Why nato? Is it still relevant? Founded in 1949, the original purpose of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was to contain the Soviet Union. When the Cold War ended, Russia became a limited partner in nato. This would seem to negate its purpose. However, nato still functions for two basic reasons.
First, Europe needs nato as a source of military power—specifically, access to American technology and weapons. However keen Europe may be to operate as an independent military power, it simply doesn’t yet have the capability. The Balkans operation in 1999 serves as a perfect example. The U.S. initially opposed the action, but, giving in to European wishes, ended up supporting it both militarily and financially. The Balkan offensive could not have happened without U.S. support.
Second, the U.S. needs nato as a source of geopolitical power. As the guiding force behind nato, the U.S. would lose leverage in Europe if the alliance were to dissolve. The U.S. is seeking to maintain influence in Europe by pushing nato’s expansion to include Eastern European nations—some of the same nations set to join the EU in May.
Though it may seem this mutual dependence on nato will ensure its continued existence, Europe’s growing defense initiatives will ultimately spell the end of the alliance. As soon as Europe is able to operate on its own militarily, it will flee nato, or simply absorb its structure into the developing Euroforce.
No matter how much the U.S. may wish to hold on to this power structure, ultimately, Europe must be cooperative for that to happen. Both the Balkans intervention and, more recently, the divergence of opinion concerning Iraq underline the fundamental differences between the EU’s mentality and Washington’s mentality that will eventually lead to nato becoming obsolete. As time goes on, trade spats, military disagreements and other conflicts between these two world powers will inevitably increase.
While using nato’s military strength, the EU is developing its own defense force—with a rapid reaction force currently of 60,000 men and a satellite center in Torrejon, Spain. This is only a small beginning, but the seeds for growth are there. Once Europe is able to stand on its own militarily, nato will be needed no more.