At present two important formal alliances dominate the international security scene. By far the most powerful is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which encompasses Western Europe and North America (the second is the US-Japanese alliance). Using GDP as a measure of power, the 26 NATO members possess nearly half the world total. The NATO “allied supreme commander” has always been a U.S. general. In NATO, each state contributes its own military units- with its own national culture, language, and equipment specification.
NATO was founded in 1949 to oppose and deter Soviet power in Europe. Its counterpart in East Europe during the Cold War, the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact, was found in 1955 and disbanded in 1991. During the Cold War, the USA maintained more than 300000 troops in Europe with advanced planes, tanks and other equipment. After the Cold War ended, these forces were cut to about 100000. But NATO stayed together because its members believed that NATO provided useful stability even though its mission was unclear. Article 5 considered the heart of NATO asks members to come to the defense of a fellow member under attack. It was envisioned as a US commitment to help defend Western Europe against the USSR but instead was invoked for the first time when Europe came to the defense of the USA after the 9/11.
The first actual of force by NATO was in Bosnia in 1994, in support of the UN mission there. A “dual key” arrangement gave the UN control of NATO’s actions in Bosnia, and the UN feared retaliation against its lightly armed peacekeepers if NATO attacked the Serbian forces to protect Bosnian civilians. As a result, NATO made threats, underlined by symbolic airstrikes but then backed down after UN qualms, this waffling undermined NATO’s credibility. These problems along with tensions between the American and European NATO members over Bosnia policy dogged the first major NATO mission of the Post-Cold War era. Later NATO actions in the Balkans went more smoothly in terms of alliance cohesion.
Currently, NATO troops from a number of member countries are fighting Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Since 2006 these forces known as the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) have been under NATO leadership with generals from various states in command for six-month periods. Nearly 50000 troops serve in the ISAF, with NATO states providing the bulk of the forces. Non-NATO states such as Australia, New Zealand and Jordan have also contributed to troops to ISAF. Tensions have arisen between NATO states in operation. Specifically some states have limited the number of their troops or the areas in which they operate.
The European Union has formed its own rapid deployment force, outside NATO. The decision grew in part from European military weaknesses demonstrated in the 1999 Kosovo war, in which the USA contributed the most power by far. Although this Eurocorps generally works with NATO, it also gives Europe more independence from the USA. In 2003 the EU sent military forces as peacekeepers to Democratic Congo – the first multinational European military operation to occur outside NATO. In 2004 NATO and US forces withdrew from Bosnia after nine years turning over peacekeeping there to the EU. But NATO forces including US soldiers remain next door in Kosovo.
The biggest issue for NATO is its recent eastward expansion, beyond the East-West Cold War dividing line. In 1999 former Soviet-bloc countries Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined the alliance. Making the new members militaries compatible with NATO was a major undertaking requiring increased military spending by existing and new NATO members. NATO expansion was justified as both a way to solidify new democracies and as protection against possible future Russian aggression. Yet, the 2003 Iraq War bypassed and divided NATO members. Long-time members France and Germany strongly opposed the war and Turkey refused to let US ground forces cross into Iraq. At the same time, US leaders began shifting some operations and money to new members in Eastern Europe such as Romania – with lower prices and a location closer to the Middle East – while drawing down forces based in Germany.
Russian leaders opposed NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe as aggressive and anti-Russian. They view NATO expansion as reasserting dividing lines on the map of Europe but pushed closer to Russia’s borders. These fears strengthen nationalist and anti – Western political forces in Russia. To mitigate the problems NATO created a category of symbolic membership – the Partnership for Peace –, which almost all Eastern European and former Soviet states including Russia joined. However, the 1999 NATO bombing of Serbia heightened Russian fears regarding NATO’s eastward expansion, as has NATO cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia the latter of which fought a short war against Russia in 2008. In response to NATO expansion Russia has attempted to expand its own military cooperation with states such as Venezuela a government critical of US foreign policy.
Many of today’s regional security organizations face the challenge of preserving consensus and solidarity without a clearly identifiable external enemy or common threat. Cohesion is hard to maintain in the absence of a clear sense of the alliance’s mission. Consider NATO: the Ambiguous European security setting is now marked by numerous ethnic and religious conflicts that NATO was not originally designed to handle. Its original charted envisioned only one purpose – mutual self-protection from external attack. It never defined policing civil wars as a goal. Consequently until 1995 when NATO took charge of all military operations in Bosnia from the UN it was uncertain whether the alliance could adapt to a broadened purpose. Since that intervention, NATO has redefined itself and in March 1999 it undertook an interventionary peacemaking assignment to police the civil violence in Kosovo and in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the USA, it intervened in the war in Afghanistan.