NATO is Still Needed Despite the EU's Presence

After the Cold War, many believed NATO was dead. After all, the Russians are no longer a threat and the Cold War is over. Many wonder why the alliance is still around and criticize NATO’s presence in recent crises in Bosnia and Kosovo. Many say that the alliance is a military organization with no political concerns whatsoever.

NATO has always been misunderstood: The alliance is more important now than ever before. While we no longer have to worry about doomsday scenarios that were the reason for NATO’s formation, the alliance is striving to make the “”best case”” scenario.

The purpose of the alliance has always been to maintain the status quo and form solidarity against the Soviet threat. But the status quo is no longer on the agenda; NATO has survived because of its ability to respond to change. This versatility is why the alliance is an important and relevant part of not only Northern European security, but global security as well.

To understand the importance of NATO’s presence, one must look at the overall effects of its current operations. But first, the misconceptions of what NATO is and what it stands for must be dispelled.

The most common misunderstanding is that NATO is merely a military alliance. Like the alliances that started wars before NATO’s establishment, NATO is seen as a gang of countries that pledge support for each other should any member encounter a hostile situation with a nonmember country. NATO is more than just a military alliance or a counterthreat to warring countries. It is a community of nations, striving to foster security and peace throughout not only its member countries, but other countries as well.

Another myth is that the alliance’s purpose is not limited to keeping the status quo. Much to the contrary, NATO’s purpose has changed as often as the political climate in most countries has changed. NATO’s goals change from defending its member countries against nuclear threats to proactively fostering security.

The most important point in NATO’s current agenda is partnership. As a basic element to European stability, NATO has founded the Partnership for Peace Program and Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Many critics do not know about this council, which boasts 46 member countries. Among them are NATO members, former Warsaw Pact countries and neutral nations. The Partnership for Peace Program allows participating countries to discuss security issues, and train and carry out peacekeeping operations jointly, thus opening communication with countries that have not previously been open to NATO’s initiatives. In fostering inclusion and cooperation, NATO has been able to achieve the first step to global security.

NATO is also enhancing security for its existing members. Increased security in unstable countries sets a prime example for those who seek NATO membership. Other countries have seen possible NATO membership as an incentive to organize their country and resolve long-standing social, political or economic conflicts. As a result of NATO’s open membership, many bilateral treaties have been signed and border agreements settled.

While the day that Russia joins the alliance is nowhere in sight and the Russia-NATO relationship could be better, NATO-initiated consultations are occurring regularly. NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson hopes to establish a NATO information office in Moscow as a step toward better communication and dispelling lingering Cold War sentiments.

NATO’s presence in Kosovo has also been under scrutiny. Popular opinion does not consider NATO’s war. On the contrary, it is. Defending democracy and peace where diplomacy failed, NATO’s presence in Kosovo stands in accordance with NATO’s goals. The crisis affected members’ security. Indifference to the situation meant supporting ethnic cleansing and martial law. The alliance’s presence in Kosovo has proved fruitful as refugees have returned to a more stable country.

NATO affects the overall stability of the continent because, slowly but surely, it is working with countries that were once the source of instability, violence and aggression. It is enhancing European capabilities and relations that will make them better partners with their North American counterparts. Because it is bound by democratic values, NATO will defend the peace for future generations and will be important to global security as long as a need for economic and political assistance exists.