The Importance of NATO Today
In the aftermath of the 2020 elections, the United States appears to be on the verge of reasserting itself into international affairs. President Trumps ‘America First’ policy has seen Washington withdraw and undermine international organisations and treaties including the World Health Organisation, the World Trade Organisation, and the Paris Agreement.
However, with the election of President-elect Joe Biden, the US will once again spearhead international affairs. One such avenue Biden is expressing US primacy in is NATO. President Trump has previously declared the defence alliance an ‘obsolete’ organisation, threatening to withdraw military aid. Yet, Biden has stated he would call a meeting with NATO leadership to “make it clear we’re back.” Amidst this debate, questions have risen as to the importance and relevance of a seemingly archaic defence alliance harking back to Cold War politics.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the relevance of NATO was rightfully questioned. A political and military bloc emerging to counter the Warsaw Pact seemed largely pointless in the anti-climax of the Cold War. In an era that Francis Fukuyama labelled ‘the end of history’, the supremacy of liberal values appeared to advance unchallenged while western philosophies surrounding free market economics and humanitarianism dominated international affairs. Thus, what was the point of a defence alliance of western nations in a now western global order?
However, in an increasingly instable and unpredictable world the relevance and need for NATO became more and more apparent. Emerging threats to European regional security in the aftermath of Soviet dissolution obliged western forces to intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo. Subsequently, the tragic events following September 11th forced western intelligence to adapt to a new unconventional enemy manifesting in transnational terrorism. For the first time, NATO invoked its collective defence clause in an attempt to address the issue of Al-Qaeda. Currently, on the request of the Iraqi government, NATO is involved in an advisory, training, and capacity-building mission to strengthen Iraqi security services in the fight against ISIS. Meanwhile, the very recent attacks in Nice and Vienna demonstrate that collective efforts in Western security and counterterrorism remain indispensable.
Yet terrorism is not the only threat to western security which justifies the need for NATO. In its quest to influence ‘Great Power’ politics once again, Putin’s Russia is increasingly asserting its agenda in international relations. In the wake of NATO’s intervention in Libya, Moscow has grown a close relationship with the Assad regime in Syria. In an attempt to quell western regime change in the global south and the Middle East, the Kremlin has stressed the importance of sovereignty and non-intervention to counter US and western influence. Closer to home, Russia has attempted to assert its dominance in European politics, countering NATO expansion and its incorporation of former Soviet satellites including Montenegro in 2017, and Macedonia in 2020. Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 crushed overtures from Tbilisi and Kiev towards NATO, and the EU.
While the West should be concerned with Russia, the rise of China is becoming the most important issue facing NATO today. Reminiscent of 20th century bipolarity, Beijing is set to become the largest economy in the next few years. Meanwhile, China has similarly asserted its position as a global hegemon by launching huge infrastructural projects in the African continent while attempting to reconstruct the ancient silk road trade routes. However, China has an appalling human rights record as demonstrated by its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinxiang as well as a total disregard for humanitarian principles highlighted in its opposition to interventions in Syria as well as its gross environmental violations. While NATO and the West face threats from terrorism and Russia, the rise of China means NATO has never been so important.
By Daniel Mountain