FOR an organisation that has maintained peace in Europe for 70 years, Nato’s birthday celebrations this week were curiously muted.
Considering the wars, bloodshed and human rights atrocities that characterised Europe in the years before the trans-Atlantic alliance was founded in 1949, Nato has proved to be a stupendous success and we should be hanging up the bunting and throwing street parties in celebration.
Instead all we got was a bad tempered summit in the insalubrious surroundings of Watford, characterised by squabbles about money and Turkey’s military action in northern Syria.
No doubt the low point was when the Canadian premier Justin Trudeau, Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Boris Johnson were overheard giggling and gossiping about Donald Trump like a gaggle of overgrown schoolboys.
These people are supposed to be in charge of our security. Heaven help us! The architects behind the original Nato treaty – deeply serious thinkers such as US President Harry Truman and Clement Attlee’s Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin – must be spinning in their graves at the shallowness of modern politicians.
The US President, never one to take a personal slight lightly, reacted to the insult by calling off a press conference and departing in something of a huff, pausing only to call Trudeau “two-faced”, which, to be fair, seems entirely justified.
Despite the silliness of some of our leaders, Nato’s contribution to peace and prosperity in Europe cannot be overstated. From the 18th century onwards, the continent’s history was characterised by short periods of uneasy peace punctuated by destructive wars and revolutions, culminating in the catastrophic conflicts of 1914 and 1939.
Nato, the most successful military and diplomatic alliance the world has seen, has changed that dismal history and it has done so from a position of strength. Some Euro-fanatics like to pretend that the EU is responsible for peace in Europe, but this is fanciful.
To put it bluntly Joe Stalin and his successors would not be discouraged from aggression by a stiff letter of complaint from the likes of Jean-Claude Juncker or Donald Tusk.
No, the only language the Soviet Union and Russia have ever understood is the power of brute force. What stopped their tanks rolling westwards across Europe was the threat of immediate retaliation from Nato’s conventional and nuclear forces, and in particular the military might of the United States.
We should thank Nato not just for keeping the people of Western Europe safe, but also for its role in liberating millions of Eastern Europeans from the poverty and oppression of despotic socialism after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
That is just one reason of many why the thought of Jeremy Corbyn entering Downing Street is so terrifying. One thing’s for sure, Vladimir Putin will be cracking open the vodka if Labour wins the election next week.
Of course our peace and security has to be paid for – and that is where the trouble lies.
Most European countries have been happy to prosper under Nato’s security umbrella, but have refused to pay their fair share for it, leaving it mostly to American taxpayers to foot the bill.
Only nine of Nato’s 29 member countries, including the UK and the US, have hit the target of spending two per cent of GDP on defence. For example comparatively rich countries such as France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada have all fallen woefully behind.
This has been a source of contention for Trump ever since his 2016 election – and he has a point. Why should a US taxpayer in New Mexico pay for the security of rich German living 20 miles from the eastern border?
At least Trump’s numerous complaints appear to have had some beneficial results. According to Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg this week, £100bn has been added to defence budgets of Nato member countries since 2016 and a further £337bn is expected by 2024.
This is good news because we should never take our safety for granted. Perhaps 70 years of peace has lulled the current generation into a false sense of security. But in fact, with the world rapidly changing and new threats emerging constantly, we need Nato more than ever.