Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

NATO and the Future, 2016: Five Questions and Answers

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

NATO and the Future, 2016: Five Questions and Answers

Article excerpt

The year 2015 ended with three events that redefined the West's strategic priorities. These were the Islamic terrorist attack in Paris on 13 November, Russia's military intervention in Syria, and the illegal, mainly Muslim migrant onslaught upon Europe. These three events combined to create a sense of unprecedented urgency. Politically, there is little consensus among Western governments on what to do. Narrow national political and economic interests are in the way. Lack of consensus, though, does not remove the need for pressing action beyond the usual non-committal diplomatic manoeuvring.

Our opinions do not reflect official Greek policy. Honest language, based on harsh realities, has been a rarity in Greek official pronouncements for as long as anyone can remember. But this is hardly an exclusively Greek problem. Allied governments duck issues routinely in order to promote self-interest and show "solidarity" where usually it does not exist. The result is exactly the opposite of what is needed in times of crisis. To recall Winston Churchill's words: "If you're going through hell, keep going." Our present hell is not as fearsome as the one Churchill faced in the Second World War, but it has the potential to graduate swiftly to that stage if we are complacent. Churchill's response to the challenge was an unappalled act of war diplomacy and strategic foresight. Unfortunately, we, today, lack this quality of leadership and, even worse, we are mostly unwilling to commit to the sacrifices necessary to deal with what is at hand.

In this essay we pose five key questions for the future of NATO and provide what we think are five appropriate answers. Our assessment emerges from historical experience, an evaluation of current policies, and what we believe the Alliance's strategic directions should be. We chose this format for clarity and precision. We submit that the Alliance would be best served by brutal honesty and directness. Our views, of course, are country centred; we speak from the Hellenic point of view. Today, as never before since 1945, we need new, bold directions in the Churchillian manner, and radical reassessment of theories and, often, myths which, unfortunately and frequently, still drive policy-making.

FIRST: By the time the USSR collapsed, the consensus was that NATO had met its original goals successfully by eliminating the threat of a Soviet invasion of Europe. Many argued that NATO had thus fulfilled its role and could go into blissful retirement. But NATO persists. What justifies NATO's continuing existence given that the original impetus for its creation has disappeared?

There is no doubt concerning NATO's success as a stabilising and deterrent coalition during the Cold War. NATO success, however, came with its lower points as well; no success is ever perfect. There were instances when Cold War theory-crunching accepted unacceptable principles of deterrence. The late "futurist" Herman Khan toyed with nuclear armageddon theories that made the "unthinkable" not only thinkable but, also, theoretically survivable, a premise that went beyond any notion of proportionality in war. Albert Wohlstetter spent his best years analysing "the delicate balance of terror," accepting, in effect, the idea of nuclear annihilation. These are examples of decision-making being driven by wonkish ideology cushioned on glamorous modelling, as opposed to practicality; a dangerous practice indeed. Such approaches cultivated the fantasies of many in the chain of command, as in the case of the "Missile Gap"1 of the 1950s, which helped escalate the tit-fortat nuclear arms race. Wrapped around all this was the Cold War adversarial civilisation of fear and loathing, a civilisation which should be the subject of urgent re-reading by today's policy makers and strategists as a guide of how not to make decisions.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 eliminated the original threat that spawned the Transatlantic Alliance. …

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