What is NATO’s future?
It is hard to comprehend how commentators today have the audacity to justify NATO’s existence on the basis of self-defense when we consider NATO’s actual actions in its most recent conflicts.
According to many Western commentators, the presence of NATO is vital, especially given Russia’s recent military intervention in Ukraine. In fact, previously neutral countries, Finland and Sweden have now expressed their desire to join the alliance. However, there are others, like Jeremy Corbyn, who advocate that organizations like NATO should be disbanded, that they can build up the great danger in the world. One must consider what future NATO has to play in an increasingly polarised world.
NATO was formed initially in 1949 by the United States, Canada and several Western European nations. It was founded after the Second World War in order to secure peace in Europe and to promote cooperation in the context of countering the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union and its affiliated communist nations in Eastern Europe consequently founded the Warsaw pact in 1955, as a reaction to the integration of West Germany into NATO. However, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
One must firstly, therefore, question NATO’s relevance given the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Its aim was to counter the former empire of the Soviet Union, but since this has been dissolved alongside the Eastern European alliance, what “threat” remains for NATO to defend? Furthermore, we must consider whether the actions of NATO in the past number of years have actually been defensive in nature. The most recent example of this includes NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia and in Libya. Yet, both these wars were not sanctioned by the United Nations. There are two bases on which the United Nations will allow military interventions including one which encompasses the right of self-defense. However, the United Nations did not sanction these interventions on the basis of self-defense.
It is hard to comprehend how commentators today have the audacity to justify NATO’s existence on the basis of self-defense when we consider NATO’s actual actions in its most recent conflicts. With regards to the former Yugoslavia for instance, NATO bombed Yugoslavia for a total of 73 days. They targeted schools, hospitals, cultural monuments, and industrial plants. Yet, the targeting of civilians or civilian properties contravenes international humanitarian law. Similarly, with regards to Libya, allied forces launched 110 tomahawk missiles as part of their military campaign. These are long-range missiles used for land attack operations. NATO countries were also responsible for bombing the Great Man-Made River which 70% of the Libyan population depended on for water. They targeted the Brega pipe-making plant which was key to the functioning of the river, this is once again contrary to international law: targeting civilian infrastructure.
Some people suggest that the need for NATO’s is even more critical given the threat posed by emerging countries such as Russia and China, especially considering their territorial disputes involving Ukraine and Taiwan. However, these disputes are in close proximity to their own borders and are part of their own history. I personally do not think that the West has the right to interfere in these regional disputes as they do not pose a direct threat to Western sovereignty. Western nations have had their own differences with countries in close proximity to their borders such as Great Britain’s dispute with Sinn Fein regarding Northern Ireland. However, China and Russia did not seek to interfere in Britain’s affairs at this time. I, therefore, do not view it as NATO’s role to involve itself in territorial conflicts which do not pose a threat to its own security.
Objectively speaking, one can see the basis on which countries would form a defensive alliance. Especially, for countries such as Iceland which do not have a standing army. However, in the case of NATO, its actions have been arguable more aggressive rather than defensive in their nature. An expansion of NATO’s influence would therefore be considered a threat to countries that are not part of its alliance. If we consider Russia’s position following the current conflict in Ukraine, NATO originally began with 12 countries in 1949 but has grown to its current size of 30. Many of these countries include those in Eastern Europe such as Poland, Romania, Latvia, and Lithuania which are neighboring countries of Russia. This expansion in close proximity to Russia’s borders can be considered a threat to Russia’s security, especially given the fact that member states often have military bases stationed within their borders. These bases often have the capability of hosting missiles. For example, Romania agreed to host the SM-3 surface-to-air missile in 2015 at its base in Deveselu. Although this is used to intercept ballistic missiles these bases do give NATO the military opportunity to launch missiles from these bases if necessary.
Part of the reason that Russia gave for its military operation in Ukraine was to prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO. Russia’s concern regarding the establishment of NATO bases in close proximity to its borders was regarded as a substantial threat to its security. One can regard this as a legitimate concern given NATO’s history of aggressive foreign intervention. Clearly, NATO failed to bring peace to countries like Libya and the former Yugoslavia and it has furthermore augmented tension with countries outside of the NATO alliance. If NATO was indeed a defensive rather than aggressive alliance, one could regard it in a significantly more positive light. It would be natural for a country to want to defend its own borders and security from foreign intervention and an alliance of such a nature could be deemed reasonable. However, the NATO alliance is not defensive, one must therefore conclude that Jeremy Corbyn is right, it should be disbanded in order to prevent further escalations of conflict and tensions between nations.