out

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I wish we had the proof of unquestioned election tampering as well as possible Russian blackmail over Trump. Unfortunately we probably will never get that so voiding the election is highly improbable. Instead we all must remain vigilant and call him out on all of his misdeeds. These misdeeds may come out on a daily basis. Thank you for your further comments, Lovemychris.

    • lovemychris profile image

      Yes Dear 8 months ago from Cape Cod, USA

      i think the election should be null and void.

      will we wait until he dismantles and sells off everything?

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Thank you for your comments, Lovemychris. I totally agree that Trump's cabinet picks are outrageous and they seem to be warmongers. Combine that with the fact that Trump has some bromance with Putin makes me very scared. Now there are some unsubstantiated reports that Putin has some dirt on Trump. If we become a puppet of Russia, Trump should be impeached. As for the billionaire club, yes it seems that these men are likely to enrich themselves on the taxpayers dole. It is a sad time.

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      I certainly would not support all actions that NATO has taken in the Middle East especially the second Iraq War. It was totally unjustified and based on false intelligence. The first Iraq War was done with the support of most of the Middle East. The Afghanistan War was justified, especially at the beginning, because Al-Qaeda was being protected there and they had attacked the United States. Currently NATO supports Middle East nations in their fight against ISIL which I believe to be totally justified. Thank you for your comment and question, Ashutosh.

    • lovemychris profile image

      Yes Dear 8 months ago from Cape Cod, USA

      its not only trump that has ties to putin, its his cabinet. flynn, ross, tillerson...that we know of. and these people are billionaires....BILLIONAIRES. and i happen to believe that old saying, "behind every great fortune is a crime"...these are gangster oligarchs...robber baron brutes. not play nice!!!

      as far as NATO...i have not been a fan of their methods.

      but now with the adversary right inside the top level of our own gvt...we have no choice but to take their side.

      its NATO, or USSR

      imo only

    • AshutoshJoshi06 profile image

      Ashutosh Joshi 8 months ago from New Delhi, India

      How do you justify NATO actions in the middle east?

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      Howard Schneider 8 months ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Unfortunately, Donald Trump does not read anything longer than a 140 character tweet. He also seems to only believe things that fit his own mindset or flatters him. The breaking news about the intelligence report on possible Russian dirt on the President-Elect is very disturbing and worries me even more. I am even more disturbed now than during the 3 weeks it took me to research and write this Hub. Thank you for your kind words and comments, Junko.

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      junko 8 months ago

      This is a must read for The President Elect concerning NATO. Somebody close to him should give him a copy.