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Has the NATO Outlived its Usefulness?

Has the NATO Outlived its Usefulness?

Author: Nodar Pkhaladze

Throughout history, military alliances were created in order to combat a mutual threat, or to bring the balance of power back to the equilibrium. Once the main mission was completed the alliance would become obsolete and cease its existence. The primary goal of the NATO, since its creation, was to ensure the peace and stability of the North-Atlantic Region. As a military alliance it is based on the principle of collective defense as well as military and political cooperation between its member states. Naturally, because of the time period, the main threat for the west was none other than the Soviet Union. Many thought that after the collapse of the USSR, the role of the alliance was fulfilled and therefore, its existence was no longer required. However, that was not the case.

More than 25 years have passed and yet, the NATO still remains as a formidable force in the world. What's more it continues to safeguard the North-Atlantic Area by dealing with new challenges, engaging new threats and even conducting the enlargement. NATO has not only remained strong, but its role is highly important for the west, more than ever. Of course, this raises a certain question: Why is it that the NATO continues its life as an alliance, if its purpose is already fulfilled? To answer this question, it is important to, firstly, look into the purpose of its creation once again to understand its nature, as well as look at the current activity of the alliance and goals it has established after the end of the Cold War.

Looking back when it was founded, the main objective for the NATO was to "safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law". This meant that the countries were willing to unite and build a common security architecture in order to ensure the stability of the North-Atlantic Region, by treasuring and protecting the mutual values. Contrary to the popular myth, NATO was not actually created as an organization to deliberately oppose the influence of the Soviet Union. As mentioned before, the goal of NATO was to secure the region and its own member countries. This is supported by the fact that the Washington treaty does not mention the USSR as a threat or purpose for the foundation. The USSR was a major threat for the western countries, however it was never the sole reason the alliance was created.

As such the alliance has not lost the purpose for existence, but rather had defeated the major threat in the region, as after the end of the Cold War the hazards that were causing instability for the west, specifically the European region, did not end. On the contrary, with the development of technology and spread of globalization, new forms of danger emerged, many of them not even following the norms of the conventional warfare. What's more, instead of collapsing, the NATO enlarged itself. New nation-states, many of them being former countries of the Communist bloc, decided to join in order to defend themselves from contemporary threats. Not to mention the fact that the long-lasting existence of the alliance has contributed in guaranteeing the peace between many European states, some of which were even enemies during the WWII.

From the very beginning, the NATO managed to establish itself as a military and political organization. Unlike the usual principle of the alliances, the organization such as NATO did not fade away. It arguably, manages to successfully adapt to the new reality and new challenges. The organization has taken part in dealing with security threats such as terrorist attacks, piracy in the Mediterranean, planning and executing humanitarian operations, making significant reforms and adjustments in the field of cyber security.

Because of those very reasons, the NATO continues to exist and guard the North-Atlantic, area. With the new era of globalization and vast technological development, new serious perils have emerged. These problems are harder for the NATO to deal with because of the fact that they are mostly involving non-traditional combat means. Issues such as terrorism, cyber warfare, informational warfare, state-sponsored warfare, and unconventional threats became more dangerous and frequent. It became clear for the alliance that the NATO had to adapt to new menace. To do so, the NATO has assumed several new missions. One of them is dealing with terrorism.

The events of 9/11 showed the whole world that the new perils, were no longer 'local problems', but rather global. It was also the first and only time (as of now) that the organization has activated the Article 5. As a response to the menace, NATO has conducted several anti-terrorist operations in different regions of the world. Despite the fact that most of the missions were successful, the threat of terrorism did not fade. What makes the current terrorist organizations formidable compared to ones operating before the XXI century, is the fact that the modern ones are able to utilize mass and social media, together with other technological developments for their own advantage. Also the fact that terrorist organizations are non-state actors, gives them a certain advantage. After the September 11 attacks, US declared war on terror, however at times like this, it is hard to clarify who the actual enemy is, as they might easily blend amongst the civilians. What's worse, sometimes it can be even problematic to locate the main headquarters of the enemy, since it is the non-state actor that can be shifting locations, or even present itself as a global terrorist network with its network being spread in different countries.

