NATO in difficulty due to over-stretch and intra-alliance disagreements

Failure in Afghanistan is adding pressure

January 15, 2008

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WASHINGTON — The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) risks collapse as a result of commitments taken on since the end of the Cold War, according to a study released today by the Cato Institute.

“The members of the alliance, sharing the triumphalism that underpinned U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War, have taken on an assortment of problematic obligations, and increasingly they are failing to meet the resulting challenges. … If NATO fails to meet [them], its survival should not be taken for granted,” writes Stanley Kober, a Cato research fellow in foreign policy, in “Cracks in the Foundation: NATO’s New Troubles.”

The most notable of these challenges is the war in Afghanistan. Invoking Article V of its constitution — an attack against one member country constitutes an attack against all — after the September 11, 2001 attacks, NATO supported the United States’ venture into Afghanistan. What at first seemed to be a successful operation soon deteriorated as the Taliban revived and the level of commitment among NATO members varied based on, among other things, popular support. Different rules of engagement have made the NATO forces difficult to command and have fostered resentment between the participating countries.

NATO’s expansion has also strained the Alliance’s capabilities. As it has admitted members from the former Soviet bloc, the organization has extended beyond its sphere of influence, thereby diluting its clout in the region. This was especially obvious when Russia launched a cyber attack against Estonia in 2007. “Supposedly, once Estonia was included in NATO, its security would be assured. The cyber attacks indicate that argument must now be questioned,” writes Kober.

Another source of tension between the member states is the anti-missile facilities that the United States wants to build in the Czech Republic and Poland. The purpose of these facilities, the Bush administration claims, is to provide protection against missiles. However, the location of the facilities would essentially create two levels of security within Europe as they would offer greater protection to parts of the continent and the United States. “For me the indivisibility of security is key,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO’s Secretary General, has said. “When it comes to missile defense, there shouldn’t be an A-league and a B-league within NATO.”

Further, public opinion within these countries greatly opposes the creation of these facilities. Russia has already taken advantage of this sentiment. “In short, the ABM proposal is already dividing NATO, and Putin is exploiting those divisions.”

The United State’s position on Kosovo is another source of contention among the member states.

The quandaries that threaten to split NATO could also potentially create a global divide reminiscent of the Cold War. “Alliances lead to counteralliances” Kober writes, [and] “as NATO has expanded, Russia’s relations with China, in particular, have grown apace, leading initially to the formation of the Shanghai Five and then to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”

Kober concludes: “Given the difficulties the alliance is confronting, it is not too early to begin discussions with our allies about what a post-NATO world would look like.”