Nato needs to reform into a global alliance against Islamic terrorism – or become obsolete
President Trump has said repeatedly that Nato is obsolete. And he is right. For five decades Nato was necessary to, as its first Secretary General said at the time, “keep the Soviets out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”.
The Atlantic Alliance was indeed instrumental in deterring the USSR and keeping the European continent in peace. There were many discussions as to how to achieve its goals, including major disagreements, but with America providing leadership, taking a big portion of the economic burden, and being willing to station hundreds of thousands of GIs in Europe, the Allies were able to overcome all problems and stay highly successful during the Cold War.
The collapse of the Soviet Union left Nato with both the sweet feeling of having won the Cold War without a real fight, as well as a sour feeling about what should come next.
In the early 90s there were voices calling for the dismantling of Nato as well as voices arguing in favor of retaining it as a safety net, just in case things went once again in the wrong strategic direction. In any case, the civil war in the former Yugoslavia offered Nato defenders a new option: to move from a territorial defense of the members in case of a Soviet invasion to a multinational body able to act on its periphery to enforce peace among rivals and contenders. More than a mission, peace enforcement was adopted as a salvation philosophy to keep Nato alive and well.
Actually there was no clear consensus on how to act with military forces to combat international terrorism.
Nato was profoundly divided concerning the intervention in Iraq in 2003, and was only able to agree, once the combat phase of the invasion was over, on a training mission that proved to be marginal in its achievements.
So it can be said that Nato from 1989 to today has basically opted out of the major strategic issue of our time, Islamic terrorism, and generated mixed results at best in its out-of-area operations without becoming more efficient in its traditional mission to keep peace in Europe.
Indeed Nato has proved to be less powerful as a collective entity than some of its individual members.
It is time to change that. Relying on the success of the Cold War past is not enough. The Atlantic Alliance needs to be revamped and reformed entirely, from its strategic concept to its membership. The alternative is an accelerated obsolescence.
In 2005 we proposed, in a study called “Nato: An alliance for freedom”, a few ideas on how to close the gap between the Nato we have and the Nato we need. Some of them are still relevant. For instance, forget all the bureaucratic jargon about “capabilities-based alliance”, “stability operations” or “operations other than war”.
Nato should accept that we are all under attack by Islamist extremist forces of all kinds. President Hollande said that France was at war, and the rest of the allies cannot sit idle by his side. Nato must make the fight against Islamic terrorism its core mission.