Since the conclusion of the Cold War, the relevance and need for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has constantly come into question.
The military alliance was created due to the threat of invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. With the downfall of Communism in 1989, the need for an alliance whose sole purpose was the deterrence and defeat of Soviet aggression waned. After all, the enemy they were fighting had been vanquished, or so it seemed.
In the immediate years since the USSR’s collapse, NATO has scrambled to find its purpose in the post Soviet world. However, it would be during the mid 1990’s that the Alliance’s value would be reinstated during the bloody Yugoslav wars. NATO, it seemed, could still be the peace-keeper in the European backyard as a collective means of ending conflicts and skirmishes between or within states.
After the horrific attacks on the World Trade centres in 2001, the U.S. invoked its enduring alliance with its European partners to work together to pick apart terrorist networks. Fifteen years on, the enthusiasm and support that the US’ European allies initially showed has waned dramatically. For the United States, there is growing discontent among taxpayers who feel that the US is doing all the heavy lifting to defend EU states that do not appreciate nor respect them.
A player in the 21st century:
In July, Warsaw will be host to the 27th NATO Summit where it is hoped questions that have long been avoided may finally be addressed. Central to the negotiations will be what role and future relevance the alliance will have; whether that’s as a peace-keeping oriented force, or to return to its roots as a check on the increasingly aggressive Russian Federation.
In a statement, NATO outlined the importance of this years meeting; “This summit comes at a crucial time for the alliance, as the tectonic plates of Euro-Atlantic security have shifted both in the East and the South”.
The choice of location for this summit is highly significant and symbolic. Poland is set to become one of the biggest economies in Europe and has high goals to become a real player in EU politics. Poland is also at a cross-roads between Central and Eastern Europe whose countries are some of NATO’s most fervent supporters after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and increasing aggression.
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This could be the summit that makes or breaks the alliance as the matters to be confronted are fundamental to NATO’s future. Dealing with Russian aggression in the Eastern European region, the continuing fight against Assad in the Middle East and the ever-present threat of ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism growing around the world. These being just some of the issues that each party will be concerned with as well as ensuring that their own interests and worries are addressed.
The countries of Eastern Europe will want to see a strong and decisive NATO presence in the region while countries such as Germany will be cautious of aggravating the Russian giant. Simultaneously, Germany, the United Kingdom and Western Europe will want to press forward in containing the ever growing crisis in the Middle East to ensure the flow of refugees is stymied. Sitting at the head of the table will be the United States who will be faced with deciding what is in it for them – the costs in US blood and money continues to wear on domestic audiences who are increasingly looking inwards and loosing stomach for wars whose purposes seem dubious.
One way to address this is for the US to push for NATO member states to meet the minimum spending requirement as members of the alliance (2% of GDP, see figure 1). After all, why should the US become involved in conflicts when it’s allies aren’t all pulling their weight?
Since its inception, NATO has stood at the forefront of ensuring that peace and security prevails throughout the Europe. This summit will be the defining moment for the alliance as it will demonstrate if NATO can meet Europe’s increasingly complex set of problems. Or, if it’s time to simply allow the alliance to die a quiet death and slip away into the tomes of history.
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