Time to Cancel NATO
In the wake of its forced retreat from Afghanistan and inability to meaningfully impact Russia’s behavior, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is desperately seeking a new mission.
NATO boosters are making a push in the wake of this humiliating failure to secure Afghanistan to make the dubious claim that the alliance is the most successful in history.
The hard truth is — and I say this as a veteran and child of veteran who has long closely studied military and international affairs — that NATO is an unmitigated disaster.
It should have been disbanded over 20 years ago — instead, the zombie alliance’s leaders are committed to turning it into a global military alliance focused on containing China and Russia.
“Cold War 2.0” they call it — but this propaganda, plain and simple.
As the NATO alliance faces rising headwinds rooted in its obsolescence and the decay of American democracy, its well-funded backers have decided to convince anyone who will listen that NATO must go global.
At this very moment, a multi-national fleet — Carrier Strike Group 21 — is sailing around Europe’s old colonial haunts with Britain’s only working aircraft carrier as its flagship.
The publicly stated intent of this dog and pony act is to show China that NATO is ready to operate in the Pacific.
Yet the real point is to give NATO a new mission — and distract the world from its 20-year failure to beat an army of bearded dudes who wear flip-flops to battle… yet always seem to win.
Its failure in Afghanistan should come as little surprise. The irony is, NATO has been mostly a failure from its inception.
Back in 1949 Europe was a ruined mess. And this posed a serious problem for the rising American military-industrial complex —as well as an opportunity.
Fears of global communism had always been overblown, but especially so after the death of Lenin. Stalin’s U.S.S.R. was fundamentally focused on the re-establishing the Russian Empire and preventing an anti-communist counter-revolution, not bringing socialism to the rest of the world.
But it was difficult to believe this in the late 1940s when Soviet military units were busy clamping down on the liberated countries of Eastern Europe, taking care to place pro-Soviet groups in power. After 1945, most American forces were pulled out of defeated Germany, and the other European powers like Britain and France were still reeling from the Second World War. A Soviet invasion was a real — if unlikely — fear.
So it made a kind of sense to pull the democracies of Western Europe into a defensive alliance anchored by the United States. An effort to, as it was put pithily at the time, keep America in, Germany down, and Russia out.
Sensible enough — except almost immediately NATO was drawn into the morass of postwar American politics.
After the war ended, American leaders faced a set of serious problems. The Great Depression had pushed the country to the brink, fears of a socialist revolution were fresh in the minds of the wealthy industrialists whose factories had built the tanks and planes that overwhelmed the Axis powers.
To protect their wealth, they embraced strident anti-communism, lumping American unions and intellectuals together with actual Soviet sympathizers to sell Americans a story of being under attack by a new totalitarian threat.
Naturally, the USSR setting off its own atomic bomb in 1949 amplified their tale of existential danger. After all, the cornerstone of American “defense” policy after the Second World War was using the threat of atomic attack to compensate for America’s physical distance from the rest of the world.
NATO almost immediately became little more than a convenient shield for the United States of America. Ever wonder why most NATO members have never contributed the 2% of GDP on military budgets like they were supposed to?
America’s leaders have always preferred it that way. The domestic arms industry liked having limited competition from an otherwise technologically equal part of the world. German military equipment in particular was of higher quality than American. And being able to use communism as an excuse to police the planet was much easier when the United States was the only big spender aside from the USSR.
But the Russian leaders who always dominated the USSR faced a different set of concerns. One of the biggest was the threat of an American-led attack on the Soviet Union and its allies.
Americans have been trained from birth to believe whatever their government does is right and justified, but the majority of the world has never seen the USA as a perpetual force for good.
But like any other country, it has its own interests, its own perspective on what “national security” means.
And from the Soviet Russian perspective, from its inception NATO has looked an awful lot like a dagger pointed at Russia’s heart.
Few Americans understand Russia’s history. They don’t know that at the beginning of the Soviet Union, when Russia was embroiled in a brutal civil war, most of the “capitalist” powers of the West — Britain, France, and the USA — actually sent soldiers to Russian soil to fight the Bolsheviks. Or that when Hitler went to war with Stalin, the majority opinion in the USA was that they should be allowed to wipe each other out.
And yes, Virginia, they knew about the Holocaust even then. They didn’t care enough to do anything about it, though.
American leaders routinely cast Soviet communists as evildoers bent on world domination, not because it was true (or possible) but because it was convenient.
The Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War ultimately failed — but the Soviets never forgot. And as the 1920s passed into the 1930s, despite the rise of fascism in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Hungary, American and British leaders continued to portray the Soviet Union as the paramount existential threat to the world.
