Small Wars Journal

Key Issues Facing the NATO Alliance

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 8:10am

Key Issues Facing the NATO Alliance by Daniel Kochis and Luke Coffey - The Heritage Foundation


NATO has done more to promote democracy, peace, and security in Europe than any other multilateral organization, including the European Union. In Brussels next week, President Trump has an opportunity to lead on important issues facing NATO. The U.S. must renew its leadership role in NATO, including reinforcing and strengthening measures decided upon at the Warsaw Summit to bolster collective defense; press allies to commit to robust defense spending and proper investment in equipment; reaffirm commitment to NATO’s open-door policy in Brussels; and renew NATO’s commitment to support the ongoing Resolute Support mission. NATO faces real threats, and the U.S. and its allies should not miss an opportunity to make important progress in addressing the complex challenges facing the alliance at a critical juncture.


  1. In Brussels next week, President Trump has an opportunity to lead on important issues facing NATO.
  2. The U.S. must renew its leadership role in NATO, including reinforcing and strengthening measures decided upon at the Warsaw Summit to bolster collective defense.
  3. Russian aggression increases the need for NATO to be fully funded and functioning. Russia is acting out against neighboring states and has threatened NATO members.

In May 25, the North Atlantic Council at the heads-of-state level will meet in Brussels in what is commonly referred to as a NATO mini-summit. The mini-summit will be President Trump’s first opportunity to attend a NATO meeting with fellow heads of state. In addition to formally inaugurating NATO’s new headquarters, the mini-summit will allow the alliance to assess decisions made at the Warsaw Summit last summer, both in terms of implementation and initial effectiveness. The meeting is also an important opportunity for the Trump Administration to reaffirm U.S. commitment to collective defense, reassert America’s leadership role in the alliance, and help chart a path back towards NATO’s core mission of territorial defense…

Read on.



Mon, 05/29/2017 - 5:12pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.,

It is difficult to determine what the West in general, or the United States in particular, is thinking and why. Within the U.S. specifically, there are multiple schools of thought on foreign policy recommendations that vary in their level of assertiveness and include thought leaders both inside and outside of government; in addition, foreign policy is invariably tied to domestic politics, party affiliation, and the input of lay people.

Although there is a tendency to ascribe this policy chaos to minor foreign policy issues, you will observe that both Lincoln and Churchill faced the possibility of losing office due to battlefield defeats early in their wars, despite that these were major existential wars forced upon each leader. Referring again to World War II, consider all of the severe plans for the reconstruction of Germany, which called for its dismemberment and de-industrialization, and then consider what courses of action were taken during the period of Allied occupation.

The USASOC’s historical perspective is irrelevant here, as this organization has but a small tactical role in the conventional deterrence of Russia. In addition, the authors’ leaning on Huntington indicates a lack of organic thinking on Western-Russian relations, which is only to be expected from the USASOC.

Through selective quoting of various U.S. foreign policy thought leaders, one can sketch a linear relationship between NATO enlargement, EU enlargement, intervention in Yugoslavia, BMD in Central Europe, intervention in Libya, Prompt Global Strike, various “color revolutions” and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Yet this relationship is superficial and crumbles when examined closely. For instance, the claim that the U.S. is expanding its overseas basing to control key energy supply routes and circumvent Russia’s, is almost twenty-years old. The locus of this American conspiracy has shifted over time from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Iraq and now to Crime and Syria. Yet few claimants discuss why Camp Bondsteel is not teeming with tens of thousands of U.S. forces and sitting astride new pipelines, nor why NATO gave up control of Camp Bastion to Kabul instead of linking it to bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan (now closed), and building a pipeline through Pakistan.

Basically, all people want to make sense of the world and do so in the simplest way possible. If Western foreign policy is confounding then it is easier to give it a conspirational order than it is to delve into the chaos. Because of their lack of accountability and long periods of personal or party rule, the Russians and Chinese cannot understand the vagaries of election cycles or how priorities can change rapidly e.g. why were relations with Libya normalized in 2003 only to result in regime change less than a decade later?

The idea of the “West against the rest” is plain silly. The “West” does a brisk business with China, which is the standard-bearer of non-democracy, particularly in the developing world.

