“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!”
President Muffley, Dr Strangelove
Europe will not go to war over Ukraine. If it does, I will eat my hat (which could turn out to be rather appetising compared to the normal rations in the nuclear bunkers). Instead, we will stand by and watch as the Americans and the Russians continue to use Europe as the board on which to play their lethal game of chess.
NATO was created to provide collective security against the Soviet Union, and later the Warsaw Pact, following the end of the Second World War. Since the fall of the Union, NATO has pushed its border eastward to the obvious fury of Russia, arriving on its doorstep in 2004 with the admission of the Baltic States.
NATO’s principle of collective security is not a bad one. But if peace through deterrence is what is sought after, what good are these provocations directed towards Russia? It is the USA which primarily uses the organisation to serve its own strategic interests, with the effect of destabilising nations, and escalating tensions. It has tacitly dominated the direction of the alliance for years, more than happy to cram the ex-Soviet Republics full of weaponry knowing full well that this would be perceived as a threat by Russia – the country with the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. Imagine if Canada had a revolution, formed an alliance with China and allowed missiles pointing at Washington to be stationed on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River. I do not write this to exonerate Russia but principally to explain the bastardisation of the alliance as this aggression is not only counter to the raison d’être of the alliance but is also incredibly reckless. It will be the citizenry of Europe who pay the price.
Even still, this threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine is not one which unifies NATO, evident in Germany’s refusal to send military aid along with other major powers. This is a symptom of NATO’s post-1991 need to redefine itself and re-establish its purpose now that the Soviet Bloc is no more. This is notably where many tensions in the alliance have sprung from as individual members of NATO are now engaged in their own, various conflicts. However, NATO’s Article 5 means that if one of the member states were to be attacked in one of these conflicts, all members would be required to come to their defence. Imagine a situation where an American aircraft carrier gets sunk in the South China Sea by the Chinese, or a bomb goes off in Marseille, the detonator pressed by a group of Malian jihadists. Should the whole of NATO get involved? More importantly, would they? The nations attacked chose to undertake these aggressive acts. They should not be allowed to fall back on NATO and abuse the concept of collective security.
I am well aware of the importance of maintaining peace and security on the continent. But this crisis in Ukraine should primarily serve as a chance for us to reflect on the problems of this current defensive arrangement. NATO needs to prove to us that it is still necessary, has a clear purpose, and is, above all, fostering peace. If it cannot do this soon, then it runs the risk of larger members becoming disinterested in the project, or actively hostile to it. With this, NATO’s power as a deterrent will be weakened.
Image courtesy of NATO via Flickr