NATO: Still Unifying or Losing its Edge?

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Some will argue that after 60 years NATO is stronger than ever. They point to the Eastern Europe expansion and Nato's presence in Afghanistan. But critics say NATO is a shell of its former self.

Jed Babbin, former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, said the U.S has always dominated NATO, but since the end of Cold War, most of our allies have downsized their forces to the extreme.

Click the player to watch the report from CBN News Senior Reporter Dale Hurd followed by comments from Pat Robertson.

"NATO frankly is weaker than ever," he said. "Most of the European militaries are not capable of acting beyond their own borders. Most of the NATO nations have either unilaterally disarmed or simply gone their own way. Unless they are unified with the United States, they're really not much use to anybody on the battlefield."

Founded as Defensive Shield

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded as a defensive shield against Soviet invasion after World War II. NATO worked because the Soviets knew NATO would fight.

Since 1949, NATO's membership has increased five times, from the original 12 nations to 26. And it will increase to 28 when Albania and Croatia complete the membership process.

Article 5 of the NATO charter says an attack on any member nation is an attack on the alliance. So would the Western Europeans, with their shrinking armies, be willing to fight the Russians in Eastern Europe? Or be willing to fight in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, a NATO hopeful that was crushed by Russia last year?

"I find it very difficult to envisage such a thing, and so I think would a majority of Europeans," John Wyles, a partner at the EU consulting firm GPlus, and the former Brussels Bureau Chief for the London Financial Times said. "I wonder how many people actually realize that there is this 'attack on one is an attack on all' clause, article 5 in the NATO treaty."

Islamic Terrorism Threat

Babbin says that now the principle threat is no longer Russia, but Islamic terrorism "and the NATO nations are by no means united in a means or even the need to fight that particular threat."

Polls show that most Europeans do not want to send any more troops to Afghanistan. Consider that in World War I, France suffered almost 400,000 casualties in the battle of Verdun, and kept fighting.

When 10 died in Afghanistan last year, there were public calls in France to withdraw.

European Countries React

Spain recently announced it will abandon the NATO peace-keeping mission in Kosovo, and it did so without consulting with anyone.

Madrid has declared that its army is pacifist, and its last defense minister forbid Spanish troops from using lethal force against the Taliban. The current defense minister, Carme Chacón has declared herself a pacifist.

Germany, the richest country in Europe, has kept its forces well away from the fighting in Afghanistan. A report by its own government concluded that German soldiers in Afghanistan spend most of their time lounging around and drinking beer. So much so that many are now too out of shape to fight.

Britain and Canada have been exceptions in Afghanistan, with more casualties per capita than the U.S.

American Military

But Babbin, a retired Air Force Officer, says that when NATO joins the fight, America's military is so far ahead technologically that many allies have trouble keeping up.

"The American military is based on what we call the network-centric battlefield. Unless you're good enough to operate in that doctrine, in that environment, unless you can literally plug into our computer networks, its best if you can just get out of the way because you're just going to be in the way, frankly," he said.

Frank Gaffney was a deputy assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration.

"The problem has been, as long as the nations of Europe, particularly the relatively rich nations of western Europe, have not stepped up to the plate in terms of maintaining their military, equipping it properly to deal with the kinds of challenges its being asked to face today," Gaffney said.

NATO's Challenge

NATO's biggest challenge may be that it no longer has a unifying force: the threat from the Soviet Union.

In a conflict with Russia, Western Europe would be called to fight its major energy supplier, Moscow. It's a given that one of the first things Russia would do in a military confrontation with NATO is to turn off its pipeline.

For a military alliance to work, the alliance members have to be ready and willing to fight. And on NATO's 60th anniversary, that proposition is increasingly in doubt.

*Originally aired on April 2, 2009.

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CBN News
Dale Hurd

Dale Hurd

CBN News Senior Reporter

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