Fear of the “West” is now so deeply baked into the Russian historical consciousness that Russian leaders like Putin can stay in power just by stoking fears of foreign attack. A mutualistic relationship that keeps on giving for the powerful on both sides — until someday the dance goes terribly wrong and misconceptions of reality draw them into direct conflict.
NATO formed in 1949, but the Soviet Union only moved to establish a formal counter-alliance — the Warsaw Pact — after NATO began allowing West Germany to rearm in the 1950s. The various Berlin crises made the Soviet leadership believe NATO was committed to reunifying Germany by force if necessary.
While incorrect, this assumption —and not any real desire to invade and conquer NATO territory as many in the alliance alleged was the case — drove most Soviet and Warsaw Pact military planning from the 1950s onward.
Along the border between East and West Germany both sides established powerful military formations and prepared to defend themselves. But it very quickly became clear to everyone that the always fractious alliance would respond slowly to any Soviet aggression.
The balance of power in Germany favored the Warsaw Pact primarily because its main backer was much closer to Europe. America left substantial forces in Germany even after the postwar occupation ended, but they served the purpose American soldiers still do in South Korea today: a kind of blood insurance. A trip wire guaranteeing the US will be forced to intervene in any fight.
Historically the American people only strongly support military conflicts that begin with a heavy loss of American life. So the American postwar foreign policy elite, people like Truman and Kissinger, knew that to offer a credible guarantee of support to any ally the presence of American soldiers was required.
In 1950, when North Korea attacked South Korea, American soldiers were on the ground — and pretty much slaughtered in suicidal missions ordered by clueless politician-generals like MacArthur hundreds of miles away (a history likely to be repeated if America ever did fight a peer-adversary). NATO’s American-dominated leadership at the time knew that only Soviet shells killing American soldiers in the Fulda Gap was a guarantee to NATO members that the US would actually fight if it came to it given the risk of a devastating nuclear war.
But the country couldn’t afford to keep a million soldiers in Germany forever. And as Europe’s economy was still recovering from the devastation of the Second World War well into the 1960s, American leaders knew that in a major war over Europe they would have to rely on atomic — later nuclear — weapons to beat the Soviets in Germany.
Using atomic bombs early in any European conflict was always the default American plan. From the 1950s on, the planning assumption was that Soviet tanks could push across Germany and reach the Rhine — or even the English Channel — in 1–2 weeks.
The Soviets, wanting to keep their own alliance together, took great care to maintain enough conventional military forces in Germany and Czechoslovakia— tanks, jets, artillery, infantry and the like — to credibly threaten such a blitz whenever it chose. Proxy conflicts in Korea and later Vietnam proved the quality of its equipment when used properly.
Neither side actually wanted a war — but both were willing to fight one if necessary to prove their commitment to their respective alliances. That 40-year game was what people call the “Cold War,” a terrible misnomer because it was always what defense experts these days have taken to calling “hybrid” or “gray” war.
There is no meaningful real world distinction between types of conflict between powers — combat takes place on a spectrum, with politics being war waged through non-violent means and mutually assured destruction being the extremely violent counter-node.
In any case, whatever you prefer to call the second half of the twentieth century, in practical terms it meant two wealthy organizations constantly improving their capability to make good on their threats.
A violent mutuality that led to the production and deployment of tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, enough to destroy global civilization several times over.
To avoid having to field a massive army in Europe America turned to nuclear weapons. When the Soviet Union built its own in fear of being blackmailed — and yes, American leaders did use implied threats of nuclear attack to blackmail other countries on numerous occasions — America built more. Of every conceivable size, too — including a kind of small nuclear mortar it must have really sucked to be assigned to use!
If war had broken out in Europe the plan was to use nukes across East Germany and Poland, targeting bridges and other vital infrastructure — also killing thousands of Poles and Germans. That would buy time for American reinforcements to be flown and shipped across the Atlantic to fight over whatever was left.
Why would the Soviets not immediately use nuclear weapons of their own?
Deterrence and mutually assured destruction, American leaders thought. If no nuclear weapons were launched at Soviet soil, it was hoped the horrific exchange would remain limited to central Europe —mostly airfields, military bases across Germany that hosted nuclear weapons or large concentrations of troops.
The casualties would be an acceptable sacrifice for averting a greater nuclear apocalypse that would come if NATO completely collapsed and America feared total defeat, in which case it fully planned to escalate to strategic use.
In other words, Europeans would be sacrificed to show America’s resolve in fighting and winning a nuclear war. This is why the United States shares nuclear weapons with other NATO members, giving countries like Turkey (yes, the country that perpetrated the Armenian genocide and is presently in a standoff with the rest of NATO over purchasing Russian surface to air missile systems) and Belgium the ability to drop nuclear bombs in the event of a war.
