Can NATO Still Keep the Peace Essay

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in 1949 as part of the post-war effort among the nations of the West to work together to establish the peace. Throughout the Cold War, NATO was more of a symbol than an actual military alliance. It was not until the Cold War ended that the first joint military NATO operations were conducted. The first was in 1990 and the second in 1991—Anchor Guard and Ace Guard were NATO’s response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The Gulf War that followed, based on Bush’s trumpeting of the same kind of unsubstantiated claims that his son would make with U.S.’s second Middle Eastern intervention, was the first demonstration of NATO’s force[footnoteRef:2]—i.e., NATO as a wing of the U.S. military and a kind of political and international justification and show of support for what Bush wanted to do to Saddam Hussein. Bush used NATO forces for air cover from Turkey and then a small quick-reaction force was sent to the region.[footnoteRef:3] Bush pushed Hussein back into Iraq and then left the region: the U.S. and NATO together had demonstrated that it could maintain order, even though the collaboration was not without its controversy (due to the bogus allegations of war crimes the Bush administration leveled at Iraq at the time). Controversy only grew with NATO’s role in the Bosnian War in 1992. Bombing of Kosovo in 1999, and Afghanistan post-9/11, followed by Iraq, the Gulf of Aden, the Libyan intervention which eventually led to regime change and the brutal murder of Gaddafi (and now a failed state), all showed signs of NATO speeding up its “peacekeeping” missions now that the Cold War was over: humanitarian aid at the barrel of a gun or on the back of a bomb—this was its delivery method, and critics accused NATO of simply being the international wing of the U.S. [2: Douglas Walton, “Appeal to pity: A case study of theargumentum admisericordiam.” Argumentation 9.5 (1995), 771.] [3: NATO Operations, 1949-present,]

Key Terms

NATO refers to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization formed in 1949 of 12 members and expanded today to include 29 member states from North America and Europe. A key article in the treaty is Article Five, which affirms that an attack against any one member state of NATO is an attack against all, and all may retaliate with force against the attacking country.

International institutions refers to any collection of member states, such as the United Nations (UN) that serves to bring an alignment of interests and ideals to the global stage in the preservation of universally recognized goals, such as human rights, an end to hunger and poor health, and so on.

International institutionalism or liberal institutionalism as a theory in IR has been defined by Robert Keohane as focusing “on the idea of complex interdependence…placing emphasis on four characteristics which differentiate institutionalism from realism”—i.e., no distinction between high and low politics, and complete interaction among actors across national borders.[footnoteRef:4] [4: Rebecca Devitt, Liberal Institutionalism: An Alternative IR Theory or Just Maintaining the Status Quo?]

Maintaining the peace refers to the practice of preventing war or using military force to prevent one nation from attacking another, committing genocide, or engaging in any destabilizing activity.

Peace is a term that refers to the opposite of devastating world wars: it refers to agreement and good relations among the great powers or nuclear powers; it refers to the avoidance of large-scale nuclear war.

The Question

The question can thus be relevantly put forward: Can Cold War international institutions such as NATO still maintain the peace? The answer should be a resounding no—as there has been anything but peace since the end of the Cold War. Moreover, the post-Cold War shift to multipolarity,[footnoteRef:5] with Russia and China now top contenders as co-powers along with the U.S., and the break between the U.S. and Europe over how to deal with Iran, Russia, China and other countries that the U.S. sanctions, all signal that the relationship that supported NATO in 1949 is no longer strong or useful today. [5: Martha Finnemore, “Legitimacy, Hypocrisy, and the Social Structure of Unipolarity,” World Politics 61 (2009), 59.]

This paper will explain the answer by first providing a sense of where NATO fails, then examining those failures and showing why NATO’s legitimacy does not stand up in the light of today’s criticism and facts.
By using evidence from Asle Toje, John Mearsheimer, Martha Finnemore and others, it will show why NATO is not capable of keeping the peace, though it could, if altered and updated, transition into a more diplomatic organization that respects the rising multipolar world order.

