The first section of the Berlin Wall is torn down on November 10, 1989.
Lazar Antic stands in front of his destroyed house in the town of Aleksinac, 124 miles south of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, on April 6, 1999, where a NATO attack killed five civilians and injured at least 30 others.
As heads of state and foreign ministers descend on McCormick Place for the May 20–21 North Atlantic Treaty Organization confab, so too comes the great debate about NATO. The military alliance was formed in 1949 by the U.S., Canada and ten European countries largely to defend North America and Western Europe from Soviet attack. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has grown to 28 member countries and become arguably more offensive, engaging in conflicts in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War in 1999, in Libya last year and, through 2014, in Afghanistan. So is NATO an international gang of thugs or a global peacekeeping force? We talked to people on both sides of the issue.
On NATO’s mission
“NATO’s mission is to prevent war. And when it’s not able to prevent war, to intervene to make it end as quickly as possible. Frederick II of Prussia described it like this: Diplomacy without weapons is like an orchestra without instruments.”—J.D. Bindenagel, former U.S. ambassador to Germany, DePaul University vice president for community, government and international affairs
“NATO is a military bloc that describes itself as a force for peace, security, democracy, goodness and justice. But it’s a military bloc. A military organization exists for one reason: to wage war.”—Rick Rozoff, author of the blog Stop NATO
On NATO’s post–Cold War relevance
“It was originally founded to oppose the Soviet Union. But NATO has a collective defense mission regardless of whether there’s a Soviet Union. NATO is important as long as democracies of the world might be threatened by the forces that oppose them. And it has started to take on humanitarian intervention duties. We saw that in Kosovo.”—Joshua Seth Kleinfeld, assistant professor of law at Northwestern University and an expert on international law
“It would’ve made sense to retire NATO and dissolve itself after the Berlin Wall fell. The aggressive posturing of NATO since then has undermined the capacity of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and has cost many lives.”—Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for
“For 40 years, NATO prevented a great power war—with big powers like Russia—in Europe. Then on November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and a peaceful revolution swept across East Germany.”—Bindenagel
“On September 12, 2001, a day after America was attacked by terrorists, it was able to call on its NATO allies to act.”—Kleinfeld
“In the case of Yugoslavia in 1999, NATO went to war without U.N. authorization. That’s the point at which NATO goes from a strictly defensive organization operating to protect its member-states’ territory to an active war-making organization.”—Rozoff
“NATO’s current campaign in Afghanistan. It’s a use of military force on a large scale that has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths.”—Bradford Lyttle, founder of Midwest Pacifist Center
On the selectivity of NATO intervention
“It’s not necessary for NATO to decide all the wars in the world. If the United Nations had invited NATO into Rwanda during the genocide there, I’m sure NATO would’ve responded. It never happened.”—Bindenagel
“NATO did nothing during the Cambodian genocide. In the ’50s, France, a NATO member, was butchering Algerians. NATO didn’t question that. NATO didn’t see its own self-interest served in intervening in the Rwandan genocide. So NATO’s mission is not as much about saving lives as much as its reps tell us.”—Ahmed Rehab, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations Chicago
Hopes for the summit
“The United States is signing an agreement for a ten-year partnership with Afghanistan [through 2024]. So what does that mean for the U.S. and NATO? Reconstruction and stabilization operations? Helping train the police and the military to maintain order?”—Bindenagel
“I hope there will be a plan on the Arab Spring. Especially with regard to Syria—I hope there would be more action taken in terms of a fly zone and safe passage for humanitarian supplies.”—Rehab