Why the U.S. is so keen on NATO

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Justin Trudeau at the NATO summit in Brussels this month. Image credit: The Office of the Prime Minister

Former French Ambassador to the U.S. Gérard Araud described the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a hammer looking for a nail. This was diplomatic language for saying NATO -- the military alliance between 30 European and North American countries -- had no reason to exist.

Originally conceived to block Soviet expansionism, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant the collective security alliance was no longer needed.

Yet, decades later, the U.S. proclaims international security requires military readiness on the part of the NATO membership.

The most recent NATO summit in Brussels saw the U.S. calling for each member state to devote the equivalent of two per cent of its GDP to military spending. Currently 11 of the 30 NATO members spend more than 2 per cent on the military. The U.S. spends over $800 billion on "defence," amounting to 3.52 per cent of GDP.

Arms expenditures by member states are directed to NATO approved weaponry, the speciality of American arms merchants.

NATO is useful to the entire military industrial complex that plays such a key role in the American political economy. Senators and key congressional figures receive funds for re-election campaigns from the main military armaments manufacturers. This makes them supporters of NATO.

The expansion of NATO to former Warsaw Pact countries -- an eastern block of countries including the Soviet Union established during the Cold War to counter NATO -- was triggered by arms makers seeing a decline in their business. This occurred despite a solemn undertaking to Russia by former U.S. president George H.W. Bush that there would be no such expansion following the reunification of Germany.

Arms manufacturers convinced U.S. president Bill Clinton to break the American pledge to Russia. Of course, the move heightened tensions with Moscow, making Russia look like more of a threat than before.

NATO took on new members formerly in the Russian sphere of influence: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999; Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004; Albania and Croatia in 2009; Montenegro in 2017; and, North Macedonia in 2020.

Russians naturally interpreted the expansion of NATO as threatening its security. President Vladimir Putin was able to exploit growing anxieties among Russians to consolidate power.

Currently, in what amounts to a direct provocation of Russia, NATO recognizes three aspiring members: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine.

Over the years NATO has been useful to U.S. presidents, not for any particular military purpose, but as the incarnation of American hegemony -- with all the influence over international affairs that implies. 

America's nuclear capacity was brandished as a guarantee of European security, but it doubled as an instrument of persuasion with European leaders in international institutions, and bilaterally on a host of issues such as trade, commerce, and investment. 

Survey data shows large numbers of Europeans -- like other citizens around the world -- see the U.S. as the biggest threat to world peace. However, European leaders prefer not to publicly criticize U.S. foreign policy, much less denounce the U.S. for unnecessary military spending.

The Obama administration undertook a much publicized "pivot to China" having decided that China's stellar economic performance constituted a threat to American hegemony.

The result was that China moved to establish closer relations with Russia, signing long-term contracts for the delivery of Russian gas and the construction of pipelines between the two countries.

China has doubled down in its efforts to improve economic relations with emerging market economies through the belt and road initiative, committing some $4.2 trillion in infrastructure lending. 

The response by the Biden administration was unveiled at the recent G7 meeting: the "Build Back a Better World" or B3W programme to promote co-operation on infrastructure projects.

Beginning in the 1960s, discussions on international affairs have turned around the idea that concerted action on common security issues needed to supplant military spending for national security.

NATO has been a major obstacle to moving beyond military spending, and instead attacking climate change, the deteriorating environment, social and global inequalities and health issues.

While now making symbolic moves to recognize the reality of climate change, the role of NATO remains the same: act as an instrument of American foreign policy, promote the American arms industry, and leave the U.S. dominating its allies in international policy.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image credit: The Office of the Prime Minister

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.