The Role of NATO

The argument that NATO can play a role in maintaining the peace in the post-Cold War era goes like this: NATO has been instrumental in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, has helped in humanitarian interventions, such as Bosnia, Kosovo and Libya, and has prevented aggressive and hostile nations like Russia and Iran from causing harm to the West. This standard boiler plate argument represents the typical neoconservative viewpoint…

[…… parts of this paper are missing, click here to view the entire document ]

…Even members of Europe do not see eye to eye with the U.S. anymore in terms of trade, relations with other nations like Iran and Russia, and security. [11: Piers Robinson, The CNN effect: The myth of news, foreign policy and intervention (Routledge, 2005). 3.] [12: Thomas Walker and David Rousseau, ‘Liberalism: A Theoretical and Empirical Assessment’, in Cavelty and Balzacq (eds), Routledge Handbook of Security Studies, 22.] [13: Martha Finnemore, “Legitimacy, Hypocrisy, and the Social Structure of Unipolarity,” World Politics 61 (2009), 59.]

As Waltz points out, the democratic peace thesis is what was used to prop up NATO theoretically speaking—“the democratic peace thesis holds that democracies do not fight democracies”[footnoteRef:14]—and yet democracies are fighting and the U.S. is right in the thick of it. NATO protected Europe from Russia during the Cold War. Once the Cold War ended, NATO was suddenly flung into action—for the first time ever. It began its campaigns of aggression, allowing the U.S. to intervene in European and Middle Eastern affairs under the guise of promoting “democratic peace”—but all that has really happened is that more and more democracies are now turned against one another. England has voted to leave the EU. Italy has threatened to leave. German voters have turned against Merkel. Hungary has turned against Germany. Regime change is still the foreign policy of the day for the U.S., thanks to Bolton’s and Abrams’s ascendency in the Trump Administration. NATO is a relic in the sense that the excuse given to the world for its existence no longer makes sense. It is the dog ate my homework excuse of a unipolar world power in a world that is increasingly seeking a multipolar world solution. [14: Kenneth N. Waltz, "Structural realism after the Cold War." International security 25, no. 1 (2000), 7.]


NATO was developed in the wake of WW2 and justified on the pretense that Europe and America needed to establish a treaty that would ensure peace and that any more devastating wars were avoided. The peace lasted more or less until the Cold War actually ended—then the hot wars began. Bombings by NATO of Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and on—it all came quickly and without much rhyme or reason other than that with the Soviet Union out of the way, the spoils were there for the taking. The U.S. used its R2P doctrine to promote NATO intervention. The outcome of all this humanitarian aid, however, has been the break-up of the once (somewhat) solid alliance. Democracies are now turning against democracies as each nation scrambles to make sense of….....

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Devitt, Rebecca. Liberal Institutionalism: An Alternative IR Theory or Just Maintaining the Status Quo?

Finnemore, Martha. \"Legitimacy, hypocrisy, and the social structure of unipolarity: Why being a unipole isn\'t all it\'s cracked up to be.\" World Politics 61, no. 1 (2009): 58-85.

Mearsheimer, John J. \"The false promise of international institutions.\" International security 19, no. 3 (1994): 5-49.
NATO Operations, 1949-present. NATO.

Robinson, Piers. The CNN effect: The myth of news, foreign policy and intervention. Routledge, 2005.

Toje, Asle. \"The first casualty in the war against terror: the fall of NATO and Europe\'s reluctant coming of age.\" European Security 12, no. 2 (2003): 63-76.

Walker Thomas and David Rousseau, ‘Liberalism: A Theoretical and Empirical Assessment’, in Cavelty and Balzacq (eds), Routledge Handbook of Security Studies, pp. 22-31.

Walton, Douglas. “Appeal to pity: A case study of theargumentum ad misericordiam.”  Argumentation 9.5 (1995): 769-784.

Waltz, Kenneth N. \"Structural realism after the Cold War.\" International security 25, no. 1 (2000): 5-41.

Yinon, Oded. \"A strategy for Israel in the nineteen eighties.\" KIVUNIM (Directions): A Journal for Judaism and Zionism, 14 (1982): 5742.

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