Is there a more discreditable, disaster-beckoning international arrangement than NATO? An alliance allied against something that hasn’t existed in two decades, that could hardly have fought had its foe invaded when it did, and which can barely, for the vast majority of its members, dispatch token forces even when actions occur nominally under its aegis is not a healthy fact of geopolitical life. It’s doubtless a very useful thing in providing a standing mechanism by which wars of choice can less inefficiently be fought together by such members as want to. But did it really take, for example, the continued existence of NATO to permit the US to logistically underpin the Anglo-French effort in Libya? At best, it made a minor difference at the margins, but nothing, not diplomatically nor in terms of international “jointry” or command and control required that NATO structures existed and were available before Paris, London and Washington decided to, and could, overthrow Gaddafi. As for the other, more legendary failings of NATO, where to begin? the Belgian refusal to sell (preciously NATO-compatible) arms to the members fighting during the first Iraq War? the preposterous, absurdist activation of the alliance’s “article 5” self-defence clause in solidarity with the US after 9/11? the omission of even such wordy persiflage after the Falkands, for timely instance, were invaded (for the first time)? No, the point about NATO is not to bemoan simply one more international boondoggle clinging on to institutional life long after its purpose has been realised, rendering it redundant. NATO’s problem is not that it has long since lost sight of its original purpose, but that it implausibly claims to be keeping at it: that all members will spring to the defence of one another. Well will they?
However nice it is that the Baltic States are restored to the independence they first (and only) knew between the wars, what exactly is our commitment to maintaining it? Note our. Not, that of other member states we know won’t fight even if they could, but what really, honestly, seriously inclines the UK to claim that we would go to war with Russia if some action of hers imperilled Latvian freedom? If, all too plausibly, a war of secession broke out, or a rebellion demanding fair and equal treatment for Russophone Latvians occurred, and Russia intervened, in a state on her border, demonstrably in her sphere of concern, are we credibly saying we would go even to solely cold war over it? Why? What possible, plausible interest is it of ours that Latvia is Latvian, democratic, non-Russian, Russian-minority-oppressing. Russian-minority-(diversity)-celebrating or anything else? Do we actually believe that anyone believes us? Do we think in our wilder moments that anyone believes that we believe our vatic NATO pledge to lusty little Latvia?
Whatever else Latvia has done – and its government has not been especially NATO-PLU in its treatment of unfortunate ethnic Russians – at least it hasn’t flooded the Anglophone internet with the screed of ads we used to suffer thanks to dodgy Azerbaijani spondulicks in years gone by. We’ve been spared that at any rate. No one is busy agitating in London on behalf of Riga and telling us how imperative it is to our freedom and security that she should be able to get away with things that mere advocacy of which here could risk criminal prosecution. Yet the pledge sits there that we would go to war for Latvia. It’s a lie, but why bother to tell it? It’s a bluff we don’t mean, which doesn’t convince anyone, least of all those it’s supposedly made on behalf of, and which we couldn’t deliver on, even if every single NATO member meant it and acted on it.
This is trivia and almost ‘for want of a nail’ idleness today, but the time will come again when we’ll need to mean what we say when we say it. A good start to that end would be dumping these unreal, unsustainable fantasies.