The March of Dimes was established in 1938 as part of an effort to defeat the epidemic of polio. Polio was defeated. But instead of disbanding, the March of Dimes survived after adopting a new mission in 1958: Preventing premature birth, birth defects, and infant mortality. Why does this sound familiar? Because it reminds us of NATO which was established in 1949 as part of an effort to contain the threat of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union disappeared. But instead of disbanding, NATO, like the March of Dimes survived after adopting one new mission after another. Like the Energizer Bunny it keeps going and going, as it expands to include major military powers like Estonia and searches for new threats and missions. Instead of dealing with the economic problems in Georgia, USA, President Bush was spending him time in recent days in Bucharest where he unsuccessfuly tried to make the case for allowing another Georgia to join NATO. The American people are just dying to see Georgia in NATO! They hope that the move will antagonize the Russians and lead to new military tensions with what used to be the Soviet Union. Which makes a lot of sense because the threat from that country was the rationale for establishing NATO in the first place. It’s like the guys from the March of Dimes trying to bring back the Polio epidemic. The difference is that the March of Dimes is a voluntary organization that promotes good causes and not a costly military alliance that could draw us into another war.
Columnist William Pfaff points to the latest tensions over Nato between Washington and its (former) allies in Europe:
When NATO was created there was a common interest and policy: to assure western Europe that the wartime allies, including the United States and Canada, would take common action to defend against the extension of Soviet military power in Europe, and support West European governments against the threat, which existed, of revolutionary insurrection or coup d’etat by certain national Communist parties.
That was a long way from intervening in Central Asia, in a country of which they know next to nothing, to support what may well prove an unsuccessful effort to sustain an American-sponsored government on Afghanistan, against powerful domestic resistance.
They see no threat to them, or to NATO Europe, from Afghanistan, whereas Americans believe in a global terrorist threat. The Europeans find unconvincing the effort to frame the Afghanistan issue in terms of terrorism versus international peace and democracy – a global ideological war.
Even the newest members of NATO, the most concerned to stay on the good side of the United States, are merely interested in their own security vis-à-vis Russia, and against those separatist or irredentist disputes that continue in their own regions – not in Afghanistan.
Immediately after the cold war, the United States lost interest in NATO. The allies wanted it continued because of their geographical proximity to the turmoil of post-Soviet Russia. Then it was seen that the offer of cooperation and eventual membership in NATO — an implicit western security guarantee — was a powerful incentive to the ex-Warsaw Pact countries to reform their political institutions and armies.
Then came the Balkan crisis, where the U.S. was initially unwilling to become involved. It later found NATO a useful vehicle and source of support when it finally did intervene, but afterwards the American military reaction was “never again.” Alliance cooperation and coordination was judged more trouble than it had been worth.
When after the 9/11 attacks the NATO allies spontaneously offered support to Washington, the U.S. said no; it had its own plans and wanted no alliance interference. That’s the way things remained until Washington needed reinforcements for Afghan stabilization. Naturally, the same old difficulties have now arisen.
The point is that with the end of the Cold War, U.S. and European interests are diverging on a lot of issues. The U.S. is facing no strategic threat from Russia. If some Europeans countries perceive such a threat, let them build-up their common military power to deal with it. They have enough economic resources and manpower to do that. There is certainly no need for a collective security system to deal with international terrrorism.
As Pfaff puts it:
There is only one model for an effective military alliance. It is that the group has strong common views and powerful common interests, and is willing to consult and compromise. If the common view is not there, the alliance is a sham. Washington likes to pretend that in dealing with Afghanistan, it’s still the old NATO. But it’s not. In the so-called war on terror, the political substance of alliance is missing.