They call this part of deterrence, and many supposed defense experts will claim this is all that prevented the Cold War from turning hot — and what will keep Russia honest going forward.
But the truth is that everyone with a brain knows that the concept of deterrence requires that both sides be rational — they have to think the same way, share the same values.
And Putin’s Russia is committed to the belief that in a conventional or nuclear conflict Russia could actually fight and win, so long as it can always threaten nuclear annihilation of America.
Because Russia knows what everyone should know: NATO has never been credible, America will never risk its own cities to protect Ukraine or Estonia, and what’s more — a string of nonstop failures since the 1990s have proven the Atlantic Alliance utterly hollow.
Despite very nearly accidentally going apocalyptic on several occasions — particularly the summer of 1983 — the NATO-Warsaw Pact standoff dissipated with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union a short time after.
And all of a sudden, NATO no longer had a purpose. All the money that flows into its member military organizations were better invested elsewhere.
Even during the Cold War NATO had always been a bit tragicomic. It included both Turkey and Greece despite those two countries’ bitter mutual hostility and history of open warfare. France was never fully on board with NATO at all and partially pulled out of the alliance in the De Gaulle era, putting a huge hole in NATO’s defense plans.
In truth, NATO from the very beginning mostly served as a guaranteed market for American weapons. Germany was rearmed with American jets and tanks before its defense industry recovered, and NATO gear all has to fit certain interoperability standards.
Cross-national defense initiatives began but failed time and again — in no small part because American defense companies, heavily subsidized by taxpayers, could leverage their connections to diplomatic channels — something that happens all the time today, and is why so many European countries have bought into the star-crossed Joint Strike Fighter project.
The collapse of the Warsaw Pact threatened the defense industry more than the fear of a nuclear exchange literally incinerating its physical capital. A wave of mergers began in the 1990s, companies banding together into the three great American defense ecosystems of the 2020s: Lockheed, Boeing, and Raytheon.
Along with their pet politicians in Congress and the legions of “defense experts” who flood the media with nonsense to keep people asking why they get 50% of all American income taxes without real oversight, these constitute the vast wicked entity known affectionately in D.C. as “the blob.”
In the 1990s, freed at last from the threat of war, Europe finally began to come together as a single political and economic entity, the European Union and Euro coming to dominate inter-country relations. For a time in the 1990s it was thought Russia might even join the EU — and NATO.
But an alliance created to keep America in, Germany down, and Russia out didn’t make sense when Germany was reunified, Russia was almost friendly, and American companies were in competition with their European counterparts — now fully recovered from the war.
NATO needed a new mission. Peace is bad business for NATO’s boosters.
Since 1991 NATO has largely floundered, existentially threatened by the unification of much of Europe into a single political entity destined to one day field its own pan-European military.
The collapse of Yugoslavia, in Europe’s own backyard, proved how utterly divided and inept NATO could be. NATO peacekeepers allowed the awful slaughter of Srebenica, and the “solution” to Yugoslavia was simple fragmentation that continued to spawn violence for years after.
In 1998 a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia began after that former Yugoslav nation decided to ethnically cleanse the small country of Kosovo. It worked… barely. A number of NATO aircraft were shot down — including an American F-117 stealth bomber, taken out by a clever Serb surface to air missile team who knew how to adjust their radars to target it (stealth isn’t magic, folks, sorry to burst your bubble).
America even managed, in a truly epic screwup with serious long-term ramifications, to bomb the Chinese embassy. And as Serbia was a long-time ally of Russia, the NATO campaign appeared almost deliberately intended to remind Russia of its irrelevance.
Worse, NATO decided in the 1990s to expand eastward, bringing former Warsaw Pact countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania into the alliance despite their recent rather atrocious human rights records. More provocatively, the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were brought in, and NATO began reaching out to Ukraine too.
This expansion directly violated a personal guarantee made by American Secretary of State James Baker to Russian President Boris Yeltsin promising that the USSR’s withdrawal from Eastern Europe would not be followed by a movement of pro-American forces towards the Russian border.
When NATO broke this pledge and expanded east, Russian nationalists like Vladimir Putin immediately began to gain strength. Pointing to the many past attempts by western powers to intervene in Russia, Putin and other ex-Soviet hardliners had the perfect excuse to rally their people against a new round of anti-Russian acts and claim anti-Russian bias is driving any criticism of the Moscow regime.
