by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior EditorThe chiefs of NATO's 19 member countries celebrated the 50th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Washington DC on Friday, April 23. NATO, founded on April 4, 1949, evolved from the alliance of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and other North Atlantic allies during World War II. Its main purpose was to counter the threat of Soviet expansion.
But NATO had an important second purpose, and that was to fold Germany into the western military alliance in order to prevent an independent German military from rising again. After two world wars against Germany, the governments of the U.S.A., the U.K., France, and others, feared the revival of German military power. When the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, joined NATO, its military force became part of the NATO armed forces.
The main reason for NATO dissolved after its 40th anniversary, as the Soviet Union began to disintegrate. But its secondary reason became even more important as West and East Germany unified into the most powerful economy and potential military power in Europe.
With Germany now being integrated into an economic union with much of the rest of Europe, the fear of German military conquest is receding. Ever closer economic union implies having common economic policies. A common currency implies a common money and banking policy for the European Union, and there is pressure for common tax policies, unfortunately with the value-added tax rather than with land-rent. At any rate, a common political union is on its way, and this will be followed by a push for an independent European military force.
NATO's mission has already changed, with its war on Yugoslavia, a country which was no threat to any NATO country. The new members, Poland, Czechia (the Czech Republic), and Hungary, see NATO as protecting their newly obtained political independence. NATO will most likely continue to exist for another decade. But is NATO still beneficial to the world, and to the United States?
In purely economic terms, in its costs and benefits to Americans, NATO is no longer a net benefit. It costs American taxpayers over a hundred billion dollars per year to maintain the U.S. military presence in Europe. There is also a significant cost in NATO's generating hostility in Russia. The main benefit now is American influence and power in Europe, but that is hardly a benefit to the American public. The military rationale for NATO is gone -- America should rationally let NATO commitments expire, as befits a jubilee. Let the NATO members go back to their original neutrality.
That will not happen, because the chiefs of government benefit from maximizing their global power. But NATO will either be disbanded or be radically changed in the early 21st century. Europe will most likely become a united military power, merging their national armies into a colossal European force. United Europeans will no longer need American protection. NATO will no longer make sense.
There will most likely be four great global powers in the 21st century: the U.S.A., United Europe, China, and Russia. There is no guarantee that the USA and Europe will remain allies. Conflicts among any of these powers and struggles for control of the rest of the world are quite likely. Countries such as the United Kingdom and Japan will remain secondary powers, the UK torn between its ties to the US and to Europe, Japan torn between the US and China. India may possibly later emerge as a fifth power as it gradually liberalizes its economy, and a sixth power consisting of united Muslim countries is also possible.
It is also quite likely that there will be global economic depressions that will have political and military consequences, just as the Great Depression of the 1930s led to the rise of the Nazis in Germany. If the current real-estate cycle follows past patterns, a global depression will arrive around the year 2009. The recent financial crises in Asia, Russia, and Brazil will be nothing compared to a global economic collapse.
The 21st century will be a different world than the century now coming to a close. If the Y2K troubles don't shake up the global economy, then the depressions that are inevitable under current economic policies will. Europe is on its way to a military union that may not be friendly to the USA. NATO is on its way out; the only question is how it will disappear or merge into a more global military force.
-- Fred Foldvary
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Copyright 1999 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.