The Absurdity of NATO

The whole world knows the name Gavrilo Princip, and that of he man he assassinated, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Princip’s shot triggered the Austro-Hungarian invasion of Serbia that set in motion the chain of events leading to the Great War of 1914.

After Serbia appealed to Russia for help, Russia began moving towards mobilization of its army, believing that Germany was using the crisis as an excuse to launch war in the Balkans. Upon hearing news of Russia’s general mobilization, Germany declared war on Russia. The German army then launched its attack on Russia’s ally, France, through Belgium, violating Belgian neutrality and bringing Great Britain into the war as well.

Is it possible that a similar chain of events may have already begun unfurling with the Syrian downing of a Turkish F-4 fighter jet? Turkey have already invoked a full meeting of NATO,  claimed that Syria have fired on a second Turkish plane, and vowed that Syria’s actions “won’t go unpunished”.

The vast and sprawling system of national alliances that existed prior to the events 1914 were considered by policy makers of the time to be a counterbalance against excessive tension and the threat of war. The great powers created alliances ostensibly for the purpose of deterring war. The dominant view was that the potential for dragging in allies reduced the chances of an attack. In reality, it just meant that one spark could set the entire world aflame.

This is functionally the same as the interconnecting mesh of derivatives and shadow intermediation that foreshadowed the crash of 2008. As financial parties sold each other more and more “hedges“, the consensus of the time was that this made the system safer, as it allowed risk to be dissipated around the system. The theory was — and there were plenty of inaccurate mathematical models to back this up — that spreading risk around the system made the financial system safer. As it turned out, it didn’t. In the wake of MF Global and the London Whale, we know that the financial system has not learned the lessons of 2008. But it seems even more absurd that the diplomatic system has not really learned the lessons of 1914. 

The NATO system — set up to oppose the Warsaw Pact system, which no longer exists — functions the same way — rather than dissipating risk, it allows for the magnification of international tensions into full-on regional and global wars. In the late 20th century the threat of nuclear war proved a highly-effective deterrent which limited the potential for all-out-war between the great powers, offsetting much of the risk of the hyper-fragile treaty system. Yet the potential for magnifying small regional problems into bigger wars will continue to exist for as long as NATO and similar organisations prevail.

We do not know exactly what arrangements Syria has with Russia and China — there is no formal defensive pact in place (although there is one between Syria and Iran) though it is fair to assume that Russia will be keen to maintain its Syrian naval assets, a view which is supported by the fact Russia heavily subsidises the Syrian military, and has blocked all the UN-led efforts toward intervention in Syria.

After the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact was allowed to disintegrate. Until NATO is similarly allowed to disintegrate, the threat of magnification will remain large. Could a border skirmish between Syria and Turkey trigger a regional or even global war? Under the status quo, anything is possible.

44 thoughts on “The Absurdity of NATO

  1. Lots here to stimulate comment. For starters, I suggest that NATO, already leaderless with Obama as U.S. president, will go away because no nation can afford it. Also, the impetus behind the forces crashing the markets in 2008 was greed rather than safety!

    • The derivatives-sellers claimed quite firmly from the start that their system was effectively an insurance system that stabilised the system.

      • No doubt that was the claim. But wasn’t politics the real culprit — Democratic control of congress, Dodd & Frank as perpetrators and Bush as reluctant cop (no veto)?

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  3. Aziz I would argue that the Warsaw Pact was set up to oppose NATO rather than the other way around as you have suggested.

    Also Don, I’m not sure what you mean by no nation can afford NATO. NATO membership allows countries to spend less, they don’t each individually need full spectrum capabilities and even a large enough force to independently defend themselves.

    • You may be right. I was thinking of deployment cost. However, Europe is going to suffer very hard times. Ditto the USA.

      Europe must have middle east oil. USA + North and South America are in better shape, and will become oil independent.

