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Is NATO –North Atlantic Treaty Organization at risk of dissolving?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization –NATO, was created in 1949 with the mission of insulating and protecting Europe from the influence and attack by the Soviet Union. However, even though the regime has been beneficial in reconstructing geopolitical relations between Europe and America after the great division of the WWII, it has faced challenges defining its role in the XXI century and, major frictions because of the way internal NATO’s policies have restricted member’s intervention in crises such as those in Yugoslavia in the 1990s and more recently, in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s.
It is the United States the country that has expressed most objections with other NATO’s country members. The latter led the US to secure collaboration outside of the regime’s framework for the invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s. Moreover, set the ground to Robert Gates’ –Former US Secretary of Defense criticisms on the depraved level of budgetary commitment to security and defense by most European members, and Donald Trump’s reservations on NATO’s pertinency. From this briefing of conflicts within the organization, it is possible to point out two main factors that are central to the future of NATO: the lack of American leadership, and the way how its expansion is undermining the unity of interests.
First of all, there are good reasons to believe that the United States’ perspective on NATO will not change, at least for the remaining time of the current Administration. In fact, during the NATO Summit in 2018, Trump called European leaders not to piggyback on the level of US spending on security and defense, and not only asked them to satisfy NATO’s standard of 2% of GDP but to increase it to at least 4%. Notwithstanding, this figure seems difficult to achieve for most European countries, in part, because the negative demographic dividend –driven by the aging population, poses burdens on the government spending prioritizing other types of social services.
Furthermore, even though Trump’s criticism of NATO is built upon his motto of America First, US population’s seems to look on a different direction and the popularity on the Treaty has increased to 62% in the last few years, according to a Pew Research. Importantly, this nationalism has motivated European leaders, such as Emmanuel Macron of France, to assert that “(…) Europe can no longer rely on the United States for security”, constituting one of the few opportunities in which major European allies are concerned about the reliability of the United States as leader of the hemisphere.
The second factor central to NATO’s future is related to the enlargement in the constellation of domestic interests (Stein, 1993) that has been amplified by the admission of new member states. By the time the organization was founded in 1949, the twelve founding members agreed on the Soviet Union as the major threat to democracy and regional stability. However, as a result of the geopolitical reconfiguration in the Hemisphere and the interconnection of security outcomes between the West and the East, NATO’s members today are not only afraid of the persistent threat of Russia but also, of new sources of conflict and forms of violence influenced from the Middle East and Northern Africa.
A good illustration of the diversion in domestic preferences between European NATO countries can be explained by some geopolitical conflicts in recent times. The Migrant Crisis, exacerbated by the Syrian Civil War, has made Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Greece to struggle with skyrocketing asylum applications since 2012. In the meantime, countries such as France and Belgium have experienced bloody terrorist attacks, like those perpetrated by The Islamic State –ISIL in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Similarly, the level of tension between Eastern European Countries and the United States from Russia’s destabilizing incursions in the Baltic and Ukraine, and the development of new forms of terrorism as cyber attacks, also conspire to undermine NATO’s unity.
But the Panorama for NATO, even though is not clear, is not necessarily devastating. The theory of Regimes in an Anarchic World by Arthur Stein provides some ideas that are helpful to evaluate the underlying incentives that country members face to continue the Treaty. First, even though Donald Trump believes that the United States is able to achieve its most preferred outcome in security through self-interested actions, the engendering of multiple battlefronts and unconventional threats requires the strengthening of tactical alliances, instead of weakening the existing ones. Rational leaders want to avoid a Dilemma of Common Interest, which can deviate NATO countries, including the US, from a Pareto-efficient provision of security as a common good. Collaboration is a must, particularly in providing timely information for countries to act.
Reputation and legitimacy are also two types of parallel public goods that countries accrue through NATO membership. Without a doubt, the regime constitutes the most powerful military alliance in the world, and the only one capable of containing Putin and deploy forces in both hemispheres. As Stein suggests, the costs –both material and implicit, that countries already paid in the organization help the Treaty to continue, even through operational inertia. Countries, particularly the most powerful and exposed do not want to bear the reputation cost of leaving the Treaty. Finally, it seems unlikely that the United States is indifferent on whether or not to hold its leadership as leader of the Free World.
Overall, it may be said that it is true that NATO is facing one of its most difficult times. In part, because of the lack of leadership from the United States, and the formation of new threats and fronts that deviate members’ attention towards a common enemy. However, it is very costly for the organization and the country members to pulverize the Treaty and be exposed to a new era of terror without strong and –almost unconditional allies.
- Stein, Arthur A. “Coordination and collaboration: regimes in an anarchic world.” International organization 36, no. 2 (1982): 299-324.
- Lute, Ambassador Douglas, and Ambassador Nicholas Burns. “NATO at Seventy.” (2019).
- Fitch Solutions. “The Future of NATO: Four Scenarios for the Coming Decade.“. (2018)
- Park, Jeanne. “Europe’s migration crisis.” New York: Council of Foreign Relations (2015): 311-325.
 Europe’s Migration Crisis. The Council on Foreign Relations, 2015. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/europes-migration-crisis
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