“I think NATO is a Cold War product. I think NATO historically should have shut up shop in 1990 along with the Warsaw Pact; unfortunately, it didn’t.” Jeremy Corbyn’s very words sum up the quintessence of my argument. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization played a key role in stabilizing Europe after World War II, preventing major power conflicts and overcoming the Cold War divisions after 1989. Since its inception in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has had a clear strategy for maintaining peace in Europe: “keep the Soviet Union out, the United States in, and the Germans down.” Thus, it was an essential requirement, a set of principles, that were meant to establish uniformity and resolve the conflict. However, now many people question whether NATO has lost its effectiveness.
Three decades after the Cold War, great-power competition has resurfaced on the global stage. NATO has been plagued by problems of purpose, and many of its members are no longer convinced of the importance of being in the alliance. The Soviet Union no longer exists and none of the Eastern European countries are still communists. In fact, most of them have joined the EU and are part of NATO.
The largest contributor to NATO, The United States of America plans to withdraw its troops from Europe and is ready to reduce its financial contributions to NATO. Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump has gone down in history for calling the organization ‘obsolete’ and the French President calling NATO ‘brain-dead’. Even Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, a Republican who worked for the administration of both President George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has warned of a “dim, if not dismal future” of “military irrelevance” if Europeans did not invest more. The fact that major NATO contributors speak ill of it attests to the fact that it has lost its relevance in terms of being a successful force to manage the challenges to the international order of the twenty-first century and the prominent powers testing its limits.
The harsh reality is that many European countries do not want to invest more in NATO as they are saddled with high debt. Under NATO by-laws, members must use 2% of their GDP on defence. Outside of the U.S., only four in 27 other countries do so. Great economies and superpowers in Europe and Germany also do not meet the above conditions. It means that many countries have lost hope in the union and question whether it can protect them in the 21st century from new threats such as China, the only regional hegemon.
Moller, a defence analyst who has written exclusively for NATO, the Middle East and on nuclear weapons, recently said the 30-member alliance would soon lose its relevance because it lacked strategic focus. She also stated, “A team with members who cannot agree on the purpose of the club is a club in trouble.” NATO was created as a military force to shield Europe from the Soviet Union but today it is involved in peacekeeping operations, counter piracy, battle illegal immigration and many other missions it is not equipped to do. All countries want different outcomes from NATO.
The latest example of different countries wanting different outcomes is evident in Turkey’s recent actions. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has restricted the freedom of speech, its elections are not free or fair, it has the highest number of journalists arrested in the world, and its courts toe the government’s line violating the European principles. Turkey also recently purchased a Russian-made S-400 defence system and launched an offensive in Kurdish-held northern Syria. Both measures have led to a strong rejection by NATO allies. This is the ironic point at which Turkey, being a NATO ally, has bought arms from Russia.
During the Cold War, Germany was at the frontline with the Soviet Union. However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, after USSR countries such as Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries separated from Russia, Germany now feels that it no longer faces a direct threat from the Red Army. The result is that Germany has hit its defence budget, dispersed a large number of brigades and resisted calls from the USA and other eastern NATO allies to provide more concrete military support and improve its defences. Germany’s demand for new markets for its products has led to long-term cooperation with Russia. Germany had initially imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. However, it has now partnered with Russia to build a new major pipeline on Nord Stream 2, and has been trying to lift the sanctions. This is essentially an attempt at double standards.
Furthermore, former communist countries and current NATO members such as Poland and Romania have been demanding to have permanently stationed armed brigades to protect themselves from the Russian threat, but to no avail. The United States of America is also in agreement with the Baltic nations that NATO members lack military preparedness and need to invest more in their own defence.
In today’s world, economics plays a crucial role in every country’s progress. Europe’s need for fuel and Russia’s need for a stable export market would seem like a valid trading option for both as 60% of Russian crude oil and 90% of Russian gas goes to the European Union. The EU needs energy security so its member countries are not very keen to pursue a hard line against Russia. Even the Baltics nations are energy-dependent on Russia. Therefore it is clear that Europe is seriously and increasingly deficient in energy and Russia is likely to be the main energy supplier to Europe.
Finally, as the popular belief goes, ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’, this is precisely the case with NATO as well. There is no political will among both NATO and the EU against Russia. Hence, it is only rational to bid adieu to NATO if Europe must survive the Russian aggression.