What’s the Role of NATO?

It was pretty clear that the editors of the Washington Post approved of George Will’s column this morning—in addition to being in the “Columnists” section it was featured in the “Global Opinions” section as well. That’s the first time I recall one of his columns being afforded that treatment. Its title was “America needs NATO allies who share its renewed dedication to maintaining an orderly world” but it raised all sorts of questions for me. Here’s its conclusion:

When NATO was assembled in 1949, it was all about Europe. Its first secretary general, Lord Hastings Ismay, famously said it was created to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Today, the memory of the Soviet Union that nurtured Putin haunts and motivates him; he calls its death “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” President Biden has wisely reversed his predecessor’s order reducing U.S. forces in Germany. But although that nation has Europe’s largest economy, in 2022 it probably will, as usual, fall at least 25 percent short of NATO’s defense spending target.

NATO’s 2010 “Strategic Concept” contained not a word about China. At this week’s summit, however, NATO said China now poses “challenges.” That is a remarkably anodyne characterization of activities that include:

Shredding commitments regarding Hong Kong’s autonomy and suffocating liberty in one of the world’s great cities. Escalating incursions by Chinese military aircraft into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. (Tuesday marked the largest yet — 28 planes, including four nuclear-capable bombers.) Militarizing, contrary to public assurances, artificial islands in the South China Sea, through which up to a third of global seaborne commerce passes. And inflicting what the United States has formally identified as genocide on the Uyghurs, more than 1 million of whom are in concentration camps, enduring forced labor and worse.

One purpose of Biden’s trip to Europe was to reassure allies that the United States is ready to resume its responsibilities regarding the maintenance of an orderly world. Now, some comparable reassurances from allies would be timely.

Earlier in the column Mr. Will featured the Russia-Georgia War of 2008, the Russian invasion of Crimea, and the recent events in Belarus.

For me the column raised all sorts of questions including:

  • What is the purpose of NATO? Clearly, it no longer has anything to do with Lord Ismay’s characterization.
  • How did the admission of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania to NATO advance that objective?
  • What was the relationship between the talk of admitting Georgia to NATO and the Russia-Georgia War?
  • What was the relationship between the talk of admitting Ukraine to NATO and Russia’s occupation of Crimea?
  • How did the U. S. bombing of the Chinese embassy in Sarajevo under NATO auspices contribute to “an orderly world”?
  • How have operations in Syria under NATO auspices contributed to “an orderly world”?
  • What should the role of NATO be in civil wars within non-members of NATO?

just to name a few. I don’t expect much in the way of answers to any of those questions.

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