NATO and Transatlantic Cooperation: Beyond Defense
At the start of the Cold War, the transatlantic community formed a pact based on mutual defense against aggression from the East. The U.S.S.R. and its allies were the principle cause for the formation of NATO during the twentieth century and the remnants of the communist bloc have reawakened the alliance in the twenty-first century. In the past 20 years, NATO has received pointed criticism, being called a useless military alliance and a warmonger’s tool, but this overlooks what the transatlantic community has accomplished outside the realm of defense.
Today, transatlantic cooperation itself stands as the symbol of democratic ideals and economic partnership for the countries of Europe and North America. Admittance into the alliance today represents an acceptance of democratic values that go beyond participation in military operations. In the European Union, almost all member states have joined NATO and those that have not historically have held positions of peace in times of conflict. For the European candidate states of the Western Balkans that hope one day to join the E.U., accession into NATO comes almost as a prerequisite to joining the union.
What’s interesting though is that these candidate states are not seeking to join our community with the hope of being part of a military alliance. Instead, they are seeking admittance in order to realize their democratic ideals and benefit from the economic advantages given to NATO member states. This is a sign that the meaning of the transatlantic relationship as expressed through NATO has been transformed since its creation 65 years ago. Being a member of NATO doesn’t just mean collective defense anymore. It symbolizes the fulfillment of democracy and the probability of economic well-being.
The Euromaidan in Ukraine and the conflicts that succeeded it, which reawakened the transatlantic community, were not initially about military defense. They were about fostering a path for Ukrainians toward economic ties with Europe and the realization of democracy after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Ukrainians wanted to garner the economic and political benefits that we in the transatlantic community now stand for. In order to preserve this new 21st century meaning of transatlantic relations that goes beyond defense we must remember to maintain our open door policy.
How can we spread democratic ideals and promote economic prosperity if we close the door on our allies in the Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia? We simply cannot. Although NATO recently ruled out enlargement for the 2014 Summit, it would be wise for the alliance to strengthen relations with candidate states through economic and educational initiatives in order to reassure them that the door remains open.
Through these investments in candidate states, we can encourage their democratization efforts and support them. If not, we may lose all the efforts that these countries have made toward democracy. And if this were to happen, we would be to blame for not preserving our renewed vision as a community to see a greater spread of democracy.
Aleksej Demjanski is a Bachelors Degree Candidate at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.