Analysts also believe that NATO's role may be reduced from collective defence to crisis response if the opponents are able to reach a detente.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said earlier this week that "the NATO advantage over a resurgent Russia has eroded." He also said both Russia and China had closely studied US military strategy and performance since the end of the Cold War and were developing technologies and strategies that could exploit US weaknesses.
Even though there have been talks about NATO’s irrelevance ever since the Soviet Union dissolved, the differences within the alliance grew in recent years, especially after Donald Trump became US President. The talks on the issue are further fueled by EU politicians' determination to create the bloc's own defence and space force outside the NATO framework.
COLLECTIVE DEFENSE OR CRISIS RESPONSE?
NATO's relevance in the future will depend on the decisions that leaders in Moscow, Washington and other key countries make in the coming years, Noah Mayhew, a research associate at the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, recalled.
"While the United States and Russia continue to taunt one another with modernizing nuclear weapons stockpiles and there continue to be tensions in Eastern Europe surrounding NATO expansion or Russian aggression — depending on one’s point of view — the role of NATO is likely only to increase," he said.
If Russia and NATO members, particularly the United States, are able to reach a detente, the alliance's role may once again shift from one of collective defence back to crisis response, Mayhew concluded.
However, contradictions within NATO, both political and economical, are on the rise, Alexander Neu, the Die Linke party spokesman in the Bundestag Defense Committee, said.
"The adopted NATO strategy cannot hide the fact that the different interests of the individual NATO member states are increasing. The US wants to secure its European bridgehead. In contrast to the post-war decades, however, clear contradictions now become apparent among the European NATO vassals," he said.
Some NATO member states are eager to lift the sanctions against Russia or join China's One Belt One Road project, Neu recalled.
"Other states, on the other hand, are fully in Washington's wake, driving the new confrontation with Moscow in an irresponsible fashion," he said.
NATO NEEDS ENEMY
General Dunford's comments fit with a number of similar statements, not only directly from NATO, but also from the defence ministries of Western countries, Die Linke spokesman continued.
"At present, the old enemy image of Russia — along with the newer enemy image of China — is vigorously polished up. Such scare by NATO merely shows that the military and transatlantic 'defence politicians' are no longer sure of their cause — their propaganda is getting less and less effective," he said.
NATO always needs an enemy, but the populations of the western countries do not want to be driven into new conflicts or even wars with Russia or China, he noted.
There was a time when the salience of NATO as an alliance for collective defence decreased, Mayhew recalled.
"The NATO-Russia Council was created and relations between Russia and the United States were favourable. Unfortunately, due to recent conflict between the two countries, including over Ukraine, the role of NATO has once again become a central consideration in the defence policies of many European countries," he said.
Western military expenditures amount to a good $1 trillion a year, China and Russia taken together to about $300 billion a year, less than a third of what the US and NATO spend together, and one has to wonder who is threatening whom, Neu noted.
"To make it perfectly clear: of course, Russia and China are making progress in the military field, but both countries pose absolutely no threat to the West," Neu believes.
In light of profound tensions between NATO and Russia and the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, NATO countries are not likely to find breaking ties from the military alliance to be in their interest, Mayhew noted.
"It remains to be seen whether missiles that were banned under the INF will be deployed once more in Europe, but both the United States and Russia have warned that this is a possibility," he said.
For this reason, in particular, European countries are likely to continue to defend value of NATO membership, Mayhew concluded.
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