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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

NATO expansion and the security dilemma

NATO is a military alliance of twenty-eight European and two North American countries that constitutes a system of collective defense. The process of joining the alliance is governed by Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which allows for the invitation of "other European States" only, and by subsequent agreements.

Nation-States have become sovereign entities since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. In contrast, when it comes to state security, nations try to achieve their broader goals either by bandwagon or joining security organizations ensuring these states’ security and survival in the international system. Also, besides bandwagoning and becoming part of prominent security organizations, states simply may develop their own security via a self-help international system. Many states opted for the latter option.

Therefore, security, self-help, and statism are three prominent essential ingredients of international relations that require states to take actions to preserve their integrity in the form of national survival and ensure their national security. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is one of those vibrant security-centric organizations that was formed in 1949 to protect the larger interests of the European states. The recent Ukraine crisis has strained relations between the major powers, and its inclusion in NATO in the future would exacerbate tensions between Russia and the US.

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Understanding the matter better

After the Budapest memorandum of 1994, Ukraine was assured of ironclad security guarantees, as well as the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine’s existing borders. Furthermore, the concluding parties agreed to refrain from using force against Ukraine. However, the Russian current invasion of Ukraine and the Crimean crisis episode in 2014 have made Ukraine weary of Russian aggression, thus the country’s drive to join NATO to enhance its security.

Currently, NATO has 30 countries as members, making it a long-standing security-oriented organization with diverse interests. Furthermore, its desire to secure and expand the coalition’s membership is destabilizing the international political order among the major powers. Security concerns are the primary reason why NATO seeks to expand. Regional associations, on the other hand, have geographical, cultural, or ideological limitations. However, security arrangements are focused on different issues. NATO’s charter clearly identifies NATO as a Euro-Atlantic zone, while also taking geographical designation and security into account.

According to political realism, it is the international system’s anarchic structure that spurs governments to strengthen their security. A security conundrum results from the uneasiness of the several players at play making one another wary of one another. In the years 2014 and 2022, the advance of Russian soldiers toward Ukraine was seen as an immediate threat to the security of NATO. The NATO members are becoming fatigued by Russia’s aggressive behavior as a result of this action, which could lead to an unexpected conflict.

The role of security has grown in the twenty-first century. The Warsaw Pact was ambit on security grounds during the Cold War because the countries were motivated by the desire to expand their security. Recent security alliances such as the quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), the Australia United Kingdom, and the United States partnership (AUKUS), and India, Israel, United Arab Emirates, and United Kingdom (I2U2) fall into the same category, where states form such alliances in response to mutual threats. The concept of bandwagoning, in which smaller states ally with major powers to benefit from security assurances, justifies it in international relations. In contrast, with the rules established in the charters like NATO, all member states act in accordance with the structure and operations where mutual consent is required.

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In NATO’s case, the US is the primary actor, outperforming the rest of the member states in every domain. Because of its hegemonic status, the United States has a tendency to draw all countries as sole guarantors in times of crisis. However, the inherent meaning of such security-oriented memberships raises a number of issues. As a result, it is the mutual interaction of states that makes them both liable and responsible.

On the other hand, there are some issues with dominant states, such as the United States, which can impose their mode of operation, policies, and consent in decision-making due to their capacity and pledge to the overall structure. In this regard, NATO must be scrutinized in order to determine what the states can do solely and altogether. Since, NATO was founded immediately after World War II, during an ideological conflict between communism and capitalism. Meanwhile, the power struggle engulfed all of the smaller states in conflicts like the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the 1979 Afghan war as a result of rivalry between major powers. During the cold war, the United States and NATO were at the forefront of efforts to contain the Soviet Union.

The way forward

NATO’s treaty charter defines collective security, as one of the fundamental concepts upon which NATO acknowledges a new member. Article 10 of NATO’s charter relates to the expansion of the organization. Since 1949, the number has increased from 12 to 30 member states. Similarly, this willingness to expand is linked to specific geographical motives and to avert the common threat. The recent official applications of Finland and Sweden for NATO membership have spurred a debate in academia. The analyst believes it is the Russian aggression in Ukraine that prompted these European countries to join NATO. Following NATO’s institutionalization in 1995, the rules are now more expansive than ever.

NATO’s expansion is a natural attitude in comparison to other security organizations based on the calculation of benefits, risks, gains, and disadvantages. On the other hand, it is concerned with geopolitical and geostrategic issues. Furthermore, if a country is nominated and accepted for NATO membership, there is a lengthy process of reforming, increasing capacity, making promises, and relying on security assurances, but none of the security assurances on the planet are carved on stones. It undoubtedly has costs and the persisting security dilemma could lead to unrelenting issues among the states involved.

Read more: China: No chance of ‘Asian NATO’

Ukraine’s membership in NATO is heavily debated in the current state of international affairs. However, one thing is certain: when bringing in a new member, security organizations typically conduct a cost-benefit analysis. In previous years, NATO was hesitant to grant Ukraine membership, which they will likely reconsider. Likewise, Russia’s unclear motives in the recent Ukraine crisis have enhanced the security risks for NATO and the US. History had witnessed that where major powers’ behest interests would likely make a small nation pay the price. The global powers must adhere to the reality that coercive and brute measures only bring chaos.



The writer is a Research Fellow at Balochistan Think Tank Network (BTTN) at BUITEMS, Quetta. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.