The War on Terror that began in 2001 temporarily suspended these rising tensions. Russia has long suffered attacks by radical islamic groups, and was more than happy to let the United States use its territory to help attack Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
And for a time, NATO suddenly had a whole new mission to consider. Soon after the US-backed Northern Alliance warlords retook Kabul, NATO began sending forces in. The International Security Assistance Force joined American forces in its long — and failed — attempt to beat the Taliban and establish Afghanistan as a democratic nation.
The hard fights and noble sacrifices made by so many NATO-led soldiers across twenty years of war can never be discounted.
They went in under a noble cause — but they were betrayed by inept leaders who failed to understand Afghanistan’s complexities, devote sufficient attention and resources to its reconstruction, or adopt a realistic strategy for accomplishing any of its objectives.
The failure in Afghanistan is not entirely of NATO’s making, but it is still another black mark on the organization’s record.
And it does not bode well for a future where NATO,its failed leaders unabashed, now sells itself as a global alliance aiming to oppose Russia and China.
If NATO is the “most successful alliance in history” then alliances are futile.
NATO never lived up to its purpose, and it never will.
It is now part of America’s last, desperate gasp for air before being pulled under the tide produced by its own internal contradictions.
NATO’s new obsession with replicating the mistakes of the Cold War — sending ships and troops to exercise close to Russia and China — flies in the face of all the lessons taught by recent wars and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of both Russian and Chinese intentions and capabilities.
The truth is, NATO can’t win a war to defend Ukraine or Taiwan, the two most likely flash points for a major conflict today.
For the past twenty years both Russia and China have developed the specific suite of military capabilities required to defeat NATO or the US if either tries to intervene close to their borders.
Inexpensive, long-range, precision guided weapons are everywhere. In a conflict either Russia or China can quite literally flood NATO or American defenses with a barrage of weapons that will make it nearly impossible for large formations to operate.
It will be impossible to physically build up forces close to Ukraine or Taiwan for weeks — by which point intervention will be as moot a point, as it was when Russia took Crimea in 2014. US forces can hardly defend their bases in Iraq against drones and rockets — Russia and China can shoot more missiles than America has anti-missile missiles in its entire arsenal if you take them on near their own borders.
Yet NATO and American leaders constantly act as if this isn’t the case. They offer assurances to the leaders of threatened countries that are impossible to believe. They pretend western military might is impossible to beat, despite NATO and America and their allies losing to insurgents again and again.
Worse, their constant stoking of anti-Russian and anti-Chinese hysteria at home and abroad is creating a conflict-promoting self-reinforcing feedback loop.
Chinese and Russian citizens feel under attack, a sentiment Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin do all they can to foster because it keeps them in power. NATO then turns around and trumpets Russian and Chinese responses as evidence of how important NATO is.
The cycle continues, and it places the people of Ukraine and Taiwan in the worst possible position, where they — like Germany and Poland in the Cold War — can expect to be the perpetual battlefields of the new Forever War or Cold War 2 or whatever the scam is being marketed as these days.
NATO will fight for Ukraine — to the last Ukrainian. The same is true of Taiwan.
It’s all a sick, pathetic game that the world has seen plenty of times before — including the run-up to the First World War in 1914, a historical period today’s world is starting to mimic in dangerous ways.
Russia and China are global concerns, but so are NATO and the fragmenting United States.
The truth is, NATO is now one of the main drivers of the coming era of intense geopolitical competition.
It may now be more likely than not that NATO will be directly and deliberately humiliated by Russia, China, or both in the near future as each finds it advantageous to send a clear message.
By taking an aggressive, forward-defense style stance on all fronts, NATO has ceded all initiative to two powers with a track record of seizing it to their advantage.
And it is doing this because NATO is a shell, a sock puppet for the American defense industry which is desperate to sell more F-35s and JDAMs now that endless campaigns against terrorists won’t boost their share prices.
The time has come for NATO to dissolve and the European Union to field a military of its own, perhaps allied with but always fully independent from the United States of America.
NATO must not be allowed to play a role in the Pacific. There a completely separate defense establishment — a kind of Pacific Federation — should be pursued.
This new Cold War and the associated arms race in the realms of space, nukes, and cyber must be opposed at any cost.
If unchallenged, rising geopolitical tensions will destroy any hope of building a better future.
People need to understand that every dollar spent on old-style military organizations is a dollar stolen from the causes that truly matter — fighting poverty, inequality, and climate change.
True Defense must be thought of in a comprehensive way, global defense forces as concerned with pandemics and natural disasters as the threat of foreign wars.
Because most of the time, fear of war is what leads to war.
When it comes to war, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it well, the only thing we have to fear is the fear itself.