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NATO: A Twenty-First Century Failure

For the first time in more than a decade, representatives from NATO's 28 member nations will meet in Chicago on May 21 for a two day conference.

With the European continent devastated at the end of WWII and an ominous Russian presence in eastern Europe, the emergence of two superpowers with radically different political and economic agendas gave birth to an era of tensions and confrontations dubbed the Cold War -- a non-shooting conflict that dominated global politics for the next forty years. By early 1949, the Soviet Union had detonated its first atomic bomb and in an effort to halt the spread of communism, nip nationalistic militarism in the bud and encourage political integration amongst European nations, the United States and eleven western European counties formed NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Its charter, known as the Washington Treaty, included the admirable goals of settling "any international dispute... by peaceful means... that international peace and security and justice are not endangered and to refrain... from the threat or use of force... inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."

From its earliest days, NATO remained a largely benign presence coordinating humanitarian aid and, most importantly, standing as a symbolic reminder to the USSR. NATO's original goals were largely accomplished when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 eliminating any threat of a Soviet invasion of Europe. With the addition of central and eastern European countries, NATO's membership stretched beyond the Balkans to include Bulgaria and Turkey. As the Soviet block disintegrated, rather than accept the glory of Mission Accomplished, NATO justified its continued existence as it adopted a curiously prescient Strategic Concept policy which identified 'complex new risks to Euro-Atlantic peace and security."

NATO's first 'crisis management' operation did not occur until 1995 in support of a UN Resolution with 5,000 peacekeeper troops from fifteen nations on the ground in Bosnia as NATO conducted air strikes against Serb artillery to protect civilians from further massacre and attacks on designated 'safe areas' in Sarajevo and elsewhere.

The NATO mission of 1949 turned a significant corner in response to the 9/11 attacks as it moved with lightning-fast speed to adopt a resolution on Sept. 12th invoking Article 5 of the Treaty for the first time, triggering an extraordinary premise for military action. Less than a month later, intent on dismantling Al Qaeda and removing the Taliban from power, U.S. and NATO troops invaded Afghanistan on October 7th without any credible evidence that Afghanistan was responsible for the attack.

While its origins remain murky, a fundamental NATO principle enshrined in Article 5 is that of 'collective defense' which proposes, not unlike Alexandre Dumas' Three Musketeers, a "one for all, all for one" concept. Article 5 states that "any armed attack against one or more nation shall be considered an attack against all" NATO nations and that any such response may include the "use of armed force to restore and maintain the security."

Not unlike the Musketeers' petty quarrels, bruised egos and imagined slights that culminated in continuous duels and conflicts, Article 5 creates a fraternity of omnipotent nations, bound together by an almost effortless ability to make war. Current odds favor that, given an unprecedented proliferation of weapons sales as a highly profitable global business, increased international geopolitical tensions, economic catastrophes and a diminished commitment to diplomacy, Article 5 will provide the rationale for a constant state of combat guaranteed to spawn global empire-building. As the Alliance renounces the war-as-a-last-resort option, Article 5 is embedded as standard operating procedure. A remnant of the Cold War, a 'collective defensive' strategy might have once been appropriate for the Musketeers or the Hatfield-McCoy clans or the Mafia but it is hardly an appropriate tactic for 21st century international policy.

The NATO Summit in 2010 provided yet another evolutionary shift for NATO into a "fundamentally operational" alliance with an integrated command structure, according to U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder. That operational structure reaffirmed NATO's commitment to a presence in Afghanistan until 2014 as Daalder reported during a recent speech at George Washington University. Daalder referred to broad elements of what became President Obama's recently signed post-2014 transition agreement with Afghan President Karzai that will establish and maintain an enduring US occupation until 2024. Explaining that NATO expects to transfer all security in the country to Afghan security forces by mid-2013 with the transfer complete in 2014, the Ambassador stressed that 'success in Afghanistan is essential to success of NATO's 21st century alliance." Details of the agreement regarding immunity for U.S. troops, funding the post-2014 occupation and the future of drone attacks within Afghan borders have not been disclosed.

Daalder reported on other NATO missions such as its active pursuit of eliminating the 'pirate menace' to global commerce in the Gulf of Aden, that NATO owns seventeen AWAC Boeing E-3 Sentry airplanes and that the Alliance, as Daalder proudly announced, is about to make a 'major' acquisition of unmanned vehicles (drones) thereby providing NATO with a new global surveillance and reconnaissance capability which will transmit data to NATO owned and operated data centers. It has been reported that the Pentagon has committed to purchase six drones for NATO at a cost of $1.2 billion.

Daalder went on to predict that since Afghanistan, with a $1 billion budget, cannot carry the financial burden of its own security, the 'international community' will need to step up to the plate. Costs for maintaining Afghan security forces post-2014 have been estimated at $4.1 billion annually. In 2011, combined U.S. and NATO expenses for training Afghan troops was estimated at $12 billion with the U.S. spending $20 billion on training between 2003 and 2009 and spending that same amount in the last two years on training.

It should come as no surprise that the Congressional Research Service document "NATO: Common Funds and Burden Sharing" concludes that U.S. taxpayers provide an inordinate share of funding and support for NATO missions. Member nations contribute to NATO with monetary donations based on a percentage of GDP. The U.S. contribution, with the world's highest GDP, to its civil (administrative) budget was $90 million in 2011. NATO's military budget including military staff received $462 million and its National Security Investment Program (NSIP) including military infrastructure and NATO's mission in Afghanistan and Iraq received another $258 million for a total of $810 million in 2011. This may not seem like a hefty piece of change until the requirement for each member nation to 'deploy' assorted personnel and weapon systems is factored in, the exact costs which the CRS says are "difficult to assess."

During a recent visit with President Obama, NATO Secretary General Anders Rasmussen referred to the upcoming Chicago Summit as a "crucial summit at a crucial time' with progress in Afghanistan and 'future security challenges" essential agenda items.

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Renee Parsons

Renee Parsons

Renee Parsons has been a member of the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, an environmental lobbyist with Friends of the Earth and staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington D.C.

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