From time to time the proposal for a “global NATO” appears on the table: that is, the extension of NATO’s “jurisdiction” to the global scale.
According to this idea, NATO and its members would have the mission of ensuring peace and security globally. Indeed, it has been moving in that direction. In recent years, NATO has intervened in Afghanistan, trained security forces in Iraq, provided logistical support to the African Union mission in Darfur, assisted in tsunami relief efforts in Indonesia, transported supplies to victims of Hurricane Katrina in the United States, and to victims of a major earthquake in Pakistan.
NATO already has nine “global partners” with whom the Alliance cooperates on an individual basis – Afghanistan, Australia, Colombia, Iraq, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, and Pakistan. As stated on NATO’s website, “NATO’s engagement with global partners is becoming increasingly important in a complex security environment, where many of the challenges the Alliance faces are global and not bound by geography.” NATO’s practical cooperation with its global partners includes cross-cutting global challenges such as cyber defense, maritime security, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, non-proliferation, and defense science and technology. And there is no doubt that many of today’s security challenges are no longer bound by geography, such as challenges in outer space, cyberspace, or relating to climate change.
But it is worth recalling that NATO was created to contain the risk of Soviet military expansion and aggression against Western Europe. What remains of this threat is a country with an economy slightly larger than Spain’s but substantial armed forces that can still destabilize Europe and the world, as seen in the recent invasion of Ukraine.
It is still claimed that the legitimacy of an active interventionist role for the leading members of the alliance in other parts of the world far removed from the North Atlantic is based on a preventive posture towards dangers such as global terrorism or so-called “systemic threats.” However, this has no basis in the UN Charter. In any case, to meet these threats it would be more appropriate to use new alliances in other parts of the globe.
The world is gradually becoming multipolar. The international competition between powers with strong nationalist political leaderships is fostering a new arms race between the major emerging powers, out of proportion to the real threat to their security. This trend should be reversed and it is important for the US and the EU to exert their influence to that end. Unfortunately, as we have seen during Obama’s presidency, even when there seems to be political will to move in that direction, the power of the military-industrial complexes is greater. Their interests prevail even though it is clear that the world does not need so many weapons; on the contrary, it needs fewer.
The willingness of the major Western powers to use their military hard power to coerce other parts of the world is invoked by Russia on its unlawful aggression of Ukraine and sets a dangerous precedent for the future. If in two or three decades we see squadrons in the South Atlantic under the aegis of the Shanghai Organization – or another organization that has been formed in the meantime by new emerging powers, particularly Asian ones – let us remember the precedent set by NATO at the beginning of the 21st century.