11 June 2011


NATO. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates "sharply criticized NATO nations on Friday for what he said were shortages of military spending and political will .... Mr. Gates issued a dire and unusually direct warning that the United States, the traditional leader and patron of the alliance, was exhausted by a decade of war and its own mounting budget deficits and simply might not see NATO as worth supporting any longer .... The United States accounts for about three-quarters of all military spending by all NATO countries, and it has in the past taken the lead in military operations and provided the bulk of weapons and materiel. But in a post-Soviet world, there is growing resentment in Washington about NATO effectively paying for the defense of wealthy European nations .... 'The Europeans enjoy generous social welfare programs in part because the United States subsidizes their defense spending.'"

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, came into being in 1949 in response to the perceived threat of a Soviet invasion. The conflict in ideologies formed the genesis of the Cold War, a state of intense political/military tension and economic competition which kept the world on the brink of nuclear war until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. At the time of NATO's founding, it made sense that the U.S. would provide primary military and economic leadership for the alliance, since most European nations had been decimated by the tragedy of World War II. However, during the years since, with U.S. aid like the Marshall Plan and under the protection of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, the nations of western Europe have prospered. Similarly, with the demise of the Soviet Union, eastern European nations are entering a time of relative stability and prosperity.

So why is it that the U.S. continues to bear three-quarters of the economic and military burden of protection for Europe? It seems likely that NATO has become an anachronism, or at the very least, carries out a misdirected role. I've long maintained that the United Nations, whose stated aims include "facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace," is an ideal forum for resolving conflicts between nations. The one thing the UN lacks is the power of enforcement. Just as ascending levels of government (municipal, county, state, and national) maintain and enforce laws for the common good, so should the world community.

It strikes me that a simple solution would be to incorporate the military elements of the NATO alliance into the UN, creating for the first time a formal, recognized means of adding teeth to the UN's mission of world cooperation, equality, and prosperity. Thus each member nation of the UN would be required, as a condition of membership, to contribute a fair share to subsidizing the UN's military operations -- which would add legitimacy to the fight against terrorism and the censure of national leaders who commit human rights violations. Such a shift in organization would not provide a significant added strain on the world's more prosperous nations, and it would clarify the political and economic process by which decisions are made to resort to military means to enforce humanitarian goals. Representative government at its best, no? True, democracy is a messy affair, and the more members, the messier. But we allege that one of our national goals is the spread of democracy -- it's time to live up to our propaganda. Besides, engaging all the nations of the world in decision-making would legitimize military actions which are currently viewed as being grabs for territory or resources. The world is evolving, and we need to evolve with it.

The map above shows the 28 member nations of NATO. The map below shows the 192 member nations of the UN. Click on either image to enlarge.

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