The Death of NATO

NATO, whose foreign ministers will meet next week, is dying, and, as it enters its twilight years, the US should encourage the EU to grow into its global responsibilities. For, despite all their differences and mutual dissatisfactions, Europe and the US know that each is the best friend either is likely to have for the foreseeable future.

LONDON – NATO, whose foreign ministers will meet next week, is dying. Death, of course, comes to all living things. And, as NATO approaches its 60th birthday next spring, there seems no immediate urgency about writing its obituary; 60-year-olds may reasonably look forward to another decade, perhaps two or even three, of active and productive life. But perhaps it is now time for some discreet reflection on the fact that “the old man will not always be with us.”

Human institutions, like human beings, can collapse with surprising speed once they have outlived their usefulness. The dramatic dissolution of the Soviet Union stands as a reminder of what can happen to organizations when doubts take hold as to whether they still serve any real interests other than those of their own apparatchiks – and how suddenly such doubts can grow when they attempt to convert themselves into something they are not.

NATO has, of course, shown remarkable tenacity. It should have disappeared when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Warsaw Pact evaporated; its job was done. But then came the Balkans crises of the 1990s, culminating in the realization that only American military power could put a stop to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. And then came the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, making the “out of area or out of business” choice seem a no-brainer. So NATO remains in business, and in Afghanistan.

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