Being an old cold warrior, I certainly understood the relevance of NATO during the existence of the USSR and its European satellites. But once the wall came down and the communist East collapsed like a wet paper sack, I began to try to figure out what continued role NATO would play. After all, it was formed as a defensive coalition of European states which essentially gave notice to the USSR and its proxies that an attack on one was an attack on all. And the inclusion of the US made that pact even more potent.
But with the enemy for which it existed gone, NATO had no further role. So it had three choices - find a new mission, stay with the old mission or go away. With all good bureaucracies, once established they're harder to kill than a cockroach colony. Many thought that "go away" was the appropriate choice. Obviously, given today's announcement, that's not the course chosen. They think they've found that new mission in life:
NATO must win the war in Afghanistan, expand ties with Russia and even China, counter the threat posed by Iran's missiles, and assure the security of its 28 members, according to the alliance's proposed mission statement for the next decade.Interestingly, at least according to the article cited, it is claimed that the US wants a "greater international role" for NATO. Europe, on the other hand, wants it to retain the traditional focus of its original mission. I, on the other hand, see little to warrant its continued existence in either role.
I've certainly not been impressed with its effort in Afghanistan although I mourn the 1,800 NATO troops who have died there. In fact, for the most part, I've mostly seen nothing but an extra layer of command/bureaucracy added and, with exceptions, a few token troops grudgingly given by reluctantly participating countries with many of them restricted to strictly non-combat roles. And many of the NATO nations now there plan to leave soon. So to me that speaks to the validity of the argument that Europe is not enthusiastic about an expanded role for NATO and would like the traditional role continued.
So why is the US the one pushing for an expansion of NATO's mission?
"NATO must be versatile and efficient enough to operate far from home," said former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, head of the team of experts who wrote the document. "(But) in order to sustain the political will for operations outside its area, NATO must see that all its members are reassured about the security of their home territories."Why we would try to get a reluctant (and, frankly, unwilling) group of European allies to sign on to this as the price of continued US protection is explained by President Obama's stated promise to have Europe pick up more of the slack in Afghanistan. Read that last sentence carefully - Albright is making it clear that the US will indeed guarantee "the security of their homeland territories" but the price is no longer "free", but a force that is "versatile and efficient enough to operate far from home". And, of course, have the "political will" which few now demonstrate.
One look at the defense budgets of the European NATO members and you realize they have no stomach for the sort of "foreign adventure" Albright and Obama are pushing on them. Most European nations spend less that 2% of their GDP on defense. And, unsurprisingly, their forces are built mostly as defensive forces. The reason is clear - they have expensive welfare states to run and they have the US to fall back on if necessary and there's no reason to spend on the military.
Take the Balkans for example.
There was a perfect opportunity for NATO to exercise it's mission with an all European force. But that's not at all who did most of the heavy lifting though, was it (or who is still there today, either)?
Take a look at the European NATO countries spending on defense in comparison to ours:
America's latest defense budget of over $710 billion dwarfs the combined annual military expenditures of its European allies, which total about $280 billion. Despite the added expenses of the Afghan war, many European capitals are planning further cuts or freezing their current outlays.Collectively, the Euro zone's GDP rivals ours. But their spending on defense is barely a third. And anyone who thinks it is going to change needs to sober up.
Maybe NATO does have a role, but I don't think it's the one that Albright et. al see for it. I'm not sure why this is important to the current administration, but being a bit of a pessimist when it comes to modern European armies and their "will" to do much of anything as a group, I'm not particularly high on this new mission and I certainly don't think the Europeans will buy into it, even if they reluctantly endorse this "new mission".
However, your mileage may vary.