Throughout its history, mankind has certainly undergone very many hardships. One of the greatest problems humanity had to face were certainly military conflicts which often degenerated into serious wars, causing the death of tens of thousands, even millions of people, most of them innocent and unwilling participants of war.
At the beginning, wars were more “ humane”, due to the fact that there were no mass murders or nation cleansing. Unfortunately, nowadays, humanity is more and more threatened by a nuclear war. Nobody knows whether on some bad day one or the other of the “ big guys” in Washington, Moscow, Beijing and who knows where else might be tempted to make a completely new experiment and undergo a completely new experience. Atomic tests have already been performed by many of the so-called democratic nations, like the United States or France. And indeed, that is the sad side of the democracies: they can be the worst forms of organization, yet, paradoxically, there is no better alternative. One should not forget that Hitler, for instance, came to power due to democratically held elections. We all know the results of power abuse, which might be enforced by anyone else beside Hitler.
In order to maintain a certain degree of stability, great powers have been seeking to make alliances and consolidate their positions. The situation was very shaky and until after the Second World War, the power seemed to switch among many combatants. After the Second World War, the world was divided into two major parts: the West and the East. The West included all of Western Europe and first and foremost the United States of America, which had emerged as the major victor from the Second World War. On the other side, there was all of Eastern Europe, with the Soviet Union as the major mover and shaker on the political fore- and background. Although the West and the East had, with the exception of Germany and its allies, very well fought together against the Nazis, after the Second World War, this co-operation would be impossible. The two doctrines were too different and few people know exactly what led to the division of Europe. Some people are blaming Stalin’ s policy, while others believe that the Americans are largely to blame, due to the fact that they wanted to isolate the Soviets in order not to be forced to fuel them with hard cash and thus prevent a much too powerful Soviet Union.
Besides, the Korean War as well as the War of Vietnam spoke for this theory.
In order to “maintain the world order”, weapons had to talk again. The Cold War and the Iron Curtain crippled many hopes.
One thing was very clear: the old allies were to become bitter enemies.
1. The Stage is Set
The major opponents of the Cold War were the United States of America and the Soviet Union. It appears naturally that each of them was eager to build a military organization that would defeat the enemy’ s military strength if needed. The Soviet Union created the Pact of Warsaw that included the military forces of the Soviet Union as well as the forces of its satellite countries from Eastern Europe. The main problem with the Warsaw Pact was that the West did not like it at all due to the fact that the former allies had suddenly become a threat to the western world. Yet, we must not forget that the Warsaw Pact was created after NATO had already been founded and the Soviets did not regard the westerners as their friends, either.
The foundation of NATO took place in 1949, and among the first members we should remember the United States, Great Britain and even West Germany.
NATO had to be viewed both in the context of that time as well as in the context of the political developments which were taking place back then and are very likely to take place even nowadays. The threat of an almighty Soviet Union, the problems in Eastern Europe as well as the blockade of Berlin made the major western powers realize that a military alliance was needed to keep the Soviets in check and make them aware of the fact that they had to confront a united west.
Unfortunately, due to these animosities on both sides, a long period of mutual mistrust and isolationism followed. This period is known as the Cold War. It has been told on so many occasions and it was so widely used, that you can even find the term “Cold War” as an entry in the dictionary. The period of the Cold War was maybe one of the worst of modern Europe, with the people of the United States as well as those of the former Soviet Union watching programs explaining what to do in case of a nuclear attack. The real problems were looked at from different points of view. On one hand, westerners blamed the Soviet Union due to the fact that it was imposing a rule of the iron fist, taking more and more fundamental human rights into derision and completely subduing satellite countries; on the other hand, the Soviet Union accused the westerners of imperialistic behavior and the United States in particular of the tendency to dominate all of western Europe. And, of course, the major problem was Germany, each of the two sides trying to infiltrate as many agents as possible via this extremely essential country, which was to play a major role in the years to follow, due both to its geographical situation and its formidable economic power, owed to an extremely wise and hard-working people. If at the end of the war, in 1945, Germany had been completely destroyed by bombings and terrestrial military interventions, by 1949, West Germany was already impressing the world and emerging as an important world power, due to the Marshall Plan and its benefic results. On the 23rd of May, 1949, West Germany had already given itself a new and democratic Constitution, which is still in effect today. Even more, Germany’s Constitution served as an example for other countries, too. This was a paradoxical situation: on one hand, a former enemy of the United States and western Europe was about to become one of its major pillars while on the other hand, the Soviet Union, a former and very precious ally, had become a feared enemy.
