National Security

NATO: Why, Why, Why?


As the outmoded NATO alliance builds a new castle for itself in Brussels that costs well over a billion (more than the Libyan war has cost the U.S. so far….), Joseph Harriss at American Spectator wonders what it's all for. Some highlights:

For an organization that's been a perfect illustration of Parkinson's Law (bureaucracies expand over time, regardless of workload) since it lost its original raison d'être when the Soviet Union collapsed, it seems a normal entitlement. "A modern NATO needs a modern building," NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted at the groundbreaking ceremony last December 16. Maybe. But does it have to be this extravagant, this grand, this pricey?…..

The provocative new structure comes just when the Obama administration is pushing to trim federal budgets by some $1.1 trillion over the next decade, along with reductions in Pentagon spending by $78 billion. Other major NATO members are also cutting defense spending, Britain by 8 percent, Germany by some $11.5 billion. The spectacular project at least has the virtue of symbolizing what has gone wrong with this self-aggrandizing, self-perpetuating body whose main mission often seems to be not collective defense of its members, but its own self-preservation…..

I BEGAN COVERING NATO as a young Paris-based newsmagazine correspondent in 1966, when French president Charles de Gaulle abruptly tore up the lease on its headquarters. Belgium hastily offered to house the organization in Brussels, and I covered the opening ceremony the following year. Built in just 29 weeks—the lavish new offices have taken a decade of planning, construction will take another four years—the prefab headquarters was simple, but at least it looked lean, keen, and spartan-military. Not like a stately pleasure-dome for coddled fat cats….

Behind the façade of variegated non-defense activities, bigger and more complex command structures, and far-flung operations is an organization in identity crisis…..

The Alliance's eager quest for a convincing new role has led to mission creep on a grand scale. A new strategic concept formulated in 1991 tried to define a new threat environment that lacked any real dangers to its members. So security was redefined as not only a military issue, but one with political, economic, social, and environmental dimensions…..

Originally NATO concentrated on its core activity of defending the Euro-Atlantic area. Going "out of area" was verboten. That changed in the early 1990s when, as Dutch analyst Hugo Klijn of the Netherlands Institute of International Relations notes, "NATO followed the usual course of big, self-perpetuating bureaucracies: seeking new missions and linking to other big bureaucracies." What new missions? Ill-defined and far from its designated area. What other big bureaucracy? The mother of them all, the United Nations.

In December 1992 the North Atlantic Council, NATO's governing body, declared that the Alliance was "prepared to take further steps to assist the UN in implementing its decisions to maintain international peace and security." Suddenly it was in the global peacekeeping business as a subcontractor to the UN. Says François Heisbourg, special advisor at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research and one of France's top defense analysts, "They said in the 1990s that NATO had to go out of area or out of business, and that was true. It did go out of area and it stayed in business…."

Well, good for NATO! But–good for anything else?

WITH NATO's new vocation as a global, proactive, security, crisis management, peacekeeping, and humanitarian organization, it now commits Americans to fighting and dying in any hotspot on the planet. As a Cato Institute study puts it, "The transformation of NATO from an alliance to defend the territory of its members to an ambitious crisis-management organization has profound and disturbing implications for the United States… [with] the potential to entangle [it] in an endless array of messy, irrelevant disputes."….

….a senior official at the French Defense Ministry told me….France is particularly unhappy with the way NATO spends money. "They have only a vague idea how much an operation is going to cost when they get into it, just presenting us with the bill once it's under way…."

THE MIXED MOTIVES AT NATO's creation also marked its stepping into the Afghan quagmire. Was the International Security Assistance Force turned over to the Alliance because it was best qualified and equipped to handle the job? Or to make it appear a less American, more international effort? (Fully two-thirds of the ISAF troops are American; some countries have less than a token 10 personnel there.) Or as a costly, lethal way of modernizing NATO?….

Right now NATO is positioning itself for a lifetime job in Afghanistan. Earlier this year its then senior civilian representative there, Mark Sedwill, declared that a long-term partnership would be required even after hand-over in 2014 to Afghan forces. NATO would then be in the business of Afghan socio-economic development…..

Canadian general Rick Hillier, who commanded ISAF from February to August 2004, came away bitterly disillusioned (he went on to Canada's top military job as chief of the Defense Staff). In his bestselling book last year, A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War, he writes that "NATO itself was looking for something, anything, to do that would allow it to prove that it was still a worthwhile organization." When he took over his command, Hillier was appalled by "NATO's lack of cohesion, clarity and professionalism." There was, he writes scathingly, "no strategy, no clear articulation of what they wanted to achieve, no political guidance, and few forces. It was abysmal. NATO had started down a road that destroyed much of its credibility and in the end eroded support for the mission in every nation in the Alliance…. Afghanistan has revealed that NATO has reached the stage where it is a corpse, decomposing."

If only it were going to decompose. Yet the rest of this very detailed article lists many of its pure bureaucrat job-creation programs that ensure that without political pressure exploding out from within its members nation's high echelons, the taxpayers of the world will be paying for a bunch of jackasses to sit around all day inventing new and frequently lethal ways to grab more wealth from out of our hands forever and ever and ever, amen. As Prince sang on his neglected 2001 classic Jehovah's Witness concept album Rainbow Children, "the opposite of NATO is OTAN." You got that right!

