Introduction and History
NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization. A military mutual defense pact which came out of the ashes of World War II; midwife to the birth of the Cold War. It was created in response to an aggressively expanding USSR under Premier Joseph Stalin and nations "liberated" from retreating Nazi forces in 1944 and '45 by advancing Russian troops. The alliance which once included Great Britain, France, the US, and Soviet Russia during its struggle against Hitler and the Axis powers along with its allies, first faltered and then disintegrated soon after the war ended. The Western allies united to save starving Germans, still living in rubble of a war torn Berlin, by airlifting food, medicine, and supplies via the ingenious "Berlin Airlift" of 1947, just as an "Iron Curtain" fell across Eastern Europe as British Prime Minister and former war leader Winston Churchill so succinctly put it. From the Russian perspective, however, the allies planned to "gang up" on Russia; perhaps even invade. After all, it had happened before---Napoleon in 1812, expeditionary forces led by England and the US during the dark days of Russia's Civil War following the 1917 Revolution at Archangel, twice by Germany (once in World War I and again in World War II). Even Japan had seized Russian territory in 1907. Russia needed a buffer zone. Besides, could "the People's Revolution" afford to be contaminated by Capitalism? Many returning Russian soldiers---especially officers---and former prisoners of war, were regrettably exposed to "decadent" Western values, had been shot; each bullet a vaccination to protect Mother Russia.
Who is in the Club?
Formed in 1949, on the heels of what many would call its ideological antithesis, the United Nations, NATO originally consisted of 12 nations who pledged mutual military support in the event of a Russian invasion of the West. It's premise was that an attack on one represented an attack on all. NATO members also agreed to provide mutual crisis or emergency assistance in case of a natural or manmade disaster, and to assist with general security. Of the 12 nations, all were European with the exception of Canada and the US.
Within Europe, France and Great Britain represented the two key anchors, although both had been decimated militarily, economically, and in terms of a military age population (much as both had been following the Napoleonic Wars and again by World War I). Iceland, also a founding member, has no military, although it does have a small Coast Guard and agreed to assist with training and logistics. Other founding members included Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal, Denmark, Italy (a former Axis nation), and Holland. In 1952, Greece and Turkey were added. West Germany joined in 1955, with the last member before the USSR's collapse in 1999, Spain, becoming a member in 1982.
The 2% Solution...Or Problem?
Each member agreed to contribute a minimum of 2% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to the mutual defense, active participation in military games, R&D, joint and cross training, and assuming administrative leadership roles so that no nation would have to bear the total or even majority costs of the alliance. Each nation is required to prepare and submit "Capability Targets", such as personnel and equipment commitments. However, given the disparities in GDP, economic and/or political stability, some nations have fallen short of the 2% minimum recommendation while other nations, especially the US, have contributed far and away the lion's share. Greece's economic instability has made it exceedingly difficult to meet the 2% goal while Italy's fragile government has made it equally difficult. Spain and Portugal are both relatively poor nations, while other nations such as Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg simply lack the population and economic wherewithal, to contribute sufficient dollars. Iceland, as stated before, lack a military altogether, and thus contributes approximately 1% toward training and logistics.
That means the bulk of the costs falls on countries like France, the UK, and the US. As an aside, NATO member Turkey has become increasingly non-democratic in light of the rise of extremist Islam domestically and regionally, plus indirect conflicts with other allies of member nations such as Israel, South Africa, and India. This has become more significant since 1999 and the implosion of the USSR (more on that in a moment). So, given the shift away from a common cause, domestic politics and economics, changes in geopolitics, not to mention technology in terms of delivery systems, how practical is NATO really?
The Big Bear in the Room
Russia, since 1945, was always seen as the "big bear" in the room, along with its on again/off again ideological ally, Communist China (China also counts among its allies North Korea and India's nemesis, Pakistan). At its peak, Russia could field the largest number of armor division of any country in the world; the second largest number of attack and support aircraft, and the third largest number of ground troops. Russia also has one of the best special forces units, the Spetsnaz, in the world; comparable to America's SEAL teams, the UK's SAS, or Israel's Sayeret. Where Russia lacked--its Navy (in terms of surface vessels and access to warm water ports), it made up in terms of anti-ship guided missiles and the world's largest submarine fleet, R&D (much of Russia's early post WWII technology came from captured German scientists, and later, from reversed Western sources), it continued to improve in terms of capability and deployment. Plus, the USSR had a first rate space program, for not just manned space exploration, but in terms of satellites. However, an inadequate infrastructure contributed to the reputation of Russian military hardware being poorly constructed. Soviet military philosophy placed more emphasis on quantity over quality (case in point, the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle, the most popular and mass produced weapon of its type in the world).
Nevertheless, Russia created a "buffer" zone, comprised of countries it overran at the end of the Second World War out of which it created the seven member Warsaw Pact in 1955. These included Poland, East Germany, Albania, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. In addition, there was Tito's Yugoslavia, and effectively, Finland (remember too that the USSR consisted of Russia proper along with 15 "republics"). In addition, Russia had (and still maintains) a sizeable nuclear "first strike" and redundant response capability. This provided an effective counterbalance to NATO. The alliance officially lasted until 1991, although East Germany left the previous year to reunite with West Germany.