The problems had just started and the Soviet Union made it very clear that it wanted to hold the reins of power at least in Eastern Europe. But it seems that the United States were confronted at a certain moment even with the problem of being destroyed, due to the fact that the Soviets had built an atomic fleet, which was to carry several atomic bombs and drop them over the U.S. territory. Out of more than fifty airplanes, only eight had to reach their targets. The United States would have been destroyed. The initial plan had been of sending the famous Chechen Dudaev to complete this horrible mission, but thanks to peace negotiations, a nuclear Holocaust did not take place so far.
Then, in 1956, the Hungarians revolted against their country’s Communist regime. The Hungarian people wanted the enlargement of their liberties and the installation of a new and democratic government. The Soviets, at the request of the Hungarian Communists, intervened and crushed the Revolution. Many Hungarians were arrested and many were killed. Yet, although Hungarian resistance had been crushed, the Red Army was not able to completely defeat the Revolution. The authorities were forced to relax the policy and to become more lenient on laws and fundamental liberties.
In 1968, the former Republic of Czechoslovakia underwent the same experience as Hungary had twelve years ago. The Czechoslovakian people was boiling with anger against the Communist regime, in fact, it had been boiling ever since the events from 1948, when the Soviets had allegedly killed Masaryk, one of the most prominent Czechoslovakian leaders of his time. The Soviets intervened as they had done in Hungary and Czechoslovakian resistance was crushed. But the policy was also relaxed.
It is notable that in both cases, NATO had not intervened. And one might ask himself why. Because NATO does not mean - at least in theory - only defending the territories of member states, but also defending democracy and justice, as well as securing economic wealth and a stabile political regime. Of course, we have to think by the spirit of the time and we cannot blame anybody, because there are always people who command and people who execute the orders. If an American leader decided not to intervene, one cannot blame the American nation for failing to deliver support to a Communist state who wanted to break free from the former Soviet Union.
And we should not forget about the fact that NATO was still at its beginning. There was no such solidarity among its members as there is today. A possible response from any of the members or NATO itself could have meant the end of mankind. Soviet military leaders were not exactly soft when it came to defend the interests of the Soviet Union as well as Communist ideology in general. Ties between the Soviets and the Chinese were constantly tightening, and the Soviet Union could not afford to show any “weakness” at all. People from Western Europe were very afraid of a nuclear war and the possibility of a Holocaust was very real indeed. This fact materialized especially during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. Cuba had been a faithful ally of the Soviet Union and, according to nowadays knowledge of facts, the Communist state had provided the Soviets with very many information concerning American military tactics, weaponry and intelligence. The Americans were not exactly happy knowing that they had a virtual nuclear power at their backdoor. When the Soviets tried to deploy their missiles in Cuba, president John Fitzgerald Kennedy threatened to push the red button and thus to lead to the outbreak of the nuclear war. One of the greatest dangers humanity had to face so far was finally averted when Hrushchov ordered his soldiers to refrain from their already-in-progress nuclear activities. But even though the Americans had won a fight, they had by far not won the battle yet. They were to be confronted with far more serious hardships. And many lives were to be lost only due to either bad leadership, veneration of war or merely due to imperialistic dreams.
2. NATO in the 70es
Although the 70s brought a relatively calm period, the Vietnam War shook America. Thus, NATO came indirectly into conflict with Communist regimes, not only that of Northern Vietnam, but as well as with those of the Soviet Union and China. America’s wish to impose its rule in Asia brought many hardships and pain. After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, America literally took over the hegemony in Vietnam. But unfortunately, either due to a bad policy or to obscure political interests, the Americans failed to fight efficiently against the Communist armies. First of all, the Americans did not bring in all their troops at once, but kept pouring them in as they were needed. The trouble was that the Communists did not really care about casualties or other human-related problems like piranha-infested rivers, loss of property, millions of refugees. They wanted to win at all costs and they were strongly supported by the Soviets who delivered weapons as well as intelligence. The Chinese government supported the Vietnamese despite a conflict with the Communist state in the 1960es over the Trung Sa (Spratlies) islands. At a certain moment, Chinese and Soviet pilots took over the plains from the Vietnamese air force whose pilots had been either killed or no longer able to fly. Only much later the truth as to who the real enemies of the Americans had been came to surface.
