NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is a military alliance between the Europe, North America and Turkey which was founded right after the Second World War. NATO includes one of the most well equipped and strategically capable militaries in the world, making it the most formidable military alliance in the current Geo-political arena.

NATO was initially formed to counter Soviet’s communist expansionism; after the end of the Cold War it has renewed its purpose to justify its existence. As a result, the focus shifted towards the ‘War on Terror’ and pursuit of ‘Humanitarian Interventions’ which are parallel to the interest of current USA’s foreign policy.

NATO’s expansion since the end of the Cold War.

Concurrently, it may seem as NATO has outlived its purpose of balancing power with Soviet aggression and evolved into an extended carrier of Liberalism beyond the Western world. Nevertheless, critically analysing its operations and strategies will give an insight to how NATO outlived its original purpose and changed its dimensions due to the end of the Cold War. The necessity of security collaboration in Europe has decreased in importance due to the lack of a direct adversary i.e. USSR. However, the common belief of a collective security in order to avoid large-scale war like the World Wars of the 20th century still keeps this organisation intact. Moreover, in its expensive maintenance NATO has been searching for a new purpose to keep it running.

Following the end of the Cold War NATO engaged in humanitarian interventions in the Yugoslav wars. The massacres in Kosovo and Bosnia were intervened by NATO and were successful in halting the conflict after the events in Srebrenica. The intervention in Yugoslavia was taken after failures from the EU and UN to mediate the crises. However, the action came much late to stop the massacres that were carried out in Bosnia.

Unfortunately, even after NATO’s purposeful expedition in Belgrade to stop the conflict, Kosovo remains dysfunctional and the tragic animosity within Serbs and Bosnians continues to exist. It is also worth mentioning the bombing campaign carried out in the name of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ caused heavy civilian casualties, destroyed the Serbian infrastructure and dismantled the already faltering state of Yugoslavia. However, it is argued they managed to prevent a massacre in Kosovo like the one that took place in Srebrenica.

After the horrific attacks of September 11, NATO has adopted a new outlook to secure its members from attacks from rogue organisations like al-Qaeda and Daesh/ISIS. As a response, NATO acted and operated in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan to combat terrorism and in the name of Humanitarianism. It is also argued by contemporary Critical Theory scholars of International Relations that combating such rogue organisations had heavy implications, for instance, the loss of civilian lives and the view of these terrorist groups to be a form of resistance and an opportunity to take revenge for their losses.

Interestingly, it is argued by Realist scholars in International Relations, a state combating in a distant region is not in their best interest and has severe implications (referring to NATO’s expeditions in Afghanistan and Libya). The heavy expenses in operating in far distances and in addition with the sacrifices of soldiers puts a heavy toll on a nation that engages in a military expedition that does not directly help their own interests.

In the Realist theory of ‘offshore balancing’ the theorists (Keneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer) suggest the mitigation of threat must be carried out by its neighbours and not the global ‘hegemon’ in a different geographic location such as NATO. The operations in these regions have left rogue militants highly active.

For example, NATO’s attempt to ‘nation-build’ a dysfunctional post-invasion Afghanistan has not yet reaped fruitful results. It is evident NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union lacked a clear purpose rather it picked up the weight of distributing Liberal order around the globe. Therefore it heavily burdens the member states, especially on its ‘hegemon’ USA due to its heavy expenses.

NATO spending by GDP per Percentage of member states.

Even after NATO’s purposeful expeditions Afghanistan and Libya remain deeply destabilised. The proactive use of force has generated resentment towards the member nations and feeds the rogue organisations in these regions. In addition, the use of force in Libya was a violation of international law leaving behind a risky precedent. It violated the UN Charters Chapter VII, Article 51 and 42 where it only permits a military intervention when a state is directly attacked by an armed military force and or in an act of self-defence. Thus violating the sovereignty of these nations and breaking international norms.

Its attempt to liberate Libya keeps its members wondering whether pursuing a zealous Liberal ideology of regulating global issues is sustainable, especially when it backfires on its members (i.e. recent terrorist attacks in Western Countries).

The contributions to NATO by members remain disproportionate and recently raised questions by some members. Furthermore, NATO’s expansionist policy towards Russia’s border reignites the fire that was extinguished after the Cold War. In the summit of Bucharest in April 2008 NATO welcomed future membership of Ukraine and Georgia. Some scholars argue this caused the war between Russia and Georgia as well as the civil war in Ukraine.

In general, NATO’s policy as a global force for ‘Humanitarian cause’ has triggered more crises in Libya and Afghanistan. However, the threat for NATO continues to persist with its uninvited meddling with sovereign affairs of distant states. In search of its new purpose, NATO seems to have overburdened its members through expeditions which clearly backfired.

The migrant crisis in Europe and the instability in Eastern Europe have directly burdened NATO’s European members. Also the migration of displaced people of war-effected regions has fed the ultra-nationalists in Europe further damaging European security. The harsh policy regarding Russia has resulted in Kremlin to pursue a counterattack strategy.

