The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 as a combined military force to stem the Communist tide in Europe. The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, famously stated the organization's goal was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down" and for next 40 years that goal was pretty much attained. In 1966, France being France, President Charles de Gaulle pulled France out of NATO's military command and relied on it's own nuclear deterrent to protect them against the Soviet threat. During the decades long Cold War, NATO successfully kept the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact from invading the democratic nations of Europe. In the early 80's, President Ronald Reagan made the controversial decision to place GLCM cruise missiles and the Pershing II missiles in Europe to counter the Warsaw Pact's nuclear capabilities. The first cracks in European support for NATO began to emerge and it wasn't until the USSR shot down a Korean airliner in 1983 did it galvanize support for the missile deployment.
The end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 removed the de facto main adversary of NATO and this was the beginning of the end for NATO. The end of the Cold War caused a strategic re-evaluation of NATO's military purpose, nature and tasks. In practice this ended up entailing a gradual (and still ongoing) expansion of NATO to Eastern Europe, much to the chagrin to the former Soviet Union. The first military operation carried out by NATO was the bombing of Bosnia and Herzegovina in August of 1995 to undermine the Bosnian Serb Army. This operation was considered successful in regards to a military fighting unit, as it involved 400 NATO aircraft and 5,000 personnel from 15 nations. The NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 marked the second major combat operation in its history and again was considered successful by military standards.
In 2001, the United States and the United Kingdom attacked the Taliban led government in Afghanistan to root out the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the UN Security Council at the end of December 2001 to secure Kabul and the surrounding areas. NATO assumed control of ISAF in 2003 and the ISAF initially included troops from 42 countries. The military roles and quality of NATO troops has been controversial during this conflict. NATO member states have what is called "national caveats", which is a restriction that NATO members place on the use of their forces in combat. These caveats have created opportunities for the insurgents in parts of Afghanistan, while also causing friction within NATO between those nations willing to send their soldiers to the dangerous parts of the country (to fight), and those not willing to do so.
During the Libyan uprising against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi by rebel forces, NATO was once again called upon to take military action against a non-European threat. NATO began enforcing UN resolution 1973 in March of 2011, which calls for a ceasefire, and authorizes military action to protect civilians from Gaddaf'si troops. Divisions within the alliance have surfaced because only eight of twenty-eight member states have actually participated in combat operations. France and Britain have taken the lead role in combat operations, while the United States military continues to fade into the background. NATO has become weak politically and militarily and it really cannot be seen as a cohesive fighting force any longer. Europe has been underfunding its defense capabilities for more than a decade and their political leadership are becoming more like Neville Chamberlain every day. NATO has a long-standing self-obligation for all members to spend at least 2% of their gross national product (GNP) on defense. Currently, only five of 28 members fulfill that obligation and this trend is expected to continue.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated today (June 10th 2011) that NATO faces a "dim, if not dismal" future. Secretary Gates went on to say, "The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress -- and in the American body politic writ large -- to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense." Without US funding, NATO is finished as a fighting force. There are three budgets within NATO: one civil and two military. Each NATO member country pays an amount into the budgets based on an agreed cost-sharing formula. The United States contributed about $470 million directly to NATO to support its three commonly funded budgets in 1997. In 2010, for the first time in its 60-year history, NATO was operating in the red with a $700 million deficit. Because of a lack of will and funding, the mightiest military alliance in the history of the world will be no more. Rest in peace NATO!
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