SEPT. 9, 2014 — Last week’s NATO summit in Wales, attended by President Barack Obama, attempted to adapt the organization’s current configuration to the problems of 2014.
NATO — the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — was founded after World War II by North American and Western European nations to form a military alliance to prevent the expansion of the Soviet Union and its military Warsaw Pact farther westward in Europe. It was largely successful. It never had to go to war.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990, NATO has found itself in search of a mission. The United States has continued to provide the bulk of its financing as well as its personnel and firepower. In fact, one of the less-discussed issues at the Wales summit was the abject failure of most of NATO’s 27 other members to devote 2 percent per year of their gross domestic product to defense. There was the usual pledge on the part of those in shortfall to increase spending over the next 10 years.
The United States has attempted over the years to drag NATO into various of its military conflicts. The Europeans did see the relevance of the problems occasioned by the breakup of Yugoslavia and participated. The second Iraq war, NATO declined, although some of its members did contribute. Afghanistan showed a better NATO turnout.
Obama tried at the most recent summit to pull NATO into the pushing and pulling with Russia in Eastern Ukraine. Its members, particularly Germany, clearly prefer diplomacy, including threats of more economic sanctions against Russia, to the kind of military threats Washington tends to make in spite of American public opinion.
Obama is currently involved in trying to put together a new coalition to confront the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Apart from the United Kingdom, involvement in the Islamic State affair will be a hard sell to the other NATO members, preoccupied as they are with their economies and with European matters such as Ukraine, a non-NATO member, particularly as Russia threatens to close its air space if European countries impose more sanctions on it.