In the 21st century's second decade, Russia is neither friend nor foe. Western European NATO members hope to diplomatically coax Russia into a quasi-alliance and see Russia as a partner in the shadow war against militant Islamist terrorism. For several years, Georgia and Ukraine have lobbied for full NATO membership. This week NATO rejected their requests for full membership.
Vociferous Russian objections certainly played a role in the NATO decision. NATO also relies on Russian political cooperation to support its operations in Afghanistan. That factored in as well. However, Ukraine and Georgia are not quite beyond the pale. Both nations have defense cooperation arrangements with NATO.
I suspect that an ongoing intra-alliance debate over priorities also affected the Ukraine-Georgia decision. Spurred by economic challenges and evolving threats, the alliance is reinventing itself as a 21st century defense organization built on ever-closer defense cooperation and trust. NATO is now encouraging what it calls defense specialization "by design" and not economic default. NATO strategists want members to develop their individual national strengths. This means coordinating defense budgets within the alliance and implementing long-term multi-national solutions to common problems. For example, the Czechs will concentrate on providing the alliance with chemical and nuclear detection and decontamination units. Creating a seamless NATO common logistics capability is a long-term multi-national goal.
The "deep goal" of this new round of reinvention is to insure that the alliance can fulfill its NATO treaty Article 5 obligation to current members. Article 5 commits every NATO nation to the defense of a member suffering attack by a non-NATO member. NATO invoked Article 5 after the 9-11 terror attacks on the U.S. The 9-11 Article 5 invocation and the Kosovo War were predicates to NATO's "beyond Europe" involvement in Afghanistan and in Libya 2011.
NATO's demise is anything but imminent. Evolving threats have seeded closer cooperation.
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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