Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mission Creep

NATO has declared that it will not participate in a no-fly zone over Libya unless it receives a mandate from the United Nations.  Since Russia is a permanent member of The Security Council and has already stated that it will veto any such resolution, it appears that Gadhafi will continue to use his aircraft to attack rebels until one of his own officers decides to shoot him in the head.  I’m actually okay with this; let me ‘splain.

NATO, which stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was created in 1949.  NATO is a multinational military alliance originally intended to stymie Soviet aggression and the forcible expansion of communism in Europe.  According to NATO’s charter, an attack on one member is an attack on all, and all members are required to mutually defend each other.  The Soviet Union and its satellite states formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955 as a response.

NATO was one of the reasons that the Cold War stayed cold.  The Soviets knew that an attack upon a NATO member would bring the full military might of North America and Western Europe would against them. 

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO began to quickly expand.  East Germany had already reunified with West Germany in 1989 and NATO expanded to include what had been East Germany.  Several former Soviet client states applied to join NATO and the organization currently includes eleven former Soviet client states with future commitments to allow Ukraine and Georgia to join the alliance.

This expansion of NATO has naturally made Russia angry as it sees its dominance in Europe waning and nervous as it sees NATO’s stated mission expand even as the organization creeps closer to Russia’s borders.  And that mission creep is the source of my concern.

What started as a mutual defense treaty organization began operating offensively in nations outside of its own members.  From 1993 until 1999 NATO participated in various military operations in the former country of Yugoslavia, beginning with enforcing an arms embargo and no-fly zones and culminating in the bombing of Serbian cities and the occupation of Kosovo.  Whether or not these actions were morally justified, the fact remains that no member of NATO had been attacked by Yugoslavia or its splinter states prior to NATO taking action.

NATO is currently participating in the conflict in Afghanistan, although this intervention is at least justifiable in that the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan in 2001 and actively aided Al Qaeda while that organization planned and conducted an attack against a NATO member.

NATO has morphed into a multinational peacekeeping force that the West can call upon when the United Nations isn’t willing to play.  Russian accusations that NATO is an expansionist force are hard to deny under the present circumstances.  Ironically, it will ultimately be in Russia’s best interest to seek membership for itself in NATO as a counter to Chinese expansionism into Siberia and the Kuriles.  But for now, I believe that NATO would be best served by sticking to its original mission and avoiding “foreign entanglements” that don’t affect its members directly.  

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