The Cold War is over, so defining NATO’s objectives in terms of containing Russia no longer makes geopolitical sense.  What’s needed is a new security mission that reflects the real sources of conflict in the globalized world.

U.S. soldier waves as he crosses Lithuanian-Latvian border during tactical road march Dragoon Ride II in Subate, Latvia, June 6, 2016. Photo: Reuters

Much attention is now focused on the Warsaw Summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which will take place in Poland on July 8-9. The major concern is to prevent any split in the alliance while reforming its future agenda and partnership policies.

After all, alliances only hold together if there is a clear alignment of interests amongst its members. With the structure of the international environment undergoing major changes, the future direction of the military alliance needs to be reconsidered. 

In 1949, NATO emerged as a Cold War cornerstone of Atlantic security. Upon its creation there were three major goals of NATO, including deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through the transatlantic American presence, and encouraging European political integration. Defining NATO during the Cold War was easy because the U.S. had a specific strategy to deter Soviet expansionism and Communist ideology.

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NATO in the post-Cold War world

After the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO’s member states needed to agree on a new purpose for the alliance. The announced post-Cold War goal was to transform NATO into a more dynamic and responsive organization that would deal with global challenges and transatlantic security threats. 

Opinions within the Pentagon were divided: While the administration of then U.S. President Bill Clinton conceived of a post-Cold War pivot, with the target of extending the security umbrella of the U.S. through NATO expansion, some American pundits and officials expressed concerns over further enlargement of Pentagon’s commitments in Europe. In fact, they questioned its relevancy due to the post-Cold War shift in the balance of power.

The Cold War is left behind and the Soviet Union is gone, but a quarter century later, Russia remains NATO’s major focal point. In the context of globalization and the interdependence of the international system, the further direction of NATO – in terms of the choice of current strategy - seems unclear. The absence of clarity is a concern for the member states and also continues to complicate U.S.-Russia and EU-Russia bilateral relations.

Even with all the criticism of the current state of the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship due to the Ukrainian crisis and imposed sanctions on Russia, the international system is far different from 1949. The bipolar structure is gone, and major security challenges are far beyond collective defense against the Soviet Union and Communist states.

Nuclear warfare is about more than NATO’s nuclear retaliation against the Soviet Union. It incorporates more complex cases of nuclear powers, which in total possess almost 16,000 nuclear weapons. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons of 1970 has enjoyed some success in curbing nuclear proliferation, and currently, nuclear diplomacy is, for the most part, aimed at preventing possible new nuclear ownership, rather than as the means of deterrence as in the Cold War.

The main goal of the alliance remains the same: serving the security purposes of its member states. H However, due to the changes in the international environment, regional and international roots of instability require joint action and faster responsiveness to crises, most of which come from conflict zones and underdeveloped areas.

The two original unspoken mandates, which are to deter the rise of military nationalism and to provide the foundation of collective security that would encourage democratization and political integration in Europe, still persist. But the vacuum of Cold War thinking can easily become a source of dangerous instability, which does not help NATO, the U.S., or Russia to achieve their regional and global interests.

In a recent pre-Warsaw Summit meeting, Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, acknowledged that the security alliance is facing a new and more demanding security environment.

He highlighted the challenges emerging both from the East and the South, including violent extremism of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) and all the terrorist groups across the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the refugee and migrant crises.

Fueling distrust between NATO and Russia 

With this in mind, Russia – including NATO’s response to the Ukraine crisis - remains top priority on the alliance’s agenda.

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Stoltenberg stated that the NATO military build-up is happening not to provoke but to prevent conflict (with Russia), but the situation itself is the perfect example of the security dilemma among international stakeholders.According to political realism and the two major protagonists of offensive and defensive realism, professors Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer, distrust and uncertainty are unavoidable in the anarchic international system, and states tend to increase their power when they expect the worst from one another.

Indeed, that is exactly what is happening right now between Russia and the U.S., while NATO adds fuel to the fire. The Pentagon is currently investing in a secret U.S. Army study that targets Moscow and has already uncovered that Russia is improving the lethality of artillery and munitions, which have a greater range than U.S. Army missile and cannon artillery systems.

Besides that, the recent reportof the Canadian Security Intelligence Service highlights that “the conflict between Russia and the West has led to increasing talk of the possibility of a new war — which some say is inevitable – and the re-emergence of the nuclear issue.”

