Fading NATO: A confluence of factors says the alliance is history

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The situation in Europe and the impact of the global recession call into question the continuation of NATO.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was a post-World War II Western alliance meant to be a counterweight to the Warsaw Pact, led by the Soviet Union, which during the Cold War had aggressive intentions toward Western Europe and the United States.

The future of NATO is now less certain. It is threatened by the economic weakness of its members, the disproportion between the U.S. and European contributions to it (the United States covers 75 percent of NATO's defense costs) and the increasingly apparent shrinking need for the alliance.

Russia no longer presents a threat to Western Europe. Many of its former satellites are now members of NATO. The opportunity NATO presented for U.S. forward deployment of forces isn't necessary with more advanced transport and surveillance capacities and new weaponry, including drones.

NATO has thus found itself looking for missions. Its role in Afghanistan, which began after 9/11, will end in 2014. Some NATO countries -- France, the United Kingdom and the United States -- were involved in the Libya war, but some never supported a NATO role in that conflict.

So now, with the financial hammer coming down on many Europeans and NATO-member countries imposing austerity programs, the pressure is growing to cut already-low military spending further. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned before he left office that NATO risked "collective military irrelevance." Many of the members are unable or unwilling to play their role in the alliance.

The general shift to Asia, the new concentration on China as America's global rival and even the drama over North Korea point to the fact that Europe, the North Atlantic alliance and military concerns in that region will couple with lower Pentagon spending to make NATO of considerably lesser importance for the United States.

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