Rhetorical differences aside, successive US governments have always been clear that NATO is not a gathering of peers. Its function has been to bind European states into an international order dominated by the US—and to do it on Washington’s terms.
The original Alliance goals — summarized crudely as keeping the Soviet Union out, the Americans in and the Germans down — clearly had to be revamped with the fall of Communism. Indeed many believed that NATO too should have vanished along with the Soviet Union.
But that was not to be. Instead NATO became the cornerstone of a “vast strategic expansion” designed to enable the US to have a guiding hand in the post-Communist transformation of Eastern Europe. In other words, the Cold War strategy of “containment” of the then Soviet Union was replaced by a strategy of enlargement of the world’s ‘free community of market democracies’.
Yet this expansion of NATO, in violation of promises to Gorbachev from several Western leaders, helped to increase tensions with Russia and thus generate the very threat it was allegedly designed to counter.
Here is the point that Tony Wood’s article hammers home most clearly:
That decision [to enlarge NATO]…. was founded not on a collective assessment of Europe’s likely security needs during the post-cold war peace, but on Washington’s unchallenged sense of its own priorities. An alliance that had served as the linchpin of the US-led international order since World War II was subordinated still more firmly to the US’s specific foreign policy goals.
The abject servility (there simply is no other word) of America’s NATO allies could not have been better demonstrated than at the Brussels Summit in July 2018. Trump’s foreign policy, from the revocation of the Iran nuclear deal, to the exacerbation of the Israel-Palestine conflict to the multiplying trade wars, is vigorously opposed by most of NATO’s longstanding members, including Germany*, France and even the UK. Despite this, Alliance members acquiesced to every American demand, and the final Summit Communiqué bears witness to this sweeping capitulation.
Thus, among other things, all NATO members agreed to an immediate increase in military spending and to the creation of an extraordinary new NATO rapid-reaction force by 2020. Dubbed the “Four 30s,” it will consist of thirty battalions, thirty air squadrons, and thirty warships, ready to deploy within thirty days. (See paragraph 14 of the Communiqué.)
Tony Wood summarizes the now all-too-familiar NATO dynamic in witheringly blunt terms:
Far from being anomalous or atypical, the Brussels summit neatly encapsulated the power dynamic between the US and NATO: Washington issues instructions, politely or otherwise, and its European allies fall into line.
Of course it is not just European allies who fall into line but Canada too. Nonetheless, the one thing in which we hapless citizens can take comfort is the virtual certainty that, whatever the actual text of the Summit Declaration, with the prospect of a federal election looming, we can be sure that further increases in the Canadian defence budget are decidedly not in the offing.
For the full article by Tony Wood, see: NATO and the Myth of the Liberal International Order (The New York Review of Books, 21 August 2018).
For the full text of the 2018 NATO Summit Communiqué, see: Brussels Summit Declaration (NATO, 11 July 2018).
Photo credit: TheGuardian.com (President Trump and PM Justin Trudeau)
*Germany was not a founding member of NATO but joined as West Germany in 1955.