Canadian analysts conclude that Russia will continue to enhance its self-reliance in international affairs and continue its militarization in order “to defend Russia against a possible strategic strike in the mid-to-long term, and the need to be able to project power.”

From the recentstatement of intentof the NATOs Parliamentary Assembly, it is clear that Alliance will continue increasing the amount of military exercises with the main goal of reducing Russia’s influence in the region. The same document brings up the importance of “reducing tensions with Russia and avoiding miscalculations and incidents.”

But, for Russia, NATO’s actions remain antagonistic by all means. During the plenary session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF 2016) in June, it was stated that NATO’s action are seen as hostile by Russia, and lead to the decision to build up the forces in the states that border Russia and its own military.

Undoubtedly, reducing the influence of the largest country in the region is an expected foreign policy goal of any state with the active position on the international arena. That is why the U.S.-led NATO efforts to diminish the Russian sphere of influence shouldn’t surprise anyone.

But even if in the short-term the two security goals - to deter Russia and to prevent from the threats coming from the Middle East can be coordinated within each other with relative success, in the long term achieving regional security requires a more delicate dialogue with Russia.

As to this point Russia is hostile to NATO’s enlargement and sees it as interference in its sphere of interest. One of the arguments against the effectiveness of the strategy of choice is that rotation of the troops through eastern members and the build-up of the missile defense system in Poland are a violation of the 1997 NATO – Russia Founding Act, in which NATO agreed not to position substantial, permanent combat forces on Russia’s borders.

Split within NATO

Such concern is more than solely Russian rhetoric. Some of the current NATO members share a critical position over NATO’s ability to adjust to the changing international environment. With its enlargement plans NATO risks a 25 percent shortfall in a recently announced troop deployment, which might happen due to no-shows from Italy and France.

One of the challenges that NATO is facing is that many European counties still resist strong measures to strengthen NATO. Right now the struggle is also to find the country that would lead the last of four military units to be deployed in Poland and the three Baltic nations.

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Positioning four combat battalions of up to 1,000 soldiers each by the Russian border will be “the biggest reinforcement of collective defense since the Cold War,” said Stoltenberg. But while Germany and Britain support this direction of implementation of NATO’s resources, the skepticism is growing.

NATO’s stance in Afghanistan, which was discussed in the NATO summit in May, produced international criticism over the ability of the alliance to act alone for the common good and security of its members and the region.

Russia continues its calls for better integration into NATO structures, arguing for the importance of incorporation of other states and alliances into the joint action against the common threats. Security challenges start to require collective defense to project stability and call for incorporation of the other states and alliances.

For instance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — expressed readiness to cooperate with NATO in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials raised their eyebrows at the increased amount of recent military ventures, defining them as post-Cold War aggressive missions and accusing NATO of triggering disputes in the international community and the alliance itself.

At the same time, India focused on Pakistan’s role in NATO’s efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. Indian media and its officials often express support for the idea of Russian and Central Asian integration in NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan. Even though NATO showed its openness to continuing dialogue with India, integration of non-NATO states and other alliances usually does not meet any support.

The need for collective security cooperation in a globalized world

Both Europeans and Americans are very much distracted by domestic challenges, and there is clearly a strong need for incorporating emerging powers and adapting NATO to the post-Cold War globalized world.

There is no rival to the West anymore. Russia, for example, does not have a goal to impose a certain ideology on the rest of the world, its economy is highly interdependent with the West and volatile to changes in international financial markets, and its military goals are far from those of the Soviet military (both in goals and behavior). Open markets and democracy are among the values accepted by most developing countries.

Europe is more worried by the turmoil in the Middle East, due to which thousands of refugees are set to change the entire landscape of European politics. Moreover, the Brexit — the nightmare for the EU that came true — could become a financial burden and might also set new grounds for debate by creating a precedent for other European states to leave, causing domestic tensions within Europe.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the possibility of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump becoming the next president is shaking the core of stability, especially when it comes to how the U.S. might view long-term alliances. The rise of domestic terrorism uncovered many issues within the U.S., which require thoughtful domestic policy.

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The main problem of NATO is that the military alliance does not have a high level of cooperation because its members simply do not share the same military target. In the long term, the major differences of primary security threats and the causes of these challenges will tear the members apart.

Instead of returning to being the protector of Europe from the exaggerated aggression of Russia and diving back into the Cold War era, NATO needs a new security objective that would serve its members’ interests and further contribute to peace, democracy and open markets.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.