Same Ole Fears...and Some Brand New Ones
The Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991, and in 1999, the once feared USSR was no more. Various former republics went their own way; some seeking to align themselves along cultural and religious lines, especially the countries with large Muslim populations. Many, such as Poland, the Ukraine, and the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia sought closer relations with the West. Some, such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary wanted to redevelop their traditional roles, while counties such as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia broke apart into the their ethnical components, with some seeking to maintain close contact with Russia while others looked westward.
Since the implosion of the USSR, Russia has emerged much more democratic and capitalistic, though not to the degree as the West, which, given Russia's history of absolute rule, makes perfect sense. Additionally, Russia has had a "love/hate" relationship with the West since at least the reign of Peter the Great. It's a nation with one foot in the West and the other in the Asiatic East. Perhaps of that, it has had a "redheaded stepchild" complex as well; it never quite fit in with the West or the East, though I think its preference was always towards the West. However, given its location far to the east of Europe's cultural and economic centers, periodic isolationism, and invasions from the West, it has rightfully developed something of a " twice bitten" mentality.
During the Cold War, Russia faced nuclear tipped missiles literally on its borders and aimed at its population centers (this was at the heart of the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis for instance). While other European nations, as well as the US, faced a similar prospect, those missiles were hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Nowadays, many of the former Warsaw Pact nations are now members of NATO, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Albania, the three Baltic States, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, and Slovakia. In effect, providing Russia with what it has feared all along and sought to prevent with the eastern buffer---being nearly surrounded by a potentially hostile force.
While most of us seriously doubt the US or any other NATO member would initiate an attack on Russia, the prospect, from their point of view, is certainly there, especially with the latest full scale NATO military "war games" taking place within miles of the Russian border. It would be like having nuclear weapons aimed at the US on our Mexican and Canadian borders along with both Canada, Mexico, and the rest of Latin America conducting "war games" aimed at us, including naval and air operations. It would make us feel a bit uncomfortable to say the least. Since the breakup of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, Russia has formed a new, more economic, alliance with the nations of India, Brazil, and China (the so-called BRIC nations), plus close ties with Belarus, the Crimea, Syria and Iran (which has close ties to China as well).
Given the animosity between China and India, it's doubtful there would be any military cooperation between the two, however, there could be some independent cooperation directly with Russia. Besides, China and Russia could best be described as "frienemies". Iran would jump at the chance to challenge the West, and especially "the Great Satan", the US. Brazil might provide logistical support while Syria is mess and couldn't be expected to provide any assistance other than logistical. Meanwhile, both Belarus and Crimea are firmly attached to Russia by a common history and economic necessity.
Is There Common Cause?
So, is there still a need for NATO? As originally envisioned, I would say no. The "big bad bear" of the East no longer exists. Europe now depends on Russian oil and gas...and potential investment opportunities, especially as a warming climate and newer technology has made accessing the natural resources of Siberia more practical and financially feasible. Plus the globalization of the world's economy, has made international trade almost essential. Additionally, the United States is no longer capable of serving as the world's unofficial "policeman". The US is suffering from its own internal instabilities, with many economists, sociologists, and political scientists predicting a significant decline (or perhaps fall) of the US as the world's superpower.
Already, the US had dropped to second place in terms of the largest economy and is predicted to drop to third within the next decade. America has seen the near evaporation of the Middle Class and the widest income gap in its history. Academically, America barely makes the bottom half of the second tier (and in several subjects, America public schools are on par with some second and third world nations). There is an unprecedented disconnect between Washington and the rest of America, with Congress, the Presidency, and even Judicial System maintaining near single digit approval ratings. Lastly, America is no longer a "representative democracy", and hasn't been for awhile. It's now an Oligarchy; rule by a corporate plutocracy which operates hand in glove with the government.
Lastly, there is a new enemy which threatens Russia and the West, if not the world, equally. That enemy is the advent of extremist Islam, whose goal is the overthrow of democracy in any of its forms, Communism, and all non-Islamic religions and replace it with a theocratic Caliphate. Russia has the longest border of a country in the world with nations with an Islamic majority; some of whom are home to extremist factions. This virulent form of Islam knows no other ideology and recognizes no borders. It seems to me that the goal of mutual protection should be redirected from passé Cold War mentality (and efforts to revive it) and focused on mutual preservation of national sovereignty. I further think that this new alliance should include Russia, who has just as much if not more to lose than China, India, Australia, Southeast Asia, Latin America, Canada, or the United States. It's time we recognize our mutual threat and act together before we fall separately.
How NATO is funded and who pays for what
Here's who is paying the agreed-upon share to NATO and who isn't
NATO Summit: Which members are not pulling their weight with defense spending?
How Vladimir Putin's military compares with the West
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