NATO’s problems are fourfold:

1. NATO was originally created to counter a threat that has been reduced considerably, despite being latently existential

2. Many Western Europeans, including a majority of Germans, do not believe in using force to defend other NATO members

3. Some NATO members face far greater threats than others, who face hardly any

4. Everyone wants American protection without any strings attached

Bill C.

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 7:48pm

In reply to by Azor


Thanks for your thoughts and information presented here.

But my concern is less with what the Russians are thinking and why and more with what the U.S./the West is thinking and why.

And here we find personnel within our United States Army Special Operations Command ( seeming to state that THEY believe in the Huntington theory -- not just as it relates to the conflict between the Western and Islamic civilizations today -- but also as relates to the contemporary conflict(s) between Western and Slavic Orthodox (el al.?) civilizations.


With the book’s publication in 1993, readers could view the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm, and the ongoing conflict in Israel and easily envision Huntington’s description of the conflict between Western and Islamic civilizations. What was less obvious was the growing rift between the successor state to the Soviet Union—the rump state now called the Russian Federation—and the West. Moscow was emerging as the leader, champion, and oftentimes tyrant of the Slavic Orthodox civilization.


Thus, as a foundational basis for viewing the world today, what are your thoughts on the fact that the U.S./the West -- or at least personnel within our United States Army Special Operations Command -- seem to view the world (a) less along Fukuyama's "End of History" lines and (b) more along Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" lines?

Attempting to come full circle now:

If this (a Clash of Civilizations) is indeed our view of the "conflict environment" today," then how might our such understanding of exactly this such "conflict environment" shape or color how we deal with the issues raised, for example, in such SWJ threads as:

a. Our present thread: "The Key Issues Facing the NATO Alliance?"

b. "America's Afghanistan Problem: It's Not Just About Sending More Troops" and

c. "Turkey: Ally or Albatross?"

(Note: Along these lines, the following Huntington article: "The West and the Rest" -- especially in the context of present-day trends/events -- also might make good reading. Excerpt from the concluding paragraph:

" ... What should the US and Europe do to preserve western civilization? The west needs greater unity of purpose to prevent states from other civilizations exploiting differences. ..." )


Fri, 05/26/2017 - 1:06pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.,

What is a "Special Operations community"? You are referring to the US Army SF AKA the Green Berets.

The paper does spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to put recent developments in Ukraine in historical context, and to explain the Russian perspective. However, discussing Russian understanding and intentions does NOT equate to holding them to be correct or right. Should they have added a disclaimer? Maybe so...

As for the paper's use of Huntington to provide context, there is a certain intellectual laziness at work, as Huntington actually only captured a brief moment in time, and well within a decade six of his nine "major civilizations" were more defined by intra- rather than inter-civilizational clashes.

To be honest, I find the primer to be utterly useless. Why? Because the actual history doesn't matter. It matters what the Russians believe it to be.

For instance, many remain fixated on National Socialist racial pseudo-science, when in the end, German supremacism came first and visibly "Aryan" peoples in Denmark, Norway, Poland, the Baltics, Belarus, Russia and elsewhere were killed or enslaved, not placed on pedestals.

So if we explain to the Kremlin that Muscovy is neither Kiev nor Novgorod and has no monopoly on East Slavic history and identity, will the little bald man come to his senses? Doubtful...

What the paper does do is argue convincingly that Russian aggression and reliance upon unconventional warfare actually began under Putin's predecessor - you know - that oft-times drunk and friendly democratic teddy bear, Yeltsin. I have long argued that Putin is merely finishing what Yeltsin started, with Syria being the major deviation. Yeltsin never would have let Belarus join the EU or NATO, nor surrendered Crimea to Ukraine. As analyst Michael Kofman concurs, it is Belarus and Kazakhstan that are in the line of advance if they try to escape Moscow's orbit, not Latvia or the Suwalki Gap.

Bill C.

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 7:16pm

In reply to by Azor


Given our Special Operations community's analysis presented by me below -- and especially their careful, unusual and lengthy referencing of S.P. Huntington and his Clash of Civilizations -- would you say that Russia’s "deception, psychological manipulation, and domination of the information domain," appears to be working effectively -- not just on me -- but on that organization (to wit: our Special Operations community) as well?