NEXT: Nothing-Left-To-Cut California Budget Includes Free Bus to Dodgers Games

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  1. It really will be a good day when that cold war relic gets disbanded.

    1. And then what, replace it with the equally bureaucratic European Defense Forces?

      1. Or replace it with nothing, what a novel idea !

      2. Why should “we” care? As long as we (ie the USA) are not footing the bill why should it matter what the Euros do?

        One reason to get out of NATO is that it has too long been a tripwire to involve America in Europe’s problems.

        1. Like, for instance, 9/11 and the ousting of the Taliban.

          Oh, wait…


    SO THEN WHY A NATO? – Editorial Header

    -DFW, Infitie Jest, pp. 391

    The next two pages are also pretty funny.…..q&f;=false

    1. *Infinite Jest

  3. But if we did not have NATO how could the US transfer control of the war with Libya from the US dominated coalition to the US dominated NATO? My TV keeps telling me that this is a major change in policy.

  4. NATO is becoming a new UN with teeth, where only the US and Europe have any say. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was an active goal for it.

    1. Yes. It’s basically the “League of Democracies” that McCain was going on about in the 2008 election.

      (and if it just added Australia and Japan, NATO would indeed have all the major ‘good guy’ military forces in the world)

      1. I can easily foresee that happening. And then rinky dink countries that aren’t basket cases or banana republics will clamor to join too.

        1. NATO should have a leadership group and then a more general group that the rinky dink countries can join.

    2. NATO is becoming a new UN with teeth, where only the US and Europe have any say.

      But only if the US wants to say whatever the Europeans have already said they want. Otherwise the US is acting “unilaterally” and that’s really really bad.

  5. Nato’s America’s Transatlantic Owner.

    1. Need Access To Oil

    2. Nato, Another Tax Obligation.

      1. Nonessential Association Transcending Obsolesence

    3. Nonessential Association Transcending Obsolescence

      A feel-good story!

    4. Needs Alcohol To Operate

      1. Not Another Treaty Obligation!

    5. Nato Attacks Transvestite Oppressors

    6. I tried to write “Nato Attacks Transvestite Oppressors” but the spam filter wouldn’t let me. No links or anything. Seriously?

      1. That’s how you do it, Tulpa.

  6. Non-proliferation Agreements Teamed with Occupations

  7. General Rick Hillier was probably the finest example of a no-bullshit officer ever to lead Canada’s military forces.

  8. this self-aggrandizing, self-perpetuating body whose main mission often seems to be not collective defense of its members, but its own self-preservation

    It is comments like this that make me weep. You think it seems? Really? The primary purpose of any system is self-perpetuation. Not whatever their stated function is – self-perpetuation. The primary function of NATO is to perpetuate itself – and they are doing a damn fine job of it. Any discussion as to the necessity or suitability or efficiency of NATO in defending our interests is beside the point.

    And it is not just NATO. Change a few words and you can be talking about the American educational system. If you think it stinks, it is only because you think the purpose of schools is to educate children. When you realize that the primary purpose of schools is to metastasize, soaking up ever-increasing amounts of money and personnel and real estate, you realize that we have the very finest educational system in the world.

    So too with government in general. Every stupid law, every bloated bureaucracy, every Orwellian regulatory scheme, every industry-captured agency – once you understand that their primary purpose is to perpetuate themselves you can understand why they do what they do.

    Further, consider that whatever their ostensible function it almost certainly is much more difficult than the task of self-perpetuation. Defending Western Civilization is hard, asking for more staff, more money, more office space is easy. Educating children is hard, asking for more teachers, smaller classes, better pay is easy. Legislating Utopia is hard, asking for more power, more money, more laws, more government is easy. Guess which ones we get?

    1. Excellent point, and well said.

      This merely bolsters my anarchist point that government will always grow, and there is no “framework” you can place it in that will stop it.

      1. It must grow — representing the intentional embodiment of an unbalanced equation, it must. As such, the minarchist and the overt statist differ only in terms of the point at which the progression is to be initialized; in their wishful denial that such progression is inevitable, the two are indistinguishable. Both propose to explicitly institutionalize a state of disequilibrium; both tend toward, and must ultimately produce the identical, totalitarian, result.

  9. Nonessential Association Transcending Obsolesence

  10. The Soviets collapsed. NATO is redundant. Disband it.


    1. To a large extent the Soviets have opened up under new management.

      1. Yeah – American management.

  11. Parkinson’s Law. Easy to remember because it is also a disease. Word of the Day.

  12. “War” as they call it, is big business.

  13. For a meaningless organization, Russia seems pretty terrified of having to share more borders with NATO members.

    But on this matter I think Episiarch gets it right — NATO is what the UN should have been.

    1. The Russians have good reason to be worried at having the psychotic, warmongering American Empire on their border.

  14. I tried to write “Nato Attacks Transvestite Oppressors” but the spam filter wouldn’t let me. Seriously?

  15. “the opposite of NATO is OTAN.”

    Isn’t OTAN just? NATO in French?

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