Stephen Saideman – NATO’s Enduring Relevance

This post was originally published on August 23rd, 2016 on Saideman’s Semi-Spew:

Twitter and life met this past week. On twitter, folks have been wondering if NATO is relevant again. In life, I was asked by a Canadian government review agency about NATO (not part of the Defence Review), and whether it was relevant for Canada. Despite the criticisms of how NATO operations in our book, I am very much an advocate of NATO. So much so that I went on a twitter rant about how NATO has always been relevant, enumerating some (but probably not all) that NATO has done over the years.

The list includes:

  • Playing a major role in keeping the peace in Europe since World War II.
  • Ended the Bosnian War and kept the peace afterwards
  • Stopped ethnic cleansing in Kosovo
  • Prevented escalation of conflict in Macedonia
  • Monitored US skies (cities during major events) after 9/11 via NATO AWACS planes
  • Counter-terrorism via a NATO fleet in the Mediterranean
  • Held the line in Afghanistan while the US was distracted in Iraq
    • Indeed, American allies did not go to Afghanistan because they cared about the place. They saw it as their chance to help out their ally.
  • Counter-piracy naval operations off of Somalia
  • Fostered civilian control of the military in Eastern Europe after Communism.
  • Training of Afghan troops which continues
  • Training of Iraqi forces
  • Preventing massacres in Libya.
    • The Libyan effort is very controversial–that NATO took a mandate to protect citizens and turned into regime change, but I am not sure how to R2P without removing someone like Qaadafi.
    • Oh, and for those who consider Libya an absolute failure, compare the casualty numbers between Libya and Syria.
  • Deterring Russia from aggressing against the Baltics.

So, NATO was always relevant, but is more obviously so thanks to Putin’s neighborly predations. One question that came up with the DND review agency is whether NATO does anything for Canadian interests such as in the Arctic. My answer: if NATO is not doing much in the Arctic, Canada has much to blame for that. Harper opposed NATO extending any attention to the far north, preferring the Arctic Council and bilateral relations with the US. Trudeau, thus far, has not changed course on that. Perhaps if Canada wanted NATO to be more involved in the Arctic, this would lead to some tough bargaining with Norway, since the Norwegians want all NATO Arctic stuff to go through them. Still, Canada can’t complain about something it didn’t want not happening.

Stephen Saideman is a Fellow and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs

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