Or do you think that something else (what?) is behind -- if not my -- then certainly their (our Special Operations community's) such (a) specific analysis and (b) evocation of Huntington?

Lastly, given our Special Operations community's apparent such thinking, do you believe that we might benefit from viewing the SWJ "America's Afghanistan Problem: It's Not Just About Sending More Troop" and "Turkey: Ally or Albatross?" threads also from this Huntington/Clash of Civilizations perspective?

Bill C.,

You’re parsing quotes and sources to support your conception of a reasonable basis for a “Reverse Cold War”. Apparently, Russia’s “deception, psychological manipulation, and domination of the information domain”, appear to be working effectively on you.

It is the nature of bureaucratic institutions to resist their own demise, and NATO is no different. In the 1990s, it seemed at times to be an organization in need of a mission. Yet for all of the lofty rhetoric, it took a major effort for European NATO members to get behind Operation Allied Force, and this was in spite of past recent European humanitarian failures in Rwanda and Bosnia. Indeed, OAF was the high-watermark of NATO’s use as an offensive military alliance. Powell’s remarks are a thinly-veiled attempt to bring NATO into Iraq the way it was committed in Afghanistan, even though the latter operation was in response to the Article V invocation following 9/11.

But is NATO the real issue, or is it the American presence?

1. NATO’s intervention in Kosovo had some UNSC pedigree from the Yugoslav Wars and grudging toleration from Moscow, even if Kosovan secession did not
2. NATO’s involvement in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan (actually FID) was in response to an Article V determination which Moscow did not oppose at the time
3. NATO’s anti-piracy operations off Africa have not been problematic for Russia, which also participates alongside China
4. NATO’s intervention in Libya was in furtherance of a UNSC Resolution, even if Britain and France later overstepped, and Qatar intervened on the ground
5. NATO has not violated the CFE Treaty
6. NATO BMD can only threaten Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons systems such as the Iskander, not its strategic forces
7. NATO defense spending, particularly in Europe, as a share of GDP, has consistently declined since the end of the Cold War
8. NATO has not threatened or attacked any member or prospective member of the CSTO
9. Despite not being party to either the INF or ABM Treaties, non-U.S. NATO members have also complied

Bill C.

Thu, 05/25/2017 - 12:51pm

Should we consider the "Key Issues Facing the NATO Alliance" from the standpoint of Samuel P. Huntington's 1993 "Clash of Civilizations?

In this regard, consider the following recent analysis, of NATO and Russian activities post-the Old Cold War, from the viewpoint of our Special Operations community:


... Western encroachment into the Russian sphere of influence, primarily through North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) expansion and European Union (EU) economic ties, stimulated a reactionary movement among Russian conservatives to stop the loss of peripheral states to the West. ... The Maidan movement is viewed as a product of Western—especially American—conspiracy. ...


(See "The Historical Context," on Page 2, of the "Executive Summary" of the document linked below.)


Driven by a desire to roll back Western encroachment into the Russian sphere of influence, the current generation of Russian leaders has crafted a multidisciplinary art and science of unconventional warfare. Capitalizing on deception, psychological manipulation, and domination of the information domain, their approach represents a notable threat to Western security.


(See "Conclusion," on Page 3, of the "Executive Summary" of the document linked below.)


Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations examined the nature and course of conflicts among nations. His main thesis was that the wars of princes and ideologies were in the past and that new conflict would be between civilizations. Huntington named eight such civilizations including Western, Islamic, Confucian, and Japanese civilizations. With the book’s publication in 1993, readers could view the Iran-Iraq war, Operation Desert Storm, and the ongoing conflict in Israel and easily envision Huntington’s description of the conflict between Western and Islamic civilizations. What was less obvious was the growing rift between the successor state to the Soviet Union—the rump state now called the Russian Federation—and the West. Moscow was emerging as the leader, champion, and oftentimes tyrant of the Slavic Orthodox civilization. Incisive observers might have remembered that Ukraine was the seam between Western and Slavic Orthodox civilizations, and that the Russian nation traces its history to the Kievan Rus’ Empire. The division between the Latin Church and Orthodoxy was exemplified by the 1472 marriage of the Grand Prince of Moscow Rus Ivan III to Sophia Paleologue, claimant to the throne of the Byzantine Empire, at the recommendation of Pope Paul II in an unsuccessful attempt to join the two civilizations. Still, through this union, Russian autocrats believed themselves to be the true inheritors of civilization, with Moscow the “third Rome,” following Constantinople. Ivan III began to refer to himself as Tsar, the Russian derivation of Caesar. Vladimir Putin’s interest and intervention in Ukraine emanated from these deep roots and, more recently, from the dramatic experiences of the Soviet Union as it teetered toward its demise.


