The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed in 1949 as a response to the growing fear of Soviet Influence in Europe, shortly after the outbreak of the Cold War.
Created essentially as a protectorate pact, meaning that all members would come to the defence of another should that nation be invaded, NATO was aimed at preventing the expansion of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.
Formed from the traditional North Atlantic allies – the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Iceland and most other Western European nations – NATO was aimed at ensuring the mutual defence of these countries, but more specifically to limit the expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence across Europe.
Setting out clear guidelines for what would and wouldn’t constitute an act worth of NATO intervention, the organisation effectively prevented the greater expansion of communism and Soviet influence into Europe, whilst increasing the US and western sphere of influence across both sides of the Atlantic.
For decades, NATO and consequently the Warsaw Pact (the USSR’s version of NATO) acted as the basis of the Cold War, dividing the world between these western powers and the Soviet influence, playing a significant role in the balance of power; the prevailing foreign policy theory that dominated the cold war era.
Since the end of the cold war with the USSR’s collapse in 1991, NATO has seen its role as an alliance somewhat diminish, despite intervention in several major conflicts; bilateral agreements and increasing United Nation’s cooperation have taken greater precedence.
However, this does not mean that NATO is dead or indeed irrelevant to major global security policy. With a significant rise in tensions between Russia and the west, coinciding with outwards shifts in the foreign policy arrangements of China and India, NATO is once again taking a leading role in the foreign policy and international security discussion.
NATO In Recent Years
Casting back to the 2016 presidential campaign, America – who has always been the de facto leader of NATO – emphasised the need for the other members to take a more active role in military investment, thus ensuring the protection of the mutual defence arrangement.
Since Trump’s victory, America has been signalling a willingness to retreat from its essentially total role in the security of the alliance, suggesting that America may not intervene should NATO members be invaded – completely undermining the structure of the organisation.
However, this has been argued by many with confidence in Trump’s strategic capabilities that he was simply wishing to encourage the other members to increase their defence spending, up to the levels that NATO desires.
Currently, only five of the 29 members are contributing their required 2% of GDP to defence spending, with the United States having contributed almost unilaterally to NATO for the last few decades – using it as largely an extension of their power, rather than a balanced alliance.
European powers have largely decreased their global role in recent decades, with most former colonies gaining independence and less willingness to embroil themselves in foreign conflicts. This has seen the growing powers of China, Russia and India taking up the mantle. South China Sea territorial disputes, India’s space programme and Russia’s aggressive policy towards the Arctic, show (according to the balance of power theory) the need for a strong NATO.
Structure of NATO
NATO is based in Brussels, a stone’s throw from the European Union buildings, emphasising the importance of western Europe to the collective security policy that NATO represents.
It is structured in a largely similar way, with a Secretary-General (Jens Stoltenberg), and a NATO Council, made up of all the member nations, which largely directs policy for the bloc.
As the United States dominance looks set to be rivalled – at least in economic terms – the growing fears of resurgent non-western nations has led to a significant rise in the potential role of NATO in world affairs once again.
Although the last few decades have seen relatively small-scale intervention, in regional conflicts such as the Arab Spring and African piracy, the former role as a major player in superpower relations and western global security is once again growing.
Perhaps this growth is unnecessary, as despite the increasing importance of China on the global economy, NATO – specifically the United States – remains a unipolar power, unrivalled in military terms, however, it certainly seems that with growing tensions between the east and west, its role as a major piece in the global chess arena could once again be vital.