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NATO Bloated And Weakened From Expansion Part Two

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Martin Sieff
Washington, April 17, 2009
The NATO alliance that confronted the collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989-91 really had teeth. Today, a far larger but also far weaker NATO resembles a 1930s airship -- huge, slow, unwieldy, vulnerable and filled with nothing more than hot gas.

Many military analysts believed that as late as the early 1980s, the Soviet Union and its satellite allies in the Warsaw Pact still had an overwhelming superiority in conventional forces, particularly in artillery and main battle tanks, over the assembled forces of NATO, especially on the expected main battlefield area between them of the North European plain.

However, the decision of NATO leaders to push ahead with the deployment of their small, highly mobile, nuclear-armed U.S.-built Pershing II intermediate-range ballistic missiles changed the strategic equation. The Pershings gave deployed NATO forces in Western Europe a far more lethal and credible deterrent than anything they had previously fielded.

Even at its time of greatest relative weakness in the face of the Red Army and its Soviet allies, there was no question during the Cold War that NATO was first and foremost a defensive military alliance. Its member states agreed that the military forces they put under the command of NATO at alliance headquarters outside Brussels were meant to defend their territories, not to project power outside them, however worthy the cause was.

Therefore, the U.S. commitment in the 1950-53 Korean War, with allies such as Britain and Turkey sending military contingents to fight alongside U.S. forces, was never a NATO operation. Neither was the long U.S. military commitment in Vietnam. Nor was the 1991 Gulf War to liberate Kuwait from Iraq, although NATO allies, primarily Britain and France, sent significant forces to fight alongside U.S. troops.

However, in the years following the collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the nature of the alliance gradually changed. It eventually grew to its present size of 28 member states -- one more in number than the 27-nation European Union. All the former member states of the Warsaw Pact eventually joined NATO. So did even three former Soviet republics, the small Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia that had been swallowed by the Soviet Union against their will in 1940.

Successive U.S. presidents, both Republican and Democratic, enthusiastically backed by British governments, welcomed the new NATO member states one and all. There was a happy, almost universally shared agreement across the political spectrum in Washington that expanding the alliance was a good thing that would spread peace and security, as well as democracy and free markets, throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

However, all the new member states were net consumers of NATO and U.S. security; they could not add to it themselves.

This was dramatically demonstrated after the al-Qaida terrorist attacks on the United States of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed 3,000 Americans. To the astonishment of U.S. and European leaders alike, the first time the Article 5 clause for mutual defense in the alliance's founding 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Washington, was ever activated, it was for the Europeans to help America rather than the other way around. But this support, while emotionally important and welcome, was symbolic rather than practical. In the 21st century, the United States remained the single military giant on whom the defense of an ever-increasing number of much smaller and weaker NATO member states rested.

Part 3: Why Russia's invasion of Georgia was so important for NATO's future

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The Future Of NATO Part Five
Washington (UPI) April 16, 2009
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was and is supposedly based on common values and a shared worldview, which would include a shared understanding of what constitutes a threat. But that shared view is sadly lacking today across the many states of the sprawling 28-member NATO alliance. (Paolo Liebl von Schirach is the editor of, a regular contributor to Swiss radio and an international economic-development expert.)

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