(Published by the International Network of Engineers and Scientists, April, 2012)
Despite its recent dubious military triumph in Libya, NATO is an alliance in crisis. With the rise of China and other BRIC nations and the Western economic crisis, U.S. economic power – and thus its ability to maintain historic levels of military spending and mobilization – is in relative, if not absolute, decline. NATO’s “new strategic concept”, formally adopted last year in Lisbon, was designed to compensate for this loss by increasing both the influence and burden-sharing of Washington’s European allies. In exchange for assuming greater financial and war-fighting burdens, privileged European partners are to have a greater say in the alliance’s policies and a larger share of the booty. With Europe’s economic crisis threatening to pitch the world – as IMF Managing Director Christine Legard warned – into a 1930s-like Great Depression, Europeans are understandably in no rush to financially reinforce the alliance.
The alliance faces a second major challenge: the loss of perceived legitimacy. Cold War tensions provided rationales for the alliance, but since the implosion of the Soviet Union U.S. national security managers have reiterated that Russia poses no threat of invasion. In fact, despite very real tensions over U.S./NATO missile defense deployments, Iran and Syria, the Russian and Western European economies are increasingly integrated and interdependent, with oil and natural gas as lubricants. Rather than giving priority to preparations for war with Russia, the alliance has been transformed and now focuses on “out of area” operations that could extend as far as the South China Seas. As a result, good faith arguments that the alliance exists to defend Europe from Russia are increasingly difficult to come by. Add to this NATO’s subversion of the U.N. Charter with its regime change war against Serbia; the decade old war in Afghanistan, described by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan as illegal (with the U.S. now seeking to negotiate a Karzai-Taliban coalition government;) and the violation of the U.N. mandate in Libya resulting in the replacement of the Qaddafi dictatorship with militia fueled chaos, and you have a delegitimized NATO.
Thus it is hardly surprising that NATO’s agenda for its Chicago summit this May focuses on these fault lines.