Our Back Pages / April 4, 2024

NATO and The Nation

Unhappy Birthday: NATO Is 75 Years Old Today

The Cold War alliance long ago outlived its usefulness. But then Nation contributors have been skeptical since the beginning.

Richard Kreitner

The 75th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) offers a chance to reflect on the pact’s Cold War origins, checkered history, and uncertain future. Created in 1949 to formalize American security guarantees in Western Europe, NATO immediately signaled its intention to expand beyond the North Atlantic region designated in its name. Almost as quickly, The Nation expressed skepticism about this plan. In 1951, we objected to the idea of adding Turkey and Greece to the alliance. Bringing those countries in would “effectually end the concept of a democratic union in defense of the ‘free world,’” the magazine argued. “What we are constructing instead, with breathtaking speed, is an old-fashioned military alliance equipped with ‘fantastic’ new-fashioned weapons.”

A year later, one of The Nation’s regular correspondents on foreign affairs, the Spanish writer and socialist politician Julio Àlvarez del Vayo, voiced more concerns. Support for the internationalist vision behind the United Nations was being supplanted by NATO’s more militaristic approach, Àlvarez del Vayo wrote. “The attempt should be exposed for the sake of the millions of people here and abroad who still take seriously the democratic slogans enunciated during the war.”

NATO was founded to address a specific historical moment, but its strategic purpose since that moment passed has never been entirely clear. On the group’s 10th anniversary, in 1959, the English historian Geoffrey Barraclough wrote in these pages that NATO’s future was in doubt. “Even its warmest upholders are conscious of its shortcomings,” Barraclough observed. “World conditions have changed in fundamental ways since NATO was formed in 1949”—notably, with Joseph Stalin’s death—“but the organization has not changed with them.”

In 1995, when Washington’s foreign-policy “Blob” seized on the end of the Cold War as an opportunity to expand rather than wind down the pact, Nation writers warned—loudly and often—that such a step would only make everyone less secure. “A revival of East-West conflict along the lines of the Cold War is hardly inevitable,” Matthew Evangelista wrote. “But few geopolitical decisions would encourage it more than expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe. If the Clinton administration insists on enlarging NATO, it runs a serious risk of rupturing relations with Moscow, a break that could be disastrous at a time when democratic reformers in Russia already face the distinct possibility of being overwhelmed by the forces of the past.”

Two years later, Sherle Schwenninger laid out “The Case Against NATO Enlargement.” Expanding NATO, he warned, would set back nuclear disarmament efforts and hinder reconciliation. Given that Russia was not consulted in the decision to swell NATO right up to its borders, Schwenninger noted in one haunting passage, “Russian nationalists could reasonably ask…why should Moscow allow the United States to have a say in areas bordering Russia and in its sphere of influence?”

Thank you for reading The Nation!

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that moves the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories to readers like you.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Thank you for your generosity.

Richard Kreitner

Richard Kreitner is a contributing writer and the author of Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union. His writings are at www.richardkreitner.com.

More from The Nation

Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas

Impeach Samuel Alito! Impeach Clarence Thomas! Impeach Samuel Alito! Impeach Clarence Thomas!

Corrupt insurrectionists have no place on the Supreme Court.

Jeet Heer

Gabrielius Landsbergis takes part in protest

Georgia Dreaming: Is Another Color Revolution About to Kick Off? Georgia Dreaming: Is Another Color Revolution About to Kick Off?

Ten years after the massive street protests that overthrew Ukraine’s president—and helped precipitate war with Russia—another former Soviet Republic teeters on the brink.

Vadim Nikitin

Tanya Haj-Hassan at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, on March 16, 2024.

What It’s Like on the Front Lines of Gaza’s Hospital Hell What It’s Like on the Front Lines of Gaza’s Hospital Hell

Talking to Dr. Tanya Haj-Hassan.

Mary Turfah

Since the 12th century, Kagbeni has been the “gateway” to the ancient Tibetan Buddhist Kingdom of Lo.

In Nepal’s Mustang Region, Climate “Loss and Damage” Puts the Survival of a Tibetan Community in Question In Nepal’s Mustang Region, Climate “Loss and Damage” Puts the Survival of a Tibetan Community in Question

What climate change looks and feels like in the Himalayas.

Feature / Wen Stephenson

East Jerusalem Armenian Quarter

The Dubious Land Deal Threatening East Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter  The Dubious Land Deal Threatening East Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter 

In April 2023, the community learned that an Israeli real estate company would soon construct a hotel on one-fourth of their land. “Progressively, we will lose everything.”

StudentNation / Joshua Yang

The Invisible Lives of Israel’s Thai Workforce

The Invisible Lives of Israel’s Thai Workforce The Invisible Lives of Israel’s Thai Workforce

Manee Jirchat was one of the 31 Thai laborers kidnapped by Hamas on October 7. This is his story.

Feature / Timothy McLaughlin