Despite that challenge, NATO is actively engaged in combating Terrorism. At the Prague Summit of 2002, NATO leaders stated that they would engage in counter terrorist operations in order to protect their countries and people from the threats of terrorist attacks. By accepting the "Prague package", the member-states of the alliance ensured that they would adapt their security mechanisms to this new global threat by cooperating in sectors such as; intelligence sharing; development of cyber defense; forming a Partnership Action Plan against the Terrorism and creating the NATO Response Force. Apart from conducting military operations in different parts of the world, NATO forces engage in joined military training, which allows them to share their knowledge and experience with the local military forces. One of the key elements is the intelligence-sharing procedure between the NATO member countries and non-alliance members. One of the goals of this element is to synchronize and share the information to both civilian and military personnel. This step is crucial, as threats such as terrorism could be both external, as well as internal. Therefore it is important for both the military and the police to cooperate in this sphere. This is quite challenging, yet the procedure has evolved and become more sophisticated through years. For this very purpose, at the Warsaw summit it was decided to establish, the new Joint Intelligence and Security Division of NATO.

The biggest issue that NATO has to deal with, is Russia. After the collapse of USSR, NATO tried to establish dialogue and cooperation with the Russia. Soon, however it became evident that their relationship would not go smooth. From the beginning the Russian interests were clashing with those of the West. Mainly it was regarding the fate of the ex-Soviet European countries that were undergoing reformation and becoming young democracies. Russia tries to have those countries under its own sphere of influence, gain more leverage over Europe and prevent their Euro-Atlantic integration. At the same time, the emerging developing countries of Central and Eastern Europe, wanted to integrate with the west and receive the guarantees of protection from the Russia. Of course NATO willing to expand and protect the core democratic values, would not miss such opportunity. As a result relations with Russia were already deteriorated when NATO accepted three Baltic States: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

At the 2007 Munich security conference it became clear, that Russia would continue its antagonistic relations with the NATO. During the conference Russian President, Vladimir Putin, made it clear that he was not happy with the North-Atlantic alliance expanding towards the Russian border and stated that further actions would be followed by "asymmetrical response". A year after the conference it became clear for the west, what that "asymmetrical response" meant. In August of 2008 Russia attacked and occupied territories of the NATO aspirant country, Georgia, which was promised a NATO membership only several months ago, during the Bucharest summit. The war showed the western community that Russia was still posing a serious threat to the western values and still viewed ex-Soviet countries as its influence. Despite the condemnation from the Western international community, Russia refused and still refuses to carry out the 2008 ceasefire agreement. Moreover, it has declared Georgian territories of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region as independent states and even (up to this very day) continues to occupy more Georgian territories through the process of "borderization".

After the war, NATO ceased most of its relations with Russia, however in 2010 resumed them. It was only in 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, that it became clear that trying to compromise with Russians, while trying to maintain stability in Europe at the same time is a futile attempt. Many NATO member countries, especially the Baltic States and Poland raised concerns that Russia would continue its expansionist policy, by using the same techniques of hybrid warfare that were used in Ukraine and, even before, in Georgia. Not to mention that even before those two conflicts, Russia has been constantly engaged in cyber-attacks against the Baltic States and conducting military exercises close to its European borders. Apart from that, Russia has increased its nuclear exercises and developing new nuclear technology. Such drastic developments caused many people to think that the tensions between the West and Russia have gone to the level of Cold War Hostility, to the point that some scholars argue about the existence of new Cold War.

In response to Russia's actions in Crimea, the alliance ceased any sort of cooperation with NATO-Russian council. During the Wales summit of 2014, NATO openly named Russia's actions in Europe as one of its greatest threats and stated that their activity undermines the stability of the Euro-Atlantic sphere, specifically the Black Sea region. The members of the alliance came into realization that several preventive military actions were necessary to be made. After the Warsaw summit of 2016, NATO begun to increase the presence of its troops in the following countries: the Baltics, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, and Hungary and Slovakia. This would help increase the presence of the alliance in countries that need it the most, as well as it will serve as a very clear political message towards the Russians.

After looking at the historical role of NATO as well as current goals, it becomes apparent that the alliance is not obsolete yet. The organization might have succeeded in defending its member against the USSR, however there are still menaces that must be dealt with. The grave threat coming from two main threats, Russia and global terrorism, are still undermining the stability in the North-Atlantic region. As such NATO's presence is required, as threats are evolving and can no longer be isolated as local problems. In order to deal with those challenges NATO will have to continue to adapt to the new reality and further enhance cooperation between its members, as well as non-member states that share same perils. As stated beforehand NATO is both military and political organization whose main mission is support and safeguard of universal values such as security, prosperity, development and democracy.


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