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Can NATO survive?

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After a successful conclusion to the Cold War, can the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) regroup to respond to the new threat from Moscow?

Vladimir Putin’s intentions were made clear in a telling comment by Andranik Migranyan, head of the Kremlin-controlled “Institute for Democracy and Cooperation” reported in the Fiscal Times in response to analogies between Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and Germany’s in the 1930’s:

“One must distinguish between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939...the thing is that Hitler collected [German] lands. If he had become famous only for uniting without a drop of blood Germany with Austria, Sudetenland and Memel, in fact completing what Bismarck failed to do, and if he had stopped there, then he would have remained a politician of the highest class.”

Moscow’s worrisome military moves are not restricted to former Soviet satellites. In December, the Kremlin confirmed that it had deployed ISKANDER tactical nuclear missiles on NATO’s border. The move was not in response to any western action.

There have also been a number of incidents in which Moscow’s nuclear-capable bombers and submarines have come threateningly close to the airspace and coasts of NATO nations both in Europe and the United States.

NATO’s forces have shrunk considerably since the end of the Cold War, symbolized by the diminishing military budgets of both European nations and the United States. The United States has also unilaterally withdrawn all of its most vital land weapons, tanks, from the European continent.

Russia’s invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, as well as its deployment of ISKANDER tactical nuclear weapons to its European border, have brought back the threat most had thought vanished with the fall of the Soviet Union. But NATO’s individual governments, including most importantly the United States, have slashed military budgets.

NATO’s sharp reduction in forces, even in the face of increasing threats, has brought into question the viability of the alliance. A 2012 Brookings Institute study noted:

“There have long been debates about the sustainability of the transatlantic alliance and accusations amongst allies of unequal contributions to burden-sharing. But since countries on both sides of the Atlantic have begun introducing new – and often major – military spending cuts in response to the economic crisis, concerns about the future of transatlantic defense cooperation have become more pronounced.

“A growing number of senior officials are now publicly questioning the future of NATO. In June 2011, in the midst of NATO’s operation in Libya, Robert Gates, then US Defense Secretary, stated that Europe faced the prospect of “collective military irrelevance” and that unless the continent stemmed the deterioration of its armed forces, NATO faced a “dim, if not dismal Future.” Ivo Daalder, the US Permanent Representative to NATO, and James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, have argued that “if defense spending continues to decline, NATO may not be able to replicate its success in Libya in another decade.”

Russia’s aggression represents a disappointing end result for NATO’s numerous attempts to establish a relationship with Moscow based on a post-Cold War (or “Cold War 1” as it should be known) era of cooperation rather than confrontation.

Many had hope that Moscow’s opposition to NATO’s growth had been resolved in 1997, when the alliance and Russia adopted a security agreement in which Moscow consented to NATO’s growth in return for a promise that masses of troops, equipment or nuclear missiles would not be placed on Russia border. The hope was not realized.

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