One of the key methods of NATO has been the spread of Liberal order and inclusion of the Balkan states to buffer European security. These backfires as Russia supposedly responds by promoting ultra-nationalist movements across Europe thus stalemating both sides. Consequently, this has endangered future peace between Western Europe and Moscow. Furthermore, demonstrating the recent strategies of NATO endangers the core of NATO’s purpose of safeguarding Europe and to avoid wide-scale conflicts.

The ‘common in-group identity’ model as described by Constructivist scholars (among the Critical Theory scholars) has diluted the perception of NATO as constantly feeling threatened by the presence of Russia. The social categorisation of NATO policy-makers has served injustice to the issue of safeguarding Europe. The common identity brings the union of the states under a noble cause, however, the social categorisation process of viewing the ‘out-group’ hampers the future mitigation of West and Russia relations thus escalating not achieving NATO’s primary goal.

Additionally, in recent years due to NATO’s ‘uni-polar’ dominance have led some states to cooperate closely. Organisations such as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SGO) which includes Russia, China, India, Turkey (NATO member), and several Eurasian states were founded to cooperate in order to possibly counterbalance NATO. As mentioned in the speech by President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Munich 2007, a pursuit of a ‘multi-polar’ power structure is a better option for Europe; which subtly indicates the undermining of Russia by NATO members will have repercussions as it continues to be threatened by NATO’s expansion towards its borders.

However, NATO remains an important part of Western cooperation, yet, it seems like it is searching for an adversary as that position remains unfilled after the end of the Cold War. NATO remains a force of collective security though its recent operations have not had the great success and its policies have risked a confrontation with Russia which is damaging for Europe.

Essentially, the Cold War mentality of ‘out-grouping’ Russia risks creating a new threat by pushing Russia and China into countering NATO through SGO. Nevertheless, the strategy of NATO needs to change in order to accomplish its goals effectively through cooperation and involvement with regional powers such as China and Russia. Additionally, the use of humanitarian interventions outside Europe brings big risks as this results in the terrorist organisations gaining support, along with displaced people migrating to Europe further burdening Europe. Therefore, it is important to analyse the organisational goals of NATO.

References Used:

  1. Bailes, A. J. K.; Dunay, P.; Guang, P. and Troitski, M. (2007) ‘The Shanghai Cooperation Organization’, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 22(3), pp. 1-59.
  2. Davis, J. (2010) NATO after 9/11: a US perspective, Available at: http://www.nato.int/docu/Review/2011/11-september/NATO-US-Perspective-9-11/EN/index.htm (Accessed: 24th February 2017).
  3. Gokay, B. (2013) ‘‘Pax Americana’. Is it all about oil?’, Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans,, 5(1), pp. 83-86.
  4. Grunstein, J 2017, ‘NATO Is Obsolete. That Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Valuable’, World Politics Review (Selective Content), pp. 1-4, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 1 March 2017.e, EBSCOhost, viewed 1 March 2017.
    Katzenstein, ed. (1996), The Culture of National Security, Chapter by Risse-Kappen,
  5. ‘Collective Identity in a Democratic Community: The Case of NATO’,
  6. Mearsheimer, J. (1995) ‘A Realist Reply’, International Security, 20(1), pp. 82-93.
  7. Mearsheimer, J. (2014) ‘Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault, The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin’, Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, 93(5), pp. 77-89.
  8. Mearsheimer, J. (2016) Defining a new security architecture for Europe that brings Russia in from the cold, Available at: http://johnmearsheimer.uchicago.edu/pdfs/Military%20Review.pdf (Accessed: 24th February 2017).
  9. NATO (2010) Defining a new security architecture for Europe that brings Russia in from the cold, Brussels, Belgium: NATO New Strategic Concept.
  10. Nevers, R. d. (2007) ‘NATO’s International Security Role in the Terrorist Era’, International Security, 31(4), pp. 34-66.
  11. Putin, V. (2007) Speech and the Following Discussion at the Munich Conference on Security Policy 10 February.
  12. Reiter, D. (2001) ‘Why NATO Enlargement Does Not Spread Democracy’, International Security, 25(4), pp. 41-67.
  13. Russett, B. M.; Risse-Kappen, T. and Mearsheimer, J. (1991) ‘Back to the Future, Part III: Realism and the Realities of European Security’, International Security, 15(3), pp. 216-222.
  14. Simma, B. (1999) ‘NATO, the UN and the Use of Force: Legal Aspects’, European Journal of International Law, 10(1), pp. 1-22.
  15. Touval, S. (2002) Mediation in the Yugoslav Wars: The Critical Years,1990-95, 1st edn., Wiltshire, UK: Antony Rowe Ltd..
  16. Tuathail, G. O. (1998) ‘A strategic sign: the geopolitical significance of `Bosnia’ in US foreign policy’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 17(1), pp. 515-533.
    Ufkes, E. G.; Calcagno, J.; Glasford, D. M. and Dovidio, J. F. (2016) ‘Understanding how common ingroup identity undermines collective action among disadvantaged-group members’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 63(1), pp. 26-35.
  17. Watson, S. (2011) ‘Securing the Practical Turn in Constructivist Theory’, International Studies Review, 13(3), pp. 532-534.