The NATO Story
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 15 Apr , 2024


NATO is celebrating its 75th anniversary of its inception this year. NATO signed the North Atlantic Treaty on April 4, 1949 in Washington DC; a collective security system in which independent member states agreed to defend each other against attacks by third parties. The main threat perceived was from the Soviet Union which was formed on December 30, 1922. However, when the Soviet Union collapsed on December 26, 1991, an undertaking was given to Mikhail Gorbachev, then President of Soviet Union, that NATO would not expand any more.

With 30 European member countries, NATO’s decisions are largely influenced by the United States, with its headquarters in Washington, highlighting a dominant American role in its operations and strategy.

NATO had 12 original founding members (including three nuclear states – France, the UK and the US), three more members joined in the period 1952-1955, and a fourth member joined in 1982. However, since the end of the Cold War, NATO has added 16 more members from 1999 to 2024, latest entries being Finland and Sweden. Expansion of NATO, including the Baltic States, brought the threat of war to the doorstep of Russia. The expansion was deliberate; aimed at suffocating and choking off Russia.

The brain and nerve centre of NATO, European Union (EU) and Europe is in Washington for the simple reason that of the 32 member countries in NATO, 30 are in Europe and two in North America. Therefore, the NATO and EU are basically appendages of the US; their separate headquarters dictated by what America wants.

Notably, no military operations were conducted by NATO during the Cold War. Following the end of the Cold War, the first operations were prompted by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait – wasn’t this contrived by the West? Since then, the floodgates opened for NATO to bomb and invade countries and regions at will – in the Balkans, the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, you name it – all under the garb of deterrence or shall we say maintaining America’s ‘Rule Based Order’ with the aim of a US-led and US-centric world.

NATO member countries cover a combined area of 25.07 million sq km, have some 3.5 million soldiers collectively, and their combined military spending in 2022 was approximately 55 percent of the global expenditure, which would have gone up with the war in Ukraine. In 2024, NATO members have agreed to maintain respective defence spending at a minimum of two percent of GDP. As of June 2022, NATO had deployed 40,000 troops along its 2,500 km-long Eastern flank to deter Russia, More than half of this number have been deployed in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland

Expanding NATO by adding more members implies more soldiers and finances available for NATO operations; and consequently that much less American participation. New members must conform to NATO weapons and weapon platforms, which in turn boosts the NATO’s arms industry. A separate European security mechanism will remain a chimera because European nations must also support and contribute to NATO as members. 

NATO’s post-Cold War military engagements have spanned regions like the Balkans, Middle East, South Asia, and Africa, raising questions about its role in maintaining a US-centric global order under the guise of deterrence.

The US has ensured that NATO members and European countries remain dependent on America. This dependency has been adroitly increased through the war in Ukraine, hyping the ghost of a Russian invasion and now the threat from China. The recent extension of Jens Stoltenberg as NATO Secretary General was courtesy America’s Joe Biden Administration for his wholehearted effort to arm and support Ukraine. As the ‘hawkish’ President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen must also abide by Washington’s wishes. 

How the US engineered the coup in Kiev to install its pet, Volodymyr Zelensky as the president, presented an existential threat to Russia forcing it to launch special operations in Ukraine, and why Victoria Nuland, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs resigned is already in the public domain. A 2014 leaked phone conversation between Nuland and the then US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, revealed the two plotting the coup to oust the democratically elected Yanukovych and selecting US-friendly Ukrainians to run the future government, with Pyatt declaring, “I think we’re in play”. The conversation included Nuland saying: “F*** the EU”.  

But the US now faces a dilemma with Russia winning the war in Ukraine and Joe Biden’s latest $60 billion aid package to Ukraine stalled by the US Congress. Also, the US debt is growing every 100 days by $1 trillion (97 percent of GDP in 2023), which is why Janet Yellen, US Treasury Secretary was sent to China to ‘smoothen’ bilateral economic ties. The US cannot afford to ‘decouple’ from China and the Chinese defence industry is in a far better shape compared to the US according to US analysts.   

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told Joe Biden in no uncertain terms that Taiwan’s integration with mainland China is inevitable. Moreover, China has said it will join the war if Russia is attacked. Biden’s promise to continue supporting Zelensky is, therefore, in jeopardy if Russia-China is to be faced simultaneously, in addition to the ongoing wars in Gaza, against Houthis in Yemen and efforts to involve Iran for a wider war in the Middle East.

Donald Trump has signaled he would broker a peace deal with Russia and that he would encourage the Russians to “do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies that don’t spend enough on defence. This has rattled NATO and the US arms and oil lobbies who control the Biden Administration. End of war in Ukraine would cease the financial bonanza the US is extracting from the war.

A dual-pronged policy is therefore being followed by the US. CIA Director William Burns is going around saying, “We have a short-term problem in the form of Russia, but a bigger long-term problem in the form of China.” This gives an impression that Washington is going soft on supporting Ukraine; leaving behind a mess in Ukraine, like in Afghanistan to focus on China.

The US’s dual focus on Russia and China poses strategic dilemmas for NATO, with debates about future roles and capabilities, including potential involvement in the Indo-Pacific region, hinting at possible imperial overreach.

But simultaneously, NATO is being encouraged to raise a €100 billion fund to continue financing the war in Ukraine even if Trump wins the presidential race. Plans are also afoot for NATO to take a more active role in managing the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that arranges arms deliveries to Kyiv. How this will materialize and in what timeframe is ambiguous. Will it be timely considering that Zelensky is firing an SOS practically every day for more arms and funds.

On the sidelines of the recent NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Lithuania’s foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters, “Unfortunately, it could be that NATO’s biggest battles and fights are still in the future. If those battles come and we are not prepared, that will be the biggest mistake that we can ever have.” Incidentally, some western analysts opine that the old idea for the US to lead a military alliance needs to be dumped, while others say that even with Finland and Sweden NATO lacks a capable defensive presence in the North especially against a threat in the arctic.

The US has some 750 military bases in 80 countries. But in preparing to fight China it appears to be looking for NATO tasking and deployments in the Indo-Pacific. How this will pan out and will it amount to an ‘imperial overreach’ only time will show. A bigger anniversary bash of NATO is planned in Washington DC during July 2024 – just months before the US presidential elections. Some future plans of NATO may emerge then.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

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One thought on “The NATO Story

  1. This what I asked my Chatbot:
    Q: So, how is the rejection of Molotov’s proposal in March 1954 for the USSR to join NATO related to the creation of the Warsaw Pact one year later?
    A: The rejection of Molotov’s proposal for the USSR to join NATO in March 1954 played a significant role in the creation of the Warsaw Pact one year later. The rejection demonstrated the continued divide between the Western powers, led by the United States, and the Soviet Union, regarding security arrangements in Europe. This rejection further fueled Soviet suspicions of Western intentions and led to the Soviet Union seeking alternative security arrangements with Eastern European countries. Consequently, the Warsaw Pact was established in May 1955, as a response to NATO and as a means for the Soviet Union to solidify its influence over Eastern Europe and to counterbalance NATO’s presence in the region.

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