now almost totally obsolete

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is over seventy years old but, as recent events in Afghanistan, Iraq and Crimea have highlighted, the alliance that once represented western security is showing signs of its age.

Founded during the post-war years, Nato had a simple remit to defend western Europe from the USSR. Each permanent member state delegates a team headed by a senior diplomat and a high-ranking military representative to the North Atlantic Council, who meet once a week at Nato’s HQ in Brussels, and it’s here that all decisions – importantly, requiring complete unanimity – are taken. All member states contribute forces, equipment and funds (most European members 2% of GDP, the US 3.57% and Spain & Belgium less than 1%) which remain under national command until required for a specific common purpose.

Nato was never an entirely happy ship. In its early days, General de Gaulle vehemently protested over the US’s dominant role and ultimately led to France’s withdrawal, before its subsequent re-joining in 1993. President Macron has since rekindled their long-standing scepticism by calling for a “true European army”, which, post-Brexit, would place the UK in an interesting and perhaps compromised position. During the Cold War, Nato’s crucial value was that it committed America, historically prone to isolationist tendencies, to defend Europe against Russia. On its jack-jones, Europe could not do this and the bulk of Nato’s forces and equipment has always been the US’s, a fact reflected by the Supreme Commander always being an American. However, with the Cold War long since gone (Russia is a ‘nominal partner’) and the US referring to Nato as “obsolete” it’s raison d’etre is increasingly being questioned.

In more recent times, Nato thought it had found itself another role, that of an independent peacekeeping force. Sadly, within Rwanda, Somalia and Bosnia it proved incapable and so, in 1994, Nato took its first decisive military action, shooting down four Bosnian Serb aircraft violating a UN no-fly zone. Furthermore, during the Kosovo War it undertook a three month bombing campaign to force Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw and retreat. In this century, the Bush administration completely ignored Nato by launching Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and then openly split Nato asunder with its 2003 invasion of Iraq. Nato did take responsibility for training Iraqi security forces and for peacekeeping in Afghanistan but the deep and potentially existential cracks are clearly visible. Sadly, Nato’s future is by no means assured.