On April 4, 1949, twelve countries, with the United States in the van, created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It was the victorious alliance in Europe of the Second World War transformed to resist the military threat posed by one of its erstwhile members, the Soviet Union. Flush with its success on the battlefield, Moscow had carved out its own exclusive sphere of influence in the Baltic states and central and eastern Europe captured by the Red Army and conceded as spoils of war by the US and UK. In response to NATO, Russians in 1955 set up a matching bloc — the ‘Warsaw Pact’.
Sixty-seven years later, with the Cold War long since won, NATO is floundering, consumed by differences over handling a freshly assertive Russia under President Vladimir Putin in a reshaped Europe, an America strained by involvement in too many conflicts and by the effort to contain China, and by squabbles relating to the equitable sharing of alliance costs and military effort.
How NATO comports itself in Europe is of secondary concern to India. But should the US and NATO over-balance toward European contingencies, the prospect for Asian states feeling menaced by a belligerent and expansively oriented China becomes commensurately bleak, more difficult, and will impact India’s security interest.
The trouble for NATO began with Washington’s hubris-laced interventions in the new Century to depose Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Moamar Gaddafi in Libya, and to destabilize the Bashir al-Assad regime in Syria. It led to the prevailing awful mess in the Islamic arc stretching from the Tigris to Tunis, which fraught situation was compounded by the simultaneous US military foray to eliminate the Taliban in Afghanistan. These various adventures have facilitated the rise of the brutal Islamic State, which in confluence with sections of the Afghan Taliban, constitute the adversary in America’s Global War on Terrorism.
NATO’s dilemma is plain enough. The maelstrom churned in the Maghreb, Middle East, and Southwest Asia is draining the US of its wealth and political will, and exhausting its military. With Washington footing over 75% of NATO’s bill and only the US, UK, Greece, and Estonia meeting the minimum standard of defence expenditure of 2% of GDP agreed upon in 2006, the American Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, in 2011 foresaw “a dim, if not dismal future”. “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S”, he had warned, “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.”
The situation will deteriorate sharply for NATO if Donald Trump is elected US president. He will up stake and leave unless the European (and Asian) partners pay the full cost of US force deployment. This is at a time when Putin is strengthening Russia’s military clout, and used Article 10 in the treaty that permitted NATO’s expansion to 28 states, with the newcomers being mostly members of the defunct Warsaw Pact, as threat and justification for detaching Crimea from the Ukraine in 2014.
Washington is up a creek. Attending to NATO needs will necessarily denude the Indo-Pacific of US military presence. This is reason for serious worry, especially in light of the 2014 declaration by US Assistant Secretary of Defense Katrina McFarland that owing to budgetary cuts “the [Asia] pivot … can’t happen.” Meaning Pentagon’s 2012 promise of, for instance, redeploying naval assets from a 50/50 split between the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic to a 60/40 split favouring the former, is voided. This is in part because as the US naval chief Admiral Jonathan Greenert revealed, the navy has only 289 ships when a 450-ship fleet is required to meet world-wide commitments.
With the US security attention thus divided between Russia and China at the two ends of Eurasia, New Delhi is confronted by a stark fact: India cannot anymore free-ride on security afforded as public good by Washington (and earlier by Moscow). It will have to protect itself with its own resources the best it can. Tragically, the Indian government and military are not strategically geared, materially or policy-wise, to do so.
Published in The Quint April 4, 2016, at http://www.thequint.com/opinion/2016/04/04/will-obsolete-nato-be-able-to-assuage-indias-security-concerns