I have been concerned for a while that NATO is starting to be diluted to the point where it becomes impotent and Russia’s attack on Georgia has confirmed those fears. Yes, I know it isn’t a member, it has “Partner status” but bear with me.
Notwithstanding the famous quote from NATO’s First Secretary General Lord Ismay on its goals:
“to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down"
NATO’s founding principle that an attack on one was an attack on all was never tested, but it will have made the Russians think about any expansion, in the same way that it could never be sure whether the USA would have used Nukes to protect Europe. I say Russia because contrary to popular misunderstanding the Warsaw Pact was formed in response to the formation of NATO.
With the end of the cold war we have seen a number of former communist countries applying to join NATO Poland, Czech Republic and Estonia have already joined. These are probably natural allies and it’s unlikely that Russia would ever be belligerent enough to attack them so the principle is unlikely to be tested and this hasn’t concerned me too much.
I started to worry a bit when countries that aren’t natural allies to the old western democracies started to apply for membership – Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia are “partner” countries and there is talk of Ukraine applying. These may be worthy countries but do we really want the risk of being tied in to a pact that means we have to go to their defence if they are attacked?
Russia’s attack on Georgia may be wrong and the Georgian people, like all civilians, are catching the blunt end of the Russian war machine, but should we, could we, really defend them and evict Russia? You don’t need a military qualification to see that it would be an impossible task to evict the Russians, take a look at any map and look at the problems we are facing in Afghanistan. To defend Georgia would mean stationing armies there, armies we don’t have as we are stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, anyway, Russia would see this as a provocative move and it would quite likely trigger an attack.
So, by allowing these countries to join we are going to end up demonstrating to Russia that NATO won’t apply the principle on an attack on one being an attack on all, because it will test us at some point if we keep expanding round its borders. Once that happens the Alliance is dead and it will become just another impotent talking shop for past over politicians. It’s not far off being that now.
I recommend reading this post from Capitalists@Work and the comments, which led me to finally share my fears.
Update: A Very British Dude has an excellent post on why we cant get involved