The war cost the Americans more than 55.000 human lives as well as a huge amount of hard cash. The Vietnamese had lost over 3 million people and they also had to see their land destroyed by bombings. It was a said image, which was to feed the hatred of the Vietnamese against the Americans for a long time to come.
The Americans had lost a battle but they certainly wanted to win the war. Thus, they tried to establish better relationships to other anti-Communist countries. They were so hardened against the Communists, that they would have done anything to stop them. Even small islands, also known as banana - countries, were supported in order to let Americans deploy their weapons there. No one knows how many secret affairs have been in progress ever since the Cold War. But many dirty businesses have been already unveiled.
Paradoxically, the 1970s brought a period of relative calm and peaceful negotiations to NATO. The Soviet Union and the United States engaged into peace talks, which were aimed to reduce the number of nuclear missile heads. But this period was also marked by unfortunate events. In Greece, a military regime came to power, a regime that literally forced Greece’s withdrawal from NATO. It is possible that the Soviets had wanted to have a military ally and offer Greece a relative stability in exchange for Greece leaving NATO. However, the Greek military regime did not last very long. Greece would soon join NATO again.
Another important factor in the development of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was the dispute between two of its members: Greece and Turkey. This was a very unpleasant surprise to NATO, as nothing was less desirable than an internal conflict. In 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus, claiming it to be its territory. Greece was angry and responded on the diplomatic way, freezing contacts with Turkey. Many believe that the two countries did not come to open conflict only due to their NATO membership. But the situation between them became very tense and it has not been significantly relieved. Even today, many animosities exist. Every draftee is required to serve for two years in the Greek army, in order to “maintain border safety”.
Taken into consideration that both countries have leaders who have been known to be hard-liners, the situation is rather shaky. On one hand, former leaders like Necmetin Erbakan or Tansu Ciller could have easily imposed a hard-line-policy which could have kept Turkey out of democratic institutions for a long time. Fortunately, the military successfully opposed them. On the other hand, Greek leaders are also known not to be lenient on “vital” affairs. At a certain moment, Greece had been trying to impose a complete no-fly zone for Turkish aircrafts over Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. When the Turks violated this restriction, the Greeks protested vehemently. In the end, the problem was settled, because it appeared absurd for the Turkish aircrafts not to be allowed to fly over some islands only because the airspace belonged to the Greeks.
But these are not the only problems NATO has to confront. As the organization is closely linked to the European Union, it could easily face a second serious problem. Turkey has been trying to join the European Union for a very long time, but it did not succeed in doing this so far. The European Union does not try to discriminate Turkey, but unfortunately, the Islamic state does not fulfil a lot of conditions which are absolutely necessary to become a member of the European Union. First of all, Turkey does not respect human rights and it is the only European state which still enforces the death penalty. This is certainly a remainder of the Islamic world. As we all know, the European Union highly resents the death penalty and it has quite recently forced Belgium to abolish it despite the fact that the death penalty had not been enforced in Belgium ever since 1914. In addition to this, Turkey does not fulfil a series of economic premises in order to become an EU-member. The situation is quite on the brink, especially now that Turkey is confronted with an unprecedented economic recession. The Islamic state went as far as proposing a deal to the EU: sparing the feared Kurd Ocalan’s life in exchange for EU-membership. Although the EU will not binge to this means of “being convincing” to accept a new member, it is a pity to see a NATO member trying to enforce its will by using means which are more often used by terrorist than democratic organizations.
3. NATO in the 80s
In the 80es, NATO was confronted again with serious problems. On one hand, there was the nomination of Ronald Reagan as president of the United States. He immediately adopted a policy that was not like the previous ones, bringing anger from the Soviet part. On the other hand, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The situation became very tense when the CIA fueled the Mujaheddin rebels with arms and ammunition. It was in fact an American pay-back for the War of Vietnam, when America had to fight against Soviet weapons.
