Cracks in the Foundation: NATO’s New Troubles

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization isbeginning to fracture. Its members, sharing thetriumphalism that underpinned U.S. foreign policyafter the Cold War, took on burdens that haveproved more difficult than expected. Increasingly,they are failing to meet the challenges confrontingthem.

The principal problem is Afghanistan. Afterthe United States was attacked on September 11,2001, NATO for the first time invoked Article V,its pledge that an attack against one membercountry would be considered an attack against all.But NATO's forces are being relentlessly attackedby the Taliban, and among NATO countries popularsupport for maintaining troops there is fading.If NATO fails in Afghanistan, the consequencescould be as damaging for its survival asthe Vietnam War was for the now defunctSoutheast Asia Treaty Organization.

There are a number of other problems, whichmay not reach the importance of Afghanistan, butwhich nevertheless pose serious complications.These include the proposed deployment of antiballisticmissiles in Poland and the Czech Republic;a potential flashpoint in Kosovo, where theAlbanian majority's insistence on independencecould divide alliance members; and the growingtension between Russia and some of its neighbors.NATO's inability to deter a cyber attack that virtuallyparalyzed NATO member Estonia's access tothe internet — an attack evidently launched fromRussia but without any clear link to the Russiangovernment — raises questions about the alliance'sability to protect its newest members.

In short, NATO is facing new challenges, andthe future of the alliance is unclear. The UnitedStates should begin discussions with our alliesabout what a post-NATO world would look like.