NATO’s Growing Irrelevance – and Danger

In a recent address, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that NATO faces “collective military irrelevance” due to inadequate military expenditures by its other members. According to the LA Times, Gates also complained “that the U.S. share of NATO military spending has risen to more than 75%.” Given NATO’s irrelevance and cost, it is ludicrous that we have allowed it to become a dangerous flash point that jeopardizes our nation’s very existence.

NATO – at least the way it operates today – has the potential to ignite a Russian-American crisis comparable to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, with the Georgian war of 2008 being Exhibit A. President Bush’s efforts to fast track Georgia’s NATO membership played a role both  in emboldening Georgia to attack* and in provoking a harsh Russian response.

If, as Gates says, NATO is becoming irrelevant, why are we allowing Eastern European nations to use it in ways that create danger for our own existence?  Fortunately, a recent article by Russian expert and NYU Professor Stephen Cohen offers a possible way out:

 Given that the new NATO states cannot now be deprived of membership, there is only one way to resolve, or at least reduce, this profound geopolitical conflict between the US and Russia: in return for Moscow’s reaffirmation of the sovereignty of all the former Soviet republics, Washington and its allies should honor retroactively another broken promise – that Western military forces would not be based in any new NATO country east of Germany.**

Martin Hellman

Footnotes and further reading

* Contrary to popular opinion, it has been firmly established that Georgia fired the first shots in that war. Heidi Tagliavini, who headed a European Union investigation, wrote in a NY Times OpEd: “The proximate cause was the shelling by Georgian forces of the capital of the secessionist province of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, on Aug. 7, 2008, which was followed by a disproportionate response of Russia.” The full report is also available in three volumes: Volume I, Volume II, Volume III.

** The basis for Russia feeling double crossed by NATO’s expansion is explained in my September 12, 2008 post.

About Nuclear Risk

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects your credit card. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic.
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