Several years ago, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, U.S. political philosopher Francis Fukuyama penned a book titled The End of History and the Last Man. In it he offered that the clash of political ideologies that characterized the Cold War was at an end and that no alternative had emerged to democratic capitalism. Unfortunately, an alternative has arisen since in the form of violent religious extremism, and the democratic countries of the world once again have found themselves engaged in a struggle for national security. And, other nations that harbor imperialistic dreams counter to freedom wait their turn around the globe.
At the heart of the defense of civilization lies NATO. Founded amid the ashes of World War II and the onset of the Cold War, NATO has helped ensure peace in Europe and North America for more than six decades. Its collective security approach expressed in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Charter—an attack on one is an attack on all—helped deter any Cold War adversary from taking a divide-and-conquer approach to subjugating the Free World.
It is telling that the first—and so far, only—time that Article 5 was invoked by the alliance was in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. A foreign terrorist organization killed thousands of people on U.S. soil in what would prove to be the first of several attacks on Free World democracies. NATO is engaged in fighting that terrorist group on several fronts, particularly in Afghanistan.
NATO originally was formed to defend against a Soviet invasion across Western Europe. However, the ties between Europe and North America go deeper than merely sharing a common ocean. Both groups share deep common values based on individual freedoms, democracy, religious tolerance and the rule of law. No two countries in the alliance have mirror societies, yet all agree that there is no alternative to the freedom guaranteed by the democratic capitalism cited by Fukuyama.
It is on this basis that NATO transformed from a alliance defending against a monolithic imperialist empire to a regional security organization striving to keep the peace in areas outside of its borders. Just as an attack on one would be an attack on all, NATO viewed some regional conflicts as potential attacks on the security of the Western world. And, by bringing more like-minded nations under its umbrella, NATO extended the concept of regional security farther afield—and brought in more allies willing to support it.
But terrorism is not the only threat confronting NATO. This month’s Russian invasion of Georgia serves as a harsh reminder of the need for an effective collective security organization. Conflict resolution is more easily achieved when the weight of a credible alliance is behind pushing for a solution.
And were Georgia a full member of NATO, Russia would not have dared invade it. Ironically, Russia’s blatant power grab in Georgia may push more nations into NATO’s circle by helping remove many false notions about Moscow’s strategic intentions. Once again, NATO and its Article 5 demonstrate their worth.
The end of the Soviet Union did not mean the end of history, least of all the end of aggression. Imperialist governments, rogue states and terrorists are compelled to try to destroy freedom wherever possible. It stands directly in their way of achieving their goals. The shared values that underpin NATO membership are the firm foundation upon which freedom rests worldwide.
More information about Europe is available in the September 2008 issue of SIGNAL Magazine, in the mail to AFCEA members and subscribers September 2, 2008. For information about purchasing this issue, joining AFCEA or subscribing to SIGNAL, contact AFCEA Member Services.