NATO: Has It Become A Modern UN?


The BBC reported Norwegian fighter planes made strikes against the Libyan capital of Tripoli, as part of a NATO mission. It was refreshing for an American, tired of the U.S. superpower burden, to see a small state like Norway play such a central role. While all member states should be involved in NATO operations, a more basic question now is: Just what is the NATO mission?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) started out with 12 European and North American states (1949). [i] Soon, Greece and Turkey joined (1952), and Germany hopped on board (1955).  30 years later, Spain enlisted (1982). After the Soviet Union dissolved, Poland, Hungary, the Czechs joined (1999), followed by 7 East European states (2004), [ii] and 2 in the Balkans (2009). [iii]

NATO’s purpose in 1949 was strictly as a defensive treaty group. They agreed that an armed attack against one European or North American member would be considered an attack upon all. In their first 40 years, NATO concerned itself with threats by Russia, but when the Soviet Union dissolved (1991), NATO changed.

As the former Yugoslavia broke up, NATO became proactive, and intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo (a Serb Province), even though no NATO state had been attacked. They downed Bosnian-Serb planes that violated Bosnian no-fly zones (1994), bombed the Bosnian-Serb Army (1995), and acted as a Bosnian peacekeeper, after the Dayton Accord (1996-04). Despite the lack of UN approval, NATO flew missions against Serbia, to protect Kosovo (1999). While NATO’s conduct in the former Yugoslavia was no longer defensive, at least it was still on the European continent.

NATO then expanded their mission once more, as they went global. They entered South Asia, in an Afghan operation (2003); they undertook a training mission in the Mideast, in Iraq (2004); they started policing international waters off East Africa, to ward off Somali pirates (2009); and now, they are enforcing an embargo and no-fly zone in North Africa, against Libya (2011).

With this history of intervention in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Mideast, and clear authority to enter North America, is there any part of the world off limits to NATO? Could they conduct a mission in South America, Australia or Antarctica?

Has NATO effectively become the enforcement arm of the UN? If so, has the UN Security Council become irrelevant? With a NATO membership that consists of only 28 of the world’s 193 independent states, what legitimacy does it have to act around the globe at will? Do the other 165 nations approve of NATO’s unlimited reach? At some point, the world is going to have to reconcile the growth of NATO, at the expense of the UN.


[i] U.S., Canada, Iceland, Britain, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Italy and Portugal

[ii] Estonia, Latvia, Lith., Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria

[iii] Albania, and Croatia

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