A thought provoking and insightful article on the Times is a rare thing these days so congratulations to Michael Evans for his piece today on the future of NATO.
In Afghanistan, for example, it has 50,000 troops throughout the country, but where is its political voice? Is Nato now just a troop-providing alliance that takes the flak when things go wrong and sacrifices its men and women without having a real say on the way forward for the country? This is one reason why the campaign there faces stalemate. Even in military terms, the alliance is not acting as a cohesive force in Afghanistan; individual member states present the US commander of its International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) with a kaleidoscope of national caveats that limit military action.
In truth, this has always been the problem for NATO - it's just that during the Cold War it was never seriously put to the test - but as Evans points out, in recent years NATO has been used as a political tool rather than a military alliance. And as Evans points out, the problems for NATO are exacerbated by other considerations.
The United Nations and other international bodies are in the forefront of the political game in Afghanistan but Nato just sends troops.
I make no secret of my belief that the UN is a curse on the modern world. An organisation that has done nothing to earn the respect or authority which so many people seem to think it warrants, but that doesn't excuse NATO from accepting the role of second fiddle to the UN in Afghanistan. Evans goes on to make some important points about NATO expansion.
Nato is in no position to offer an Article 5 guarantee - an attack on one member is an attack on all - to Georgia or Ukraine; yet there are ideological members of the alliance who believe that this fundamental principle must apply whatever the circumstances. If enlargement remains a priority under Mr Obama, this increasingly high-risk guarantee will need to be put into a more realistic context.
NATO was an organisation which made sense at the time and, during that time, it was clearly an organisation which was limited by the geographical threat. The core principle was deterring an attack on Western Europe by the Soviet Bloc forces which vastly outnumbered those conventional forces which the west could muster against them. But times have changed and the threat to Western Europe no longer comes from the Russian Bear.
As Evans points out, if Georgia had been a member of NATO before the mini-war in South Ossetia NATO would have been compelled to act in her defence, but the reality of that war is that Russia was not the aggressor - Georgia was. That whole event was a narrow escape for NATO and one which should serve as a lesson to those who advocate expansion.
NATO has served its time and is no longer necessary in my view. What is necessary is a new global alliance between states that have similar roots - an Anglosphere Alliance that would include the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and, possibly, South Africa.
Such an alliance between states that have so much in common makes more sense to me than an alliance between a group of disparate states which are rooted in a different history and are far from stable.