Saving the NATO Partnership

By Richardson, Robert C., III | The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

Saving the NATO Partnership


Richardson, Robert C., III, The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies


The new NATO Partnership for Peace was conceived of as a means for solving the dilemma posed by Eastern European and Russian aspirations to join the North Atlantic Alliance and Alliance members' reticence to extending the Treaty's all-encompassing military defense commitments to these new, and still unstable, countries. It is, in effect, a political compromise that adds nothing to the national security of its members other than a forum for collective debate. Conversely it cannot but dilute NATO's original purpose which was to provide real protection from a known military threat that most member nations could not individually cope with.

NATO was created as an organization designed primarily to provide for a collective military response to acts of aggression against member nations. Under the terms of the Treaty an attack against any one is deemed to be an attack against all. This was obviously aimed at the threat to Western Europe that the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact Group presented during the Cold War.

With the demise of the Cold War, NATO has been left without any clearcut common military threat, with one exception. The only clearly definable military threat that all NATO and Warsaw Pact nations now have is that posed by the world-wide proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. This threat, unlike the Cold War threat, is also different in character. Instead of being primarily a threat to national territory, it is a threat to the survival of the country's people and national assets.

In the case of the Warsaw Pact threat, both the origin and political objectives of any act of aggression covered by the NATO Treaty were known factors. The purpose of the NATO organization was essentially to deter or defeat military ventures by communist states in Eastern Europe and Russia. The Atlantic Treaty never envisioned pre-committing its members to taking sides in any military squabbles, incursions, or acts of aggression as among its own members, or between its members and other countries not members of the Warsaw Pact. While, time permitting, consultations on collective NATO military actions would take place within the North Atlantic Council, there was no question of any automatic military response in situations wherein the member countries might logically choose to be on different sides.

Today the national security and threat situation for both NATO and Warsaw Pact countries has changed. Instead of collectively facing the possibility of aggression against national territories from a relatively known and definable opponent, they face the possibility of local acts of military aggression on land which could occur almost anywhere, especially in the former Warsaw Pact areas.

Not only has the nature of military threats to individual nations changed, but also the motives behind these are likely to be far more diverse. Instead of stemming from a basic ideological conflict between communist and non communist systems, future threats will vary widely ranging from Russian aspirations to recover some of their newly independent territories to border squabbles among or within Balkan or even central and southeastern European countries.

Obviously with the prospect of these types of acts of aggression no responsible NATO government is going to pre-commit itself to the side it will take in such local conflicts nor would it or current aspirants to NATO membership need a collective international military capability to insure their individual security in dealing with most of these. Obviously a military alliance for mutual defense does not fit this situation, notwithstanding the fact that former Soviet union elements and Eastern European nations would like to get commitments to protect their frontiers by getting NATO to accept them as members.

In 1991, when the Cold War ended and questions arose with respect to what the future role of NATO should be, High Frontier(1) recommended that consideration be given to bringing Russia, and possibly other nations, together into a global missile defense effort under NATO operational control. …

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