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  5. The official story regarding how and why WW I started is highly suspect. Would nations really go to war because a guy was shot? I do not think so, there were and are always players behind the scenes who engineer these things for their own benefits…the official stories are just cover for their deeds. Look up Basil Zaharoff a major player in WW I and you will see the types of people I am talking about.

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    • “War Is a Racket”, by USMC Major General Smedley D. Butler, a two-time Medal of Honor recipient.

      Maybe Obama’s un-deserved Peace Prize could be clawed back & awarded to Butler posthumously instead.

  8. It IS WWI all over again. And it will escalate into WWIII before we know it. Russia will take
    the lead. And since we’ve so terribly depleted our military, we’ll get attack and LOSE!!! All those DOVES out there—we’ll put you on the front lines with a cap gun!!!

    • Going to have to substitute Super Soakers for the cap guns.
      The quivering nannies have managed to get cap guns out of most of the market.
      [This includes a close relative whose children made the guns-they-werent-allowed-to-have out of TOAST!]

      • Aziz, your facts are wrong – it undermines the rest of your argument. NATO was formed for more than countering Soviet expansion (not the Warsaw Pact). Additionally, you leave out the other key reasons for the establishment of NATO: to encourage European political engagement and to prevent the rise of another militaristic power on the European continent. Those things have worked exceedingly well when compared to the rest of history.

        I would also note a flaw in your logic. It seems that your conclusion is, “Yet the potential for magnifying small regional problems into bigger wars will continue to exist for as long as NATO and similar organisations prevail.” But if you take away NATO and similar organizations you will not reduce the risk of bigger wars (or more frequent wars), in fact you might exacerbate the risk.

        • I’m very glad that nato has prevented the rise of another militaristic power on the European continent:


        • It’s not a case of my facts being wrong. Counterbalancing the foreign policy of the (pre-)Warsaw Pact nations was the aim in NATO’s formations. This was a very serious communist constellation of nations, and the Soviet foreign policy was precisely the same before the Warsaw Pact as it was after it. You’re clutching at straws to say that because NATO existed first its usefulness has not been outlived now the Soviet Union and eastern-European communism has collapsed.

          The argument you’re producing to defend alliances is roughly the same as the pre-1914 one; that big alliances discourages war. I think a world with less big alliances would be quite chaotic and volatile but only on a small scale. A little bit of regional volatility is natural, and trying to constrain it with big alliances can be very iatrogenic, as we saw in 1914.

        • Aziz, Interesting debate here. I am subscribing!

          Your fact about NATO being set up to oppose the Warsaw Pact is wrong at worst and incomplete at best. If NATO is viewed through your erroneous and/or incomplete criteria, then your point is plausible; however, when you look at all of the reasons for creating NATO your position erodes.

          You still haven’t addressed the fact that NATO was also established to prevent the rise of a militaristic power on the European continent and to encourage European political discourse. In my opinion, this is because you still want to make comments such as, “You’re clutching at straws to say that because NATO existed first its usefulness has not been outlived now the Soviet Union and eastern-European communism has collapsed.” I am not clutching at straws if NATOs reason for existence is viewed factually vice narrowly.

          Although I generally view the international system through the lens of Realism, I do see some advantages to Liberal institutions. I am not a huge fan of alliances, but they do generally provide the pause that was lacking after Mr. Princip’s actions in 1914. From a Realist perspective membership allows nation states to benefit from the diplomatic channels an alliance maintains prior to conflict and the reduced requirement for maintaining large militaries.

          Next you state, “The argument you’re producing to defend alliances is roughly the same as the pre-1914 one; that big alliances discourages war. I think a world with less big alliances would be quite chaotic and volatile but only on a small scale. A little bit of regional volatility is natural, and trying to constrain it with big alliances can be very iatrogenic [good word, but I don’t understand its use here], as we saw in 1914.” First, I wasn’t arguing anything about alliances, rather I was pointing to your logic – that removing an alliance doesn’t necessarily produce a specific outcome in the complex, interdependent system that is the world of international politics. Second, You are treating all alliances and treaties as monolithic. Most diplomats and politicians in pre-1914 Europe expected a major war to develop from the powder keg of treaties and alliances that criss-crossed Europe and portions of the Near East; however, the similarities between NATO and the Triple Entente and its competition.