An important conflict was that of 1982 in Argentina, when a member of NATO, the United Kingdom, engaged into war against the South-American state which had claimed the Falkland Islands as part of its national territory. The war did not last long, the United Kingdom reported the victory after an initial Argentine success. However, the war claimed a few hundred victims and it seems that it was more about British national ambitions than about a small piece of land. Margaret Thatcher was not in vain known as the “Iron Lady”. She could not tolerate a small state threaten her authority.
The Reagan administration agreed at first to reduce the strategic weapon’s arsenal and engaged into talks with Soviet leaders. But soon afterward, in 1983, the Reagan administration announced to try developing a satellite program by dint of which nuclear missiles could be destroyed by laser beams launched in space. If this was to be successful, the Soviet military program would have become futile. It is needless to say that the Soviets were very angry and they stopped any negotiations regarding the disarmament until 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachiov became the new leader of the Soviet Union. He immediately engaged into peace talks and due to his reforms, not only the talks were successful, but the Soviets started a completely new era with many developments and realizations. The Soviet Union undertook a reducement of its nuclear weapons and the peace process went on. The danger of a nuclear Holocaust was beginning to fade away, due to the fact that the Soviet Union soon broke apart. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved and the former Communist states that had formed it were set on the path of reform. Many former Communists are highly regarded nowadays due to the fact that they undertook reforms so necessary for a real market economy.
But the former states that had formed the Yugoslavian federation started demanding independence. Yet the only state which broke away peacefully was the republic of Slovenia. The other states - Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia were soon to engage into bitter and heavy fighting. The troubles started just after the death of the Serb leader - Josip Broz Tito. Tito had enlarged the fundamental freedoms and liberties of his people and of the people of the Yugoslavian federation. Serb citizens were highly regarded in western Europe, due both to their decisive contribution in the Second World War against Nazi Germany as well as to Tito and to the fact that the Serbs had been rather subject to the West than to the East. If somebody was to believe the understanding between Churchill and Stalin, Yugoslavia was to be 50% under Soviet rule. But Tito went much further. He very much resented the idea of collectivization, preferring small peasant farms. In addition to this, he did not tolerate Soviet agents within Yugoslavian structures of power. This soon led to misunderstandings between him and the Soviets, but Stalin could not risk a direct intervention, due to the fact that Tito was a highly regarded personality, very famous due to his period as a fighter in the resistance. He would have surely made a formidable adversary. Apart from this, he had been a very precious ally and was, as already mentioned, only to 50% under Soviet influence. Stalin could not risk instability in the Balkans, which might have led to a NATO intervention. He tried to economically subdue Tito. But the response of the latter was surely shocking to Stalin: Tito established a stronger connection to the West and obtained loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A new ally of NATO seemed to have been born. But it was just not to be.
4. NATO in the 90s
The 90s brought a completely new turn into the history of NATO. Nobody would have believed that the world could undergo such major crises as it has. On one hand, NATO was confronted with the Iraq, on the other hand, it had to intervene in the former republic of Yugoslavia. Very many people were to suffer, especially in the former Republic of Yugoslavia and the intervention of NATO became very questionable at a certain moment.
The Iraq was a different kind of story. Led by ambitions and maybe the wish of making himself famous, the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait in 1991. The invasion took place very quickly, the approximately 20.000 Kuwaiti soldiers being left aghast and completely exposed by the unprovoked and surprising attack which had been unleashed against them by the Iraqi forces. Saddam Hussein had never recognized Kuwait as an independent state. He had always regarded it as being one of his provinces, saying that “Kuwait belongs to Iraq and we will never give up fighting for it”. If one takes into consideration the war that ensued, he should believe the dictator’s words.
By the time Kuwait had been invaded by the Iraq, NATO had undergone a period of relative calm. No notable events had happened after 1989-1990, when many Communist regimes had been terminated, probably due to western help, too. But the Americans quickly issued an ultimatum to the regime from Baghdad. Under George Bush senior, a determinate Republican, America was to go to war again. The Iraqi regime did not even think of giving up Kuwait. On the contrary, it started warning the Americans not to involve themselves into a non-American war. Yet, as we all know, Americans hardly binge when it comes down to a fight they can test their weapons in.
