The ceremony, held on April 2, 2004 at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, was as formal as boring. The Ministers of Foreign Relations of its member nations attended the flag hoisting ceremony of the new seven members: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. The photo session and the press conference were held later and they all followed the protocol under the worried look of the invited Russian Federation.

This lack of enthusiasm reflects the concerns of part of the members of the alliance as well as those of the Russian Federation who are wondering about the organization’s use. The North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) was created by the U.S. in order to mobilize its vassals against the Soviet Union which created its own coalition too, the Warsaw Pact. But, after the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, NATO has been enlarged twice.

In November 2002, after the Prague Summit, NATO embraced the American jargon on the new threats of the XXI Century: terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But this is a senseless propagandistic formula. Instead of being an enemy, terrorism is a way of acting which is more frequently adopted by states than by non-state groups. Despite the rhetoric, the proliferation of WMD is not a threat because the U.S. is its main scatterer. Among the “weapons of mass destruction”, cheap gasses and modern atomic bombs are included. This is why all these are meaningless from a military perspective.

Recently, the Pentagon tried to convince NATO of adopting new doctrine elements such as “preventive war”. But after failing in Iraq’s stabilization, this has been left behind.

To defend the “common values” is a widely used phrase among NATO members though their existence is very unlikely. It is used in official documents to talk about a “democratic political system based on a market economy” which is a very limited formula.

There is a non-written rule that reflects NATO’s spirit: “To keep the U.S. in, Russians out and Germans under thumb”. This is why the Central and Eastern European states joined the organization, that is, to protect themselves from their extremely powerful neighbors, Moscow and Berlin.

This is the reason why some new member states are so proud of the step they have taken. In Romania, for instance, President Ion Iliescu ordered the hoisting of NATO’s flag in the Parliament and eliminated the “Soviet step” from its armed forces. The Primer Minister of Bulgaria, prince Simeon de Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, covered the facade of the former communist party’s headquarters with a huge NATO flag.

For Washington, NATO represents an immediate advantage that can be used according to four strategic options.

By now, the demand of armament compatibility allows the U.S. to force the new members to buy American material to be paid in the long term due to low interest loans. Somehow, this disturbs the meetings of Heads of States and Government of the alliance member nations because everybody thinks about the intrinsic beauty of the weapons that must be bought.

NATO’s first task could be to contain Russia, as done with the Soviet Union. In this case, the inclusion of Central and Easter European states is quite helpful. On the other hand, several agreements on military cooperation signed with countries from Central Asia like Georgia and Uzbekistan should besiege Russia. The demise of the Soviet Union must be completed with the demise of the Russian Federation through the stimulation of every centrifugal trend, such as Chechnya’s secession.

Another strategic option could be turning NATO into an internal police. In 2004, the Atlantic Alliance acted as a police force during Athens Olympic Games and the Soccer World Cup in Portugal. Washington proposes the inclusion in its military general staff of anti-terrorist police bodies of NATO’s members. The reform of the Treaty, adopted at NATO’s 50th Anniversary Summit, includes the alliance participation in the “drug war” carried out by the White House against Colombia and some other countries.

NATO could also guarantee the security of common spaces which is a mission nobody is responsible for, though the U.S. has been working on this after WWII. Nowadays, the Atlantic alliance imposes its law in the Mediterranean.

Finally, a fourth possibility could be to systematically substitute United Nations intervention forces by NATO’s in every peripheral conflict to prevent the U.S. from justifying its actions before the Security Council. NATO attacked Yugoslavia without a mandate even though it had it to stabilize Afghanistan. The alliance wanted to intervene in Iraq and Haiti.

However, several obstacles hold these back. First, Belgium, Germany and France opposed the alliance participation in Iraq’s invasion. And even Turkey, which seemed to be ruled by a military class commanded by the Pentagon, decided to democratically block the operations of the Atlantic Alliance’s military bases in its territory and prohibited the use of its airspace. Therefore, the coalition had to change its invasion plan by delaying the attack and deploying part of its forces at additional costs.

Second, for 50 years the U.S. unsuccessfully tried to force Europeans to develop an autonomous military capacity to ease its budget and, above all, to guarantee that in a conflict against the USSR the battlefield would be restricted to the European territory. But, once the Soviet threat disappeared the American project was taken up again by European Union big powers, including the United Kingdom, to become independent of Washington. Nevertheless, things are more complicated because none of NATO’s member states can do this without facing real consequences. The United Kingdom is a vivid example. Great Britain has the best army in Europe but its nuclear capacity depends on the U.S. and it would lose it if it becomes independent of the U.S. Then, London would be force to accept a preeminent French military presence and the whole regional balance would be affected.

In certain ways, Belgium, Germany and France are organically linked to the U.S. through several intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations. Despite the general assumption, Belgium and Germany were the first states to question the Bush Administration’s unilateralism, though they could not go further. France was passive at the beginning and only joined them when it felt like a leader. Therefore, the whole thing is very fragile and complicated.

Only Turkey was able to assume the cost of dissenting. In spite of being presented as a politically archaic and Islamic country, Turkey has been NATO’s only state which democratically debated the war issues and decided to oppose it. This was an effective decision for it was popularly acknowledged. But Turkey’s only important role for NATO is linked to its particular strategic context related to Iraq. The centre of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey is still paying for its defeat during WWI and has not been admitted yet to the European Union.

Since vassals’s dependence is always present, last week the U.S. got rid of some unrewarding peace keeping missions in Bosnia that were undertaken by Europeans, though the U.S. is still responsible for capturing war criminals. This means that people who might accuse American soldiers will not be arrested. Just keep in mind that the U.S opposes the principles of the International Penal Court.

On the other hand, Washington would like to export NATO’s model to other regions. During the Cold War, the U.S had a similar pact with Australia and New Zealand (ANZUS) [1]. There is also a collective intelligence system known as ECHELON between those countries, the United Kingdom and Canada. Finally, the U.S. and Canada have an agreement on the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

The idea of a new Pact has been accepted by the states involved but the Pentagon must still define whether to include all Anglo-Saxon states -despite their geographical gap- or to maintain a difference between the Pacific and North America which includes Mexico too. In both cases, the United Kingdom would be a member state of two alliances, including NATO, and this would confirm its role as second in command after the U.S. In a recent meeting held in Calgary by the end of March, nothing was agreed upon.

By considering these conditions, it is still possible to exert some external influence on NATO’s evolution -something the Russian Federation has kept in mind-. On April 7, after being invited to an antiterrorist conference in Norfolk, Russia’s Minister of Defense, Igor Ivanov said : «You can count on our serenity (regarding NATO’s expansion), though we oppose it ».

On his part, President Vladimir V. Putin invited his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, to Krasnoznamensk Space Center where, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, he was shown Russia’s advances on antimissile missiles as a real defense against American armament. The president and the German Foreign Minister Gerhard Schroder had met some time before.

The idea of a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis, though unfeasible in the short or medium term, complicates the Atlantic projects because it came up during the Iraqi crisis.

[1ANZUS: a mutual security pact also known as Pacific Security Treaty