The Trans-Atlantic Bargain

The Pact of Brussels, ratified on the March 17th, 1948 by five European states is viewed as the antecedent to the NATO treaty; the signatories to the treaty were the United Kingdom, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium (Sloan, 2005). This pact and the blockade of Berlin by the Soviet Union Berlin resulted in the establishment of Western European Union’s Defense Organization six months later (Sloan, 2005). Nevertheless, involvement of the US was deemed indispensable to pawn the military supremacy of the Soviet Union, and deliberations for a comprehensive military cooperation started virtually immediately. The resultant deliberations culminated into the North Atlantic Treaty, ratified in Washington, D.C. on April 4th, 1949 (Sloan, 2005). The member states included the five founding members of the Brussels pact, the US, Iceland, Italy, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Norway, and Canada. However, some Icelanders initially opposed the treaty favoring, instead, a pro-neutrality policy; Iceland initially experienced anti-treaty riots (Sloan, 2005).

The treaty spelled out that any armed aggression targeted on any member state in Europe and North America would be perceived as aggression against all member states. Accordingly, they approved that, if an act of aggression happened, every member state, in implementation of the right of self-defense either individually or collectively, would support the member state under attack, taking measures thought essential, including employing military force to reinstate and uphold the security of the North Atlantic region (Reid, 2004). The bargain did not oblige member states to result into the use of armed force against the attacker; the choice of whether to use armed force was optional. This was in contrast to the fourth article of the Brussels Treaty, which plainly outlines that the reaction would be through military action (Reid, 2004). It was however presumed that member states of NATO would help the attacked member through armed force. Additionally, the Treaty originally limited the alliance’s scope to areas beyond the Tropic of Cancer. The establishment of NATO resulted in considerable standardization of the terms, techniques, and skills use in the military of the member states, which, in most of the times, led to European states embracing U.S. practices (Reid, 2004).

Since its inception, NATO has faced numerous challenges and has had to transform itself as time changes and this has been made possible by the resilience of the Trans-Atlantic bargain. Burden-sharing disputes are a persistent feature of NATO ever since its establishment. The rapid downfall of the USSR and the contemporary expansion of NATO from sixteen to twenty-eight members have augmented the challenges encountered by the transatlantic organization (Kaplan, 2004). The alliance has expanded significantly since inception; many new members have been incorporated thus alleviating the problem of burden sharing. Burden sharing refers to the spreading of expenses and threats amongst the member states of the alliance in the course of achieving a shared goal. It is fundamentally a shared action challenge. In NATO, different countries have been contributing resources (military expenditures) towards the Alliance’s missions and activities to varying levels and all national contributions are significantly determined by political restraints. Ivanov (2011) notes that, the contributions of each member states to NATO missions have featured as the most cause of friction in the alliance. These disparities in military spending amongst NATO allies have been and will remain one of the persistent issues challenging the survival of the organization. Analysis of financial contributions by member states to NATO indicates that bigger members (based on population and geographical size) have had a greater military spending as a fraction of gross domestic product as compared to smaller members (Kaplan, 2004). Moreover, the analysis also indicates that more affluent member states have had a comparatively lesser military spending as a percentage of GDP. Further, states joining NATO as new members have channeled greater percentages of their GDP towards military spending than older members (Kaplan, 2004). Such disparities in spending to meet requirements imposed by membership to NATO has been a constant threat to the survival of the organization.

To address the issue of burden-sharing NATO leaders have adopted various mechanisms. First, since its inception, NATO has upheld one of its founding principle of sharing risks and responsibilities among member states (Sloan, 2005). While there is not much that can be done to force member states to contribute, they are mutually bound by this founding principle of burden sharing. This feature has helped NATO to adjust to threats from without and pressures from within and to ensure the success of the Trans-Atlantic Bargain. Secondly, following post-cold war collapse of the Soviet Union, the US and NATO members embraced a policy of expansion and crisis management to vindicate the Alliance’s continued existence. These newly incorporated states have performed outstandingly well in burden sharing in the post-cold war era. Actually, new members are contributing comparatively greater resources than older members (Ivanov, 2011). For instance, considering troop contributions, particularly in Afghanistan, newcomer states members have done fairly well (Ivanov, 2011). Thirdly, to avert the possibility of member states free riding in burden sharing, NATO has adopted a system where military spending of each member is expressed as a percentage of the gross domestic product. These expenditures have been integrated into policy and are applied in determination and evaluation of each member state’s contribution to the expenditures of the Alliance. NATO leaders, during the Prague summit of 2002, adopted a new standard for military spending towards the alliance as two percent of the member state’s GDP (Howorth & Keeler, 2004).

Another challenge facing NATO has been the reduced channeling of resources by the US, a traditional supporter. The US has, lately, re-channeled significant military and intellectual resources off from Europe to newfound allies, most markedly in the Asian subcontinent. Research indicates that total European military expenses have declined steadily in the post-cold war era (Kaplan, 2004). In response to this, NATO and Europe have remained one of the greatest allies of the US and have supported numerous military installations in the region. Due to this fact, the US has acknowledged that Europeans, through NATO, are still their best allies globally. The waning US collaboration and contribution to the defense and security of the European region has also increased other members’ participation in the alliance, thus alleviating the perception that the members are solely in the alliance to meet the United States’ interests (Kaplan, 2004).

Additionally, NATO has maintained its traditionally exceptional function as a builder of trust who ensures that all the undertakings under its mandate such as procurement, management of troops and force structures remain completely transparent to all members in the organization (Kaplan, 2004). Therefore, it is quite clear that the NATO alliance does not face the imminent threat of risk of being dissolved or rendered irrelevant soon. Such continuity of NATO is irrespective of the increasing budget cuts and restructuring of the military in the European members, which limit the extent to which they can contribute towards NATO’s shared functions. Additionally, even the emerging decline of interest for Europe by successive US administrations might not be sufficient to undermine NATO and the central strategic concerns that maintains Europe and US as traditional allies.

NATO’s consensus decision-making approach is another secret ensuring its adaptability and longevity since 1949. This approach involves no voting regarding any decision that NATO has to make. Discussions are done among the members until a resolution that is satisfactory to all is arrived at. In this approach, it means that any member state, regardless of its geographical size, can successfully reject any potential NATO resolution (Reid, 2004). Moreover, the consensus-based approach means that an unanimous resolution adopted by NATO epitomizes the mutual will of all member states. Generally, the process of consultation is fast because member states hold discussions often and thus are frequently aware of each member state’s stand in advance. Facilitation of the process of consensus decision-making is among the main duties of the Secretary General of the alliance. The consensus approach has been the only foundation for NATO’s decision-making ever since establishment of NATO in 1949 (Sloan, 2005). All its governing councils and committees make their decisions based on this principle. In addition, the alliance has continuously established various effective and autonomous councils charged with examining roles and making decisions regarding NATO’s missions hence making consultations rapid. For instance, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) holds significant political control and authority over decisions made (Sloan, 2005). Other bodies within NATO that have significant roles in the final resolutions include the military committee, The Nuclear Planning council and other committees. Additionally, the international civilian and military staff of the alliance reinforce such committees in ensuring NATO continues to function optimally (Howorth & Keeler, 2004).

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