In addition to this, very many questions arose as to the nature of the conflict. While NATO, spearheaded by the United States and the United Kingdom, sustained that the intervention incurred as a result of the breach of international laws and internationally recognized borders, many critics argued that NATO merely wanted to have more influence in the Arab world and that it was all about the precious oilfields Kuwait had to offer. Apart from this, new weapons could be tested on foreign soil. If Iraq was to be partly destroyed after the Iraqi soldiers’ flight from Kuwait, America could have furnished many materials in order to rebuild the country. Of course, the Iraq would not have, at least officially, willingly accepted merchandizes from the United States, but the black market was not foreign for Americans either. Besides, very many international corporations are being secretely backed by Americans. Kuwait was already highly regarding America, as its leaders would help the country become free again. Thus, America could be sure of having the possibility to tighten its relationship to Kuwait, of getting free oil for a very long time and to have the possibility of selling goods to the Arab state. Now, if we take all these things into consideration, we might very well ask ourselves whether NATO, or at least the United States, really stands for peace and justice. One might ask himself why the Americans did not recently intervene in order to liberate the Afghan people from the Taliban oppressors, especially after the latter ones destroyed a world art monument imaging Buddha. The whole set of values NATO stands for could change very quickly if principles are not being respected.
5. The Gulf War
The Iraqi conflict was maybe one of the most difficult and hard-fought ones in NATO history. In 1991, the American and British fighters started bombing Iraqi-held positions in Kuwait. The main objective of the fighters was to destroy Iraqi radar systems and to weaken the power of the Iraqi army in order to enable a terrestrial attack that should have had great chances of success. Or at least that is what the public was told. It is questionable whether the Americans really felt that it was necessary to bomb the Iraqis for weeks or they merely wanted to test their weapons and enable weapon manufacturers to earn an “honest penny”. However, the goals of the Americans were achieved, even if it happened after long and apparently hard-fought battles.
The Iraqis did not surrender as quickly as the Americans hoped. Saddam Hussein was not only eager to defend the new territory he had conquered, but also of involving Israel into the conflict, thus attempting to turn the battle into an Arab versus Israeli war. If he had succeeded in doing that, we could have assisted to a long-lasting battle the outcome of which would have been very unclear. Even if the Americans had won, the hatred between the Arabs and the Israeli would certainly not have faded away, as it has not up to this today. The worst scenario of all would have been to have turmoil between Israel and all the Arab countries. The United States could not risk to undergo such a crisis and then to have to defend Israel against the whole Arab world. We should remember the boycott of the Organization of Petrol Exporting Countries, when America was faced with maybe the worst petrol crisis throughout its history. Although America is very rich in petrol, it still relies on Arab countries, due to its huge industry. Taken into consideration all these facts, the Americans demanded from the Israelis to stay at all costs out of the war. Despite war-like declarations from part of many Israeli leaders like “the Iraq is going to regret for every finger it points at us” or “if they attack us with weapons they do not have, Israel is going to attack them with weapons it does not have”, the Jewish state managed not to get involved into the conflict. But Saddam Hussein did not like this at all. In order to force the Israelis to join the conflict, he started launching SCUD missiles against them. When a missile created a huge crater on impact, many Israelis feared that it was containing chemical substances. But Saddam Hussein was not prepared to risk a total war and had attacked by dint of conventional weapons. However, after these attacks, many Israelis wanted their state to engage into direct battle against the Iraq, a thing which would have certainly unleashed a catastrophe. In order to calm Israel down, the United States promised to regard Iraqi missile launching pads as a top priority in military action and they appear to have kept their word. But then, Saddam Hussein attacked Saudi Arabia as well. The Arab state had provided support to America and it had also allowed American and British fighter planes to use Saudi Arabian airspace and territory. One of the missiles launched against Saudi Arabia claimed over thirty victims. It was one of the major counter-attacks the Iraq had ever undertaken that far. Despite the fact that the Iraqi capital had been under constant bombardment, the Iraqi army proved to be a very tough one; the Americans seem to have been surprised by such a strong enemy. They did not think that the battle would last so long and had no alternative but to prepare for a ground attack.