Sept. 11 was the first time NATO actually invoked its founding treaty's Article 5. Article 5 commits member nations to the active military defense of a NATO ally when that nation suffers a direct attack. It's the alliance's Three Musketeers Clause -- one for all, and all for one.
Article 5 connects this brief history to the troubled present. The Syria-Turkey border is a NATO border. After pro-Assad dictatorship Syrian forces fired into Turkish territory, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "NATO has responsibilities (to protect) Turkey's borders, according to Article 5." A rhetorical threat? Perhaps, but Bashar Assad knows NATO intervened militarily in Libya.
NATO 2012 confronts several complex belligerencies and difficult security challenges. Afghanistan, that miserable link between the Cold War and the Global War on Terror, remains unresolved. Syria also has Cold War echoes (Russian political games in the United Nations). Iran's nuclear weapons quest and nuclear threat will be a central subject in Chicago.
The 1990s' obit writers stroked their chins when fragments of the former Soviet empire clamored to join NATO. Many in the "it's dead" crowd, having bought into the decades of Soviet anti-American agitprop, failed to appreciate NATO membership's immense prestige and global influence. NATO membership enhances national status. Moreover, it makes a definitive statement about shared political and security goals that translates into diplomatic strength. As a result, NATO can focus peacekeeping power in ways the United Nations cannot and never will. The Clinton Administration used NATO, not the U.N., as the primary political and then military instrument in its Balkan intervention and peacekeeping operations (especially in Kosovo).
In the 21st century, NATO's ability to coordinate and focus political and military power is a global resource.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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