Why NATO Must Revert to Basics and Adapt to Russian Aggression
With the risk that the EU will collapse following the UK's decision to leave, it is a pivotal time for NATO to assume responsibility for the unity and security of Europe. NATO's biggest mistakes have been its commitment to widen its scope both globally and in terms of its activities pursued, whilst failing to deal with the Russian security threat. NATO must simplify and return to its core objective of collective security and propose Russian integration into the Alliance.
When considering NATO's greatest failure in the last 25 years it is challenging to look beyond international organizations', namely NATO's, handling of the Srebrenica genocide in 1995. However, NATO's biggest mistake has not been its inability to prevent or respond successfully and appropriately to cases of genocide. Its greatest failure has rather been the role that it has pursued and its indecisive and unspecific nature and evolving purpose, coupled with the inability to prevent Russian aggression. NATO has effectively nullified and risked its own demise by expanding its role and area of expertise, thereby attempting to undertake a more global, blurred vision for the international organization. The organization's overly expansive and global role is marked by 18,000 military personnel being engaged in missions around the world under NATO command. By pursuing more global, conflated objectives NATO is failing to focus sufficiently on its European collective defence duty. This duty is ultimately the most core and constantly expanding, particularly with the expansion of NATO members. The Russian resurgence and annexation of Crimea underlines such an existing threat to European security.
In order to prolong its existence, relevance and prove its everlasting importance, NATO has sought to undertake broader international tasks and missions. A return to NATO's original collective defence objective is particularly pressing with the EU's heightened vulnerabilities and the potential break-up of the union, following the UK's decision to leave the EU. NATO's increasing international scope and broad role and duties increases the cost and proportion of GDP per capita that member states are urged to contribute to the organization, creating internal tensions within the organization. Russian aggression, outlined by the Crimean annexation, is a grave, credible threat that demands the simplicity and return to NATO's original purpose. Reducing Europe's dependence on Russia's energy exports will counter the threat Russia proves towards neighbouring states and NATO members. European dependence upon Russian exports assures Russia that its actions will go largely unpunished. Europe and NATO's response to Russia's annexation of Crimea is a prime example of this. Barring piecemeal economic sanctions imposed upon Russia, there was an overwhelmingly minor response to an expansionist act that bore resemblance to Soviet expansionism during the height of the Cold War. Realistically until Europe can source energy from elsewhere, NATO will be unable to deal harsh repercussions upon Russia. I therefore propose that the organization invites Russia to join the Alliance to reduce European tensions and conflict.
The move to narrow NATO down to its original purpose of a European collective security organization will reaffirm the national security of member states and the continent as a whole as Article 5 will be a more realistic goal. To avoid members free-riding it should be put into legislation that NATO members must financially commit to the 2% GDP guidelines. Unless a member state is facing extenuating circumstances, such as an economic crisis, NATO should impose that nations within NATO must relinquish their membership if they fail to commit to this threshold.
The major security issue that NATO has failed to contain is, and continues to be, the threat from Russian aggression. Russia claims that it acts offensively and feels encircled by NATO. It thereby must be considered that NATO should invite Russia into the organization to prevent Russia from having any ground to support its offensive, expansionist actions and to quell any remaining cold war tensions. Even if Russia repudiates such a proposal, the move would appease relations and act to limit security threats that NATO has a responsibility to prevent. Ultimately, NATO must learn from its experimental mistakes of expanding its global role and of failing to prevent and respond effectively to Russia's aggressive foreign policy. It must revert to simplicity in terms of its existing purpose and aims. It is additionally necessary that within this European collective security role, NATO cannot continue to allow Russia to act in a bellicose, unrestrained manner. NATO must hence urge Russia to join the Alliance. Failing this, I would suggest that NATO must forego any Russian energy export concerns and risk responding to Russian aggression and its illegal annexations with severe repercussions to establish European security in a more successful manner.
Oli Cotton is a student of international relations at the University of Leeds, UK.
This article has been submitted for category B "NATO's Biggest Mistake and Lesson Learned" of the competition "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit". Comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video in the categories C and D.
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