The American Legion Magazine | 7.1.09
By Alan W. Dowd

After NATO’s founding fathers convened in Washington to create the alliance in 1949, Lord Ismay, NATO’s first secretary general, described the organization’s mission as “keeping the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

Much has changed in the intervening decades. The alliance that once defended Western Europe from a Soviet invasion now enfolds the Warsaw Pact and three former Soviet republics, keeps the peace in Kosovo, wages war in Afghanistan, fights piracy off the Horn of Africa, transports African Union peacekeepers, trains Iraqi soldiers, prods the German army to be more active, and even collaborates with Moscow on major security issues, such as supplying NATO’s mission in Afghanistan.

Has NATO been transformed or deformed by these new realities and mounting responsibilities? A review of the North Atlantic Treaty may provide the answer. (Segments in italics are from the North Atlantic Treaty. To read the full treaty, visit http://www.nato.int/.)

The Parties to this Treaty reaffirm their faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and their desire to live in peace with all peoples and all governments. They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area. They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security. They therefore agree to this North Atlantic Treaty.

NATO’s founders were deliberately vague about defining the North Atlantic area. It’s obviously not just the region bordering the Atlantic Ocean. After all, Italy, Luxembourg, Turkey and Greece, which joined between 1949 and 1952, don’t border the Atlantic. Yet for the security and wellbeing of the entire alliance, NATO accommodated these landlocked or Mediterranean or Asian countries. In the same way, NATO has expanded to include Eastern Europe, most of the Balkans and three former Soviet states between 1999 and today.

Article 1 The Parties undertake, as set forth in the Charter of the United Nations, to settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means...

Article 2 The Parties will contribute toward the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations…They will seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and will encourage economic collaboration between any or all of them.

NATO has certainly succeeded in this. Not only did it deter the Soviet Union—thus keeping the peace during the Cold War and enabling Europe to evolve into a free-trade zone—its eastward expansion after the Cold War offered security to most of the orphan states of Eastern Europe, smothered Slobodan Milosevic’s wars and settled many lingering territorial disputes. For example, as a precondition of joining NATO, Hungary had to iron out problems with Romania, as did Poland and Lithuania. NATO has offered Macedonia membership on condition that it resolve a name dispute with Greece. Serbia is part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, a kind of training ground for NATO aspirants. Through the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, NATO collaborates with virtually every country in Europe and the former Soviet Union on issues such as crisis-management, arms control and terrorism. The NATO-Russia Council is a framework for cooperation between the former adversaries; it was temporarily dormant after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. Finally, at some $32.4 trillion, the total GDP of NATO nations equals 45 percent of the world economy. Total trade between the U.S. and its NATO partners was $1.11 trillion in 2007.

Article 3 In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly…will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.

Most of the alliance is failing at this. The U.S. spends about four percent of its GDP on defense, but only six NATO members meet the alliance’s standard of investing two percent of GDP on defense. NATO is suffering as a consequence: NATO members have to hitch a ride with the U.S. Air Force or rent Soviet-era transports to deploy to Afghanistan; they lack helicopters to move across the mountainous country; and they “are not trained in counterinsurgency,” in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. This is nothing new. During the 1999 Kosovo War, The Economist reported that only 10 percent of NATO’s European aircraft were capable of precision bombing, prompting Gen. Michael Short, who planned the Kosovo air campaign, to conclude, “We’ve got an A Team and a B Team now.” Many of those who comprise the B Team have reneged on pledges for helicopters and troops in Afghanistan. So the U.S. is filling the gaps.

Article 4 The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.

Turkey made an Article 4 request in 2003, on the eve of the Iraq War. But France blocked the request, forcing the alliance to use its Defense Planning Committee—of which France was not a member—to coordinate the deployment of defensive equipment to Turkey.

Article 5 The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them…will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area…

NATO has invoked this “all for one” clause only once in its history—September 12, 2001—which explains why the alliance is in Afghanistan. These words are the heart of the North Atlantic Treaty. Yet NATO’s actions speak louder than its words. Some of NATO’s most senior members don’t seem to take Article 5 seriously. If they did, Washington wouldn’t have to beg for more troops to support NATO's Afghanistan mission, and the troops that are there wouldn’t have limits on where they can go. But throughout the war, certain allies have invoked what NATO euphemistically calls “caveats” to avoid combat zones. Reuters reports that caveats have been used by Germany, Italy and Spain to steer clear of southern Afghanistan. Others have played the caveat card to avoid deployments near Pakistan. According to U.S. Gen. David McKiernan, former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, “We place our men and women at greater risk when we have caveats placed on them.” We also place the alliance at risk: If NATO’s own don’t take Article 5 seriously, neither will NATO’s enemies.

