As NATO folks arrive and start chatting in Chicago, I am struck by the wonderful ambivalence that always occurs when the topic NATO appears. Some folks say we should expand NATO or replicate NATO while others ponder why NATO endures and whether its time is at an end. Today, I want to focus on the former--NATO is so good, let's create NATO's elsewhere.
For instance, we have Robert Haddick saying "The Persian Gulf Needs Its Own NATO." What does that mean? How does the concept translate without breaking? Well, that depends on what we mean by NATO: a thorough institutionalization of multilateral military cooperation? An agreement that an attack upon one is equal to an attack upon all? What makes NATO NATO? What is its essence that is so desirable? NATO is definitely not built to keep down rebellions, which seems to be the Persian version's raison d'etre, yes? Indeed, one of the rules for NATO membership, which is violated only rarely (Greece and Turkey before, Hungary now) is democracy. Democracy tends to have far less need for and use of repression, so NATO has never been imagined to be used to put down dissent in any member. NATO members also have much more state capacity than the average victim of the oil curse (whether the curse exists or not, state capacity in Gulf is pretty limited).
If the idea is to cement the American commitment to the area, a P-ATO is both unnecessary and about to become obsolete. That is, the US will defend countries in the Gulf now because it has strong interests there, so a multilateral treaty is unnecessary; and the US will not be interested in defending folks in the region in perpetuity because with the rise of other sources of oil and with other energy sources besides oil, the Gulf will eventually decline in relevance in a way that Europe will not so much.
Fundamentally, there is a reason why various regions do not have X-ATO's and the North Atlantic does: folks have tried and failed. Remember SEATO? ANZUS is just the three and cannot be expanded, because the members, the
US, Australia and New Zealand, cannot agree to the defense of some
other country or countries. The US has an interest in developing a multilateral security organization that commits the US to its defense in one place--Europe. It has an interest in something similar in Asia, but that is not going to happen because the Asian countries have not gotten over their histories as well as the Europeans. South Korea will not commit to the defense of Japan and vice versa. We can think of all of the other possibilities, but one of the things that makes NATO special is the generic language in Article V--an attack on any one is an attack on all. Of course, countries can and have disagreed about what that response should be, but name me a spot on the earth where all of the folks there can credibly agree to mutual defense?
One could argue that failures to form enduring alliances are failures of political will. But that means nothing since we would need to explain the presence or absence of this will thing.
Update: For another set of criticisms of Haddick's piece from a different angle, see Caitlin FitzGerald's piece at Gunpower and Lead.