The role of NATO in the international arena

The event, that was conducted in the form of an interview followed by a Q&A session, took place on the 3rd of March at Informami. Being a collaboration between ASSP unimi, SIR (Students for IR) and Zeppelin, it was mainly a geopolitical reasoning about the role of NATO in today’s world with specific references to current crises. The guest speaker who was interview by Simone Zuccarelli, the president of SIR, was Paolo Lancale who serves as the director of Zeppelin, a journal of international politics and an expert in that area. Mr Lancale spoke about who NATO protects, which aims it pursues and what the future holds for the Atlantic Alliance.

Mr Lancale first introduced himself and gave the audience a brief introduction about NATO since not everyone attending was an expert in the history of NATO. The North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty which was signed on 4 April 1949. The organization constitutes a system of collective defense whereby its member states agree to mutual defense in response to an attack by any external party. It is generally thought to have been created for the sole purpose of countering the military power of the USSR, however, the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism; forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent; encouraging European political integration.

The question that the guest speaker sought to answer was; why is NATO still intact when the reason for its creation, the USSR, no longer poses a threat. But has the Cold War really ended or has it just undergone a transformation? Can Russia still be used as an excuse for the continuing existence of NATO or are their more powerful enemies today. NATO’s existence can be classified into three main stages: birth of NATO and the Cold War (1949-1991), reunited Europe (1991-2001) and NATO since 9/11. The Partnership for peace programme was briefly discussed whose purpose is to increase stability, diminish threats to peace and build strengthened security relationships between individual Euro-Atlantic partners and NATO, as well as among partner countries. Another country said to pose danger to international peace is Iran. Israel has considerable influence over the US which makes extremely generous contributions to Israel’s military. The US industrial military complex has arguably benefitted the most from the PPP since NATO’s expanding mandate creates great demand for the supply of weapons and not just to the Alliance members. India and Saudi Arabia were the biggest importers of arms between 2011-2015 while Russia (25 billion) and the US (33 billion) are leading the supply side.

The last question that Mr Lancale tackled was the degree of NATO‘s importance for Europe’s security. Every state’s main responsibility is to protect its citizens. But the EU has no unified standing military for the defence of Europe so it does need NATO and invests in it accordingly, although, very little compared to the United States. But that may be because the EU can use its soft power, being a major economic power. Therefore, NATO ends up being very cost efficient for the EU. US, Russia and China spend much more on their defence. The question arises whether it is in EU’s interest to have its own standing military or is NATO enough. The speaker didn’t give a clear answer but he pointed out that there would be a political cost to EU military interventions and said that the EU will have to go to war sometimes just like any other major power. The case of Russia having invaded Crimea and EU not being able to stop it militarily shows not only that where there is no geopolitical interest, there is no intervention but also that it is the US who presides over NATO. Another example that was brought to the audience’s attention is Russian presence in Georgia since 2008. No one came to Georgia’s rescue just like in Ukraine. Did the EU take no action due to European dependency on Russian gas? Would the EU be better off if it sided with Russia, aka its biggest enemy in the past, given its proximity? However, no one can deny that Europe has been helped economically and militarily in the past by the US. The fact is that we live in a multipolar world today, where Europe doesn’t have to pick one side anymore or any side at all.

Finally, the guest speaker warned the audience about the media’s continuing perpetration of the idea that the Cold war is ongoing because it is easier than to analyse the reasons and actors behind proxy wars like the one currently happening in Syria. However, there might be some truth to a new arms race otherwise why have so many countries increased their military expenditure? The speaker was kind enough to answer the audience’s question after the interview was over.




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