NATO was the foundation of the West’s victory in the Cold War.
The leadership team of President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II was vital to maintaining the moral clarity which would eventually lead to the breaching of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, and the eventual collapse of both the USSR and the Warsaw Pact.
However, between April 1949 and that clear November night 40 years later, it was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that kept the West safe. Its founding Washington Treaty, an unusually short document given NATO’s subsequent strategic import, with its Article 5 promise that a Soviet attack on any one member would be taken as an attack on all NATO members, guaranteed that America would bring its nuclear superpower capabilities to the defense of our Atlantic allies if needed.
But 1989 seems like ancient history today. And NATO, more of a relic than a vibrant victor.
Since then we have witnessed hundreds of thousands killed in the wars of Yugoslav secession, more than one genocide in Africa, the terror attacks of 2001, the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the collapse of Libya and Syria, Iran’s destabilization of its neighbors, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea — not to mention the rise of a militaristic, increasingly imperialistic China. NATO has failed to reflect the new geostrategic environment or to make itself relevant to these historic changes.
Instead of taking a long look in the mirror after its Soviet foe dissolved, and then redefine itself for the post-Cold War world, the European side of the alliance atrophied. With the exception of nations with expeditionary capability as a result of a colonial past, specifically the UK and France, the majority of the original NATO nations did not have a serious defense capability beyond the static scenario of a conventional war with the Soviets.
Over time, the “Transatlantic Club” did grow, as former captive Warsaw Pact nations joined the alliance — but after 40-plus years of domination by Moscow, these new NATO members were objectively very limited in their capacity to bring serious post-Cold War contributions to the table.
As a result, NATO has been hobbled by the so-called “free-rider syndrome” with only six of its members (including the U.S.) spending the agreed upon 2 percent of GDP on national defense, and the rest — another 23 countries! — freeloading off the rest, which in practice means America. This is what President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE refers to when he talks of our friends constantly raiding the U.S. "piggy-bank."
But the future of the most successful military alliance in history will not be vouchsafed simply through increased spending and “equitable burden-sharing.”
NATO needs to arise from its 30-year slumber and redefine itself for the threats the West faces today. This is the message President Trump is giving Brussels and London this week.
For the West to be taken seriously by those forces that wish to undermine or subvert our shared community, NATO must take action now on four issues:
- All members must take responsibility for increasing their defense spending to agreed upon levels and to spend those funds on capabilities the alliance actually needs, not Cold War legacy assets.
- NATO must come together as one to build the means to deter further aggression by Russia and support the nations on the frontline of Vladimir Putin’s overt and covert machinations, b
e they full members of NATO or aspirants such as Ukraine or Georgia.
- NATO must re-invest and prioritize in shared capacities to field effective measures for cyber defense and counter-propaganda operations from actors such as Russia and China, as well as non-state actors such as jihadist terror groups.
- Lastly, NATO must divest itself of the political correctness of past years and recommit itself as a community to engaging and destroying globally aspirant jihadi groups, be they Sunni, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, or Shia and Iran-backed, such as Hizbollah.
Under President Trump, there is no longer a vacuum in global geopolitical leadership. Now it is time for those who say they are fellow members of the alliance that won the Cold War to make their voices heard and be counted again as true allies in deed, not just word.
The old NATO is dead. Long live the new, and once more relevant, NATO.
Sebastian Gorka (@SebGorka), Ph.D., was the Partnership for Peace Fellow at the NATO Defense College in Rome. He is national security strategist with Fox News and former deputy assistant and strategist to President Donald Trump. He is the author of the new book, “Why We Fight: Recovering America’s Will to Win.”