Article 7 This Treaty does not affect, and shall not be interpreted as affecting in any way the rights and obligations under the Charter of the Parties which are members of the United Nations, or the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security…

The very opposite has happened in practice. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has filled the vacuum created by the UN’s systemic shortcomings. Among the places that NATO/NATO nations have intervened due to the UN’s inadequacy are Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Indian Ocean/Somali coast.

Article 9 The Parties hereby establish a Council, on which each of them shall be represented …. The Council shall set up such subsidiary bodies as may be necessary; in particular it shall establish immediately a defense committee which shall recommend measures for the implementation of Articles 3 and 5.

The North Atlantic Council is NATO’s highest body and “oversees the political and military process.” In other words, it determines how, where and when NATO wages war. The post-Cold War era has taught NATO that waging war by committee is more difficult than deterrence. During Kosovo, for example, Greece and Italy called for bombing pauses. Germany publicly dismissed Britain’s suggestion of a ground attack. Britain retained veto power over anything targeted by British-based B-52s. France blocked sensitive targets throughout the war. And a British general refused to carry out the U.S. commander's deployment orders. NATO’s handling of Kosovo made Washington jittery about another war by committee, so the U.S. kept NATO at arms length at the onset of Afghanistan. This left some in Europe to conclude that Washington didn’t take Article 5 seriously. More than seven years later, the feeling’s mutual. The Defense Planning Committee oversees NATO’s integrated military structure, implementing decisions related to “collective defense planning.” France withdrew from this body in 1966 and returned in 2009.

Article 10 The Parties may, by unanimous agreement, invite any other European State in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area to accede to this Treaty…

Once a club of nations clustered around the Atlantic Ocean, NATO now encompasses a wide swath of the northern hemisphere, stretching across three continents and enfolding 840 million people. To protect NATO's core, the allies increasingly recognize the need for security on NATO's periphery. Hence, NATO has intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo, supported peacekeeping operations in Africa, and trained military personnel in Iraq. NATO touts its "expanding and varied relationships" with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea. And NATO recently expressed interest in Arctic security. NATO has grown from 12 members in 1949 to 28 in 2009, with the accession of Albania and Croatia. Macedonia's membership is pending. Although Ukraine and Georgia have been promised eventual membership, Russia’s warnings about their membership bids—and its battering of Georgia—have made many in NATO especially sensitive to Moscow.

Article 11 This Treaty shall be ratified and its provisions carried out by the Parties in accordance with their respective constitutional processes…

The treaty came into force on August 24, 1949. It was ratified by the U.S. Senate on July 21, 1949.

Article 12 After the Treaty has been in force for ten years, or at any time thereafter, the Parties shall, if any of them so requests, consult together for the purpose of reviewing the Treaty…

Perhaps now is a good time to revamp NATO’s Strategic Concept, which serves as the alliance’s mission statement. It was last updated in 1999. NATO and the world have changed dramatically since then. “A NATO without profound reform,” warns a group of former NATO generals, “will not be the instrument we need at this time or in the future.” Hence, they call on the alliance to develop “an effective Strategic Concept,” propose an end to caveats, recommend streamlined decision-making to enhance NATO’s reflexes, and argue that only those nations contributing military forces to an operation should have a say in the operation.

Sources: CIA, “CIA World Factbook, Rank Order: GDP;” US Census, “U.S. Exports, Imports and Merchandise Trade Balance 2003-2007;” NATO, “NATO’s relations with Russia;” NATO, “NATO’s relations with Croatia;”  NATO, “The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council;” U.S. Census, “U.S. Exports, Imports and Merchandise Trade Balance 2003-2007;” NATO, “Bucharest Summit Declaration,” April 3, 2008; CSIS, “Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World,” http://www.csis.org/; Dana Priest, “France played skeptic on Kosovo attacks,” The Washington Post, September 20, 1999; Peter Spiegel, “Gates Says NATO Force Unable to Fight Guerrillas,” Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2008; John Tirpak, “Short’s View of the Air Campaign,” Air Force Magazine, September 1999; The Economist, “Armies and Arms,” April 24, 1999; Frederick Bonnart, “NATO: Dangerous fuss about nothing much,” IHT, February 17, 2009; NATO, “NATO and Ukraine sign agreement on strategic airlift,” http://www.nato.int/, June 7, 2004; Reuters, “Restrictions on NATO troops in Afghanistan,” November 26, 2006; BBC News, “Europe Nato's inner Kosovo conflict,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/425468.stm, August 20, 1999; U.S. Department of Defense, "DoD News Briefing with Gen. McKiernan from the Pentagon," February 18, 2009.