(See Pages 6 and 7 of "Part I. Context and Theory of Russian Unconventional Warfare" of the document lined below.)


Thu, 05/25/2017 - 2:29am

In reply to by J Harlan

A bit out to lunch, aren't we?

"Poor old Russia" has been quite busy using its outnumbered military to smash dissent at home, invade Chechnya, occupy parts of Moldova and Georgia, invade and annex Ukraine and intervene in Syria.

The Kremlin has also threatened NATO members with first-use nuclear attacks, launched simulated nuclear attacks against them and challenged the legal basis of their sovereignty.

As for the west expanding east, you seem to have a grasp of history that begins in 1944. East moved west in that year...

As for World War I, Russia invaded East Prussia. Soviet Russia started World War II with Hitler and attacked Romania first in addition to invading Poland, Finland and the Baltics. Bulgarians didn't sign on with Hitler either.

As many Red Army soldiers were killed by Stalin's ineptness as by German skill, and a few million alleged Soviet civilian victims of the Germans were Non-Soviets or ones killed by Stalin and added to the tally.

Perhaps less writing and more reading is in order for you?

J Harlan

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 2:38pm

The myth of NATO under funding rears it's ugly head. NATO accounts for the vast majority of the world's defence spending. Much of the remainder is done by US allies- Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan, Australia etc or countries which are of no threat to the alliance- Brazil. China, India etc. That leaves poor old Russia outnumbered 6-1 and with an economy 1/20th the size of NATOs. Well you use what you've got so Russia is the great threat of the moment.

The major issue facing NATO is that most of it's citizens don't think Russia will invade the west. The answer? Move the "west" further "east". Russia for quite obvious reasons doesn't like this idea (27 million people killed by Germans, Italians, Hungarians, Bulgarians etc in two world wars will do that to you).

The best thing Trump could do would be to announce that the US doesn't care how much the Europeans spend. That Ukraine will never be allowed to join the EU or NATO without Russia's agreement. The silly ad hoc multi-national battalions being deployed to the Baltics won't.

Bill C.

Wed, 05/24/2017 - 12:31pm

Some possible insight into what NATO is -- or was -- supposed to be all about post-the Old Cold War:

* Remarks by US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Accession Lunch, March 29, 2004:


My friends, for most of its existence, NATO has been concerned mainly with the defense of common territory. NATO is now transformed, as only a league of democracies can be, into an alliance concerned mainly with the defense of common interest and common ideals.

NATO was determined, above all, to prevent aggression. Now it is determined, above all, to promote freedom, to extend the reach of liberty, and to deepen the peace. And I am confident that with the new energy that these seven nations bring to our alliance, our alliance will be as successful in the future as it has been in the past.


* From the book: "Geopolitics Reframed: Security and Identity in Europe's Eastern Enlargement," by Merje Kuus (wherein, the vast majority of the above Colin Powell quote also was initially found):


Starting in the 1990s, NATO documents began to downgrade the organization's previous focus on military security, and instead framed NATO as a cultural and civilizational entity. They fostered the notion that NATO is "the expression and military guarantor of Western Civilization," an organization whose essential identity and cohesion is based on common cultural and civilizational roots. Over the 1990's, it became commonplace and indeed obligatory to cite NATO enlargement as an example of how identity shapes geopolitics ...

Through "values" NATO was redefined from an entity standing against something -- the new defunct Soviet Union -- to one that is favor of something else -- civilizational or Western values.

END QUOTE… (See Page 41 and 42.)