          Your world with less big alliances would, historically, be called the Westphalian system at worst and at best be similar to the Congress of Europe – which ended with Mr. Princip’s actions.

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  10. Or maybe not… Maybe the fixed bureaucratic structure with members on an equal standing but with disparate interests will offer the perfect framework for endless bickering, protestations and deliberations. I remember full well the endless bickering inside NATO then the UN predating the Iraq invasion, until the US decided to go at it (almost) alone.

    • That’s why George Bush and Tony Blair need to be indicted for war crimes.

      The whole point if the UN was for nations to choose political solutions as opposed to military options on their own.

      NATO is bullying Russia with a missile defence shield (readily convertible to a missile attack force) right in the middle of an EU nation. Poland.

      People say why didn’t Germans oppose their Nazi government, well this is plainly clear when you see the propoganda and bullying today. My concious is clear.

      Russia is still a non member of the WTO. Cold war politics is still alive.

      If NATO and Hilary Clinton are “strongly condeming” Syria’s actions it is akin to the Nazis saying the Polish were planning an attack prior to their invasion.

      • Buddy, I don’t understand all that you are implying here, but I do know that the U.N. has, long ago, abandoned its charter and good intentions. It can be characterized as a giant anti-democratic, anti-Israel, anti-U.S bureaucracy holding cocktail parties (do Muslims drink alcohol when nobody’s looking?). The U.S. State Department may have been demoted to second place in trivial partying.

        • I am implying that UK, Australia, USA most western countries are becoming the moral BADDIES!

          As an Australian I used to feel safe travelling the world, now my government has made me a target.

          these posts are my signal to others in the world that I don’t agree with these criminals.

          If people understoodnthe facts, Syria is being backed into a corner and jihadists are playing politics in exchange for western interests getting the spoils.

          jihadists just want control of Syria and don’t care where they buy their future weapons, cars etc.

          Western business interests will line up once the fighting is over.

        • The worst I can say for NATO (etc) is that we are morally mixed. I don’t like a lot of our foreign policy, but I’d hate to live in certain non-Western countries where this blog would be a crime punishable by a few lashes of the whip.

  11. All these financial and defence links are like mountain climbers roped together . There is safety in numbers until the failure reaches critical mass, then the whole lot becomes unzipped

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  13. NATO is an anachronism, no doubt, but so is every other institution in, “the West.” It’s times like these that plow these spent crops under in order to fertilize/make way for new growth.

    As long as the nation-state predominates, goofy organizations such as NATO will exist. It’s sort of like the MBA [mortgage bankers association], state-sponsored financial wizards.

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  16. Interesting read:

    “One day after using Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait to help save
    the high-tech B-2 bomber, senators invoked the crisis again
    Friday to stave off the mothballing of two World War II-vintage
    Within days, thousands of American troops and an armored
    brigade were stationed in Saudi Arabia. It was given the grand
    name of Operation Desert Shield, and a heightened appreciation
    for America’s military needs was the prevailing order of the day …

    Less than a year after political changes in Eastern Europe
    and the Soviet Union sent the defense industry reeling under
    the threat of dramatic cutbacks, executives and analysts say
    the crisis in the Persian Gulf has provided military companies
    with a tiny glimmer of hope.
    “If Iraq does not withdraw and things get messy, it will
    be good for the industry. You will hear less rhetoric from
    Washington about the peace dividend,” said Michael Lauer, an
    analyst with Kidder, Peabody & Co. in New York.

    • Yeah, Buddy, more “interesting” anti-American misinformation and non sequiters from The critics of Desert Shield who chanted “blood for oil” had reality on their side, even though their position proved unwise/short-sighted.

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  19. War has not resolved a single thing. Was has however, killed millions of people, for which the arms manufacturers are celebrating.

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