Stephen Walt, writing in Foreign Policy, had some, and as a result, so do I.
Walt’s first thought concerns the actual content of NATO’s Article V: it’s not a tripwire for war. On this, he quoted the salient part of that Article [emphasis his]:
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence … will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area….
Then he emphasized his highlighted part:
Article 5 does not commit any of the parties to use military force, although the use of force is clearly an option. Rather, it calls upon all the parties to “assist” the members that were attacked, but it does not specify the precise form such assistance would take.
Fair enough. But his piece is downhill from here.
His second thought is that NATO is not a club and that there are no dues for membership.
Rather, each state decides how much it is willing and able to spend on defense, and the alliance as a whole tries (with varying degrees of success) to coordinate these defense preparations in order to produce a more capable force.
It’s true that there are no dues; however, each state, in deciding what it is willing and able to spend on defense, agreed with all of the other states—and they agreed this several years ago—to commit at least 2% of their GDP to NATO defense spending. Further, they also committed to spending the bulk of those 2% on upgrading and acquiring new equipment along with increasing the number of personnel (and training them) in their NATO-committed/earmarked forces.
Then Walt asserts that expanding NATO was a mistake.
NATO expansion poisoned relations with Russia and played a central role in creating conflicts between Russia and Georgia and Russia and Ukraine.
Not a bit of it. What poisoned relations with Russia was the rise of Vladimir Putin to power. Putin, recall, grew up in the old KGB, has said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical tragedy of historical proportion, and he’s been bent on restoring Russia to that empire preeminence from the start. Nothing NATO might have done would have nothing to do with Putin’s drive for Russian empire restoring building.
Nor is Putin’s acquisitiveness unsurprising in light of Bush the Elder’s alleged promise not to expand NATO “one inch eastward” following German reunification as Walt suggested. This suggestion is simply irrelevant since Bush made no such commitment. What he did commit to was to not move to expand reunified German economic power eastward.
Finally, Walt’s assertion that NATO is an anachronism. Quoting NATO’s first General Secretary General Hastings Lionel Ismay’s remark that the purpose of NATO was to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down, Walt claims that this is anachronistic with that collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia’s invasion, partition, and occupation of Georgia and Ukraine, its cyber attacks on each of the Baltic States, and its redeployment of nuclear weapons near Russia’s western border and into Kaliningrad demonstrate the error of the assertion. The error is compounded by Germany’s empirically demonstrated reluctance even to arm itself sufficiently to support NATO—there’s no nation here to keep down. The error is proven by America’s loud insistence that the member nations honor their 2% commitment, thereby showing our own interest in staying in.
Walt also tried to claim the irrelevancy of Russia in any event by insisting that
Russia is in fact a declining power that poses no threat to dominate Europe. Its population will decline over time, its median age is rising rapidly, and its economy remains mired in corruption and overly dependent on energy exports whose long-term value will probably go down as well. Remember, we are talking about a country whose entire economy—the ultimate foundation of national power—is smaller than Canada, South Korea, and Italy.
All of that is true, but those factors only emphasize the danger from Russia at the least in the near- and mid-term. That danger is illustrated by those invasions, cyber attacks, and nuclear weapons redeployments.