Nato: A long arm of US foreign policy

The Georgian crisis has not only strained Russia's ties with some European countries and the United States but stoked fears of a re-emergence of the cold war scenario that dominated world politics and threatened security for forty years until the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact (1989-1991).

The conflict has also highlighted the recently adjusted role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) as an influential arm of the US foreign policy.

Such a role has been taking shape since 1999, when Nato launched Operation Allied Force in Yugoslavia and for three months (March-June) used extensive aerial bombardment to destroy Yugoslav civilian and military infrastructure.

It was only the second major combat operation in the alliance's history following Operation Deliberate Force of September 1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Afghanistan mission

However the Nato role in US foreign policy had become a reality when it took the command of the multinational force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in August 2003. ISAF is Nato's first mission outside the Euro-Atlantic area. Even with a UN mandate, the mission served the US in its its "war against terrorism".

Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer described the Nato's involvement in Afghanistan as "one of the most challenging tasks Nato has ever taken on" in its history.

The other involvement that highlights the primacy of the US agenda is Nato's role in Iraq. The invasion, and occupation, of Iraq in 2003 was conducted by a coalition of forces from different countries, led by Nato members the US and UK.

Nato as an organisation had no role in the campaign but undertook a number of measures to ensure the security of one of its members, Turkey, in the event of a threat to it resulting from the war in Iraq.

On May 21, 2003, the alliance also agreed to support Poland, a member of Nato, in its leadership of a sector in the stabilisation force in Iraq. However in August 2004, Nato established a Mission in Iraq and became involved in training, equipping, and technical assistance - not combat.

Nato has never been engaged in direct conflicts during the Cold War and the two superpowers/camps, the Soviet Union and the US, had always fought proxy wars for spheres of influence all over the world. However its birth in 1949, has been attributed by historians and analysts, to superpower differences and conflicts during post-war conferences in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam (1945-1947).

Deviating from goals

The first Nato Secretary General, Lord Ismay, famously said the organisation's goal was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down".

US foreign policy has for the past 18 years failed to focus on steps that would "keep the Russians out" from spheres of influence and also to "surround" Russia with allies who would switch alliance to the American camp.

This policy was built on the overriding belief that Russia had become so weak, militarily and economically, that it could not take any forceful initiative on the world scene and had more or less reconciled itself to US hegemony.

That conviction has now been shattered and surprise (some say shock) paralysed US foreign policy experts when the Russians marched into Georgia not heeding European and American warnings.

It took several days and some confusion over whether to hold an emergency meeting or just consultations before Nato foreign ministers could meet on US request and decide to freeze contacts with Russia.

The rollercoaster of analysis and political statements rings true of the Cold War and drives home limitations imposed on Nato as an extension of US foreign policy. Russia's re-emergence as a regional superpower, or at least a power to be reckoned with, is now all too clear.

Realigning alliances

Nato: Established on April 4, 1949

  • There were 12 founding countries from Europe, besides Iceland, Canada and the US.
  • Greece and Turkey joined in 1952.
  • Currently the alliance has 26 members, including former Warsaw Pact members.
  • Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium

Warsaw Pact: Established in 1955 as an organisation of Communist states in Central and Eastern Europe.

  • There were seven founding members and the former East Germany joined in 1956.
  • All former Warsaw Pact members apart from Russia, the successor of the Soviet Union, are now members of Nato.
  • Dissolved in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  • Headquarters in Warsaw, Poland, which is now a member of the Nato and the EU.
[Source: By Dr Abdul-Hadi Al-Timimi, Abu Dhabi Editor, Gulfnews, 21Aug08]

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