To What Extent is NATO Still Relevant in the 21st Century

3365 (7 pages)
Download for Free
Watch out! This text is available online and is used for guidance and inspiration
Download PDF

Introduction In 1949 a new military alliance was finalised bringing together 12 nations for mutual defence. However, now in the 21st century, the world has changed and it is time to re-evaluate NATO’s relevance. President Trump has already questioned the commitment of other countries to the alliance in the face of underspending and has shocked allies with a surprise withdrawal from Syria. In line with this global re-examination, I have decided to research the purpose of NATO and why it was formed in 1949, to evaluate its relevance in the 21st century. The object of this investigation is to explore the purpose of NATO and its role in the 20th century and how that translates into the 21st century.

By considering why NATO was formed and how the world has changed since then it allows for a detailed evaluation of the issue. I have chosen this topic because it is relevant, important and topical especially with rising tensions between the superpowers of the world. This topic is intriguing because it focuses on world security and how world powers work together to maintain peace. This topic is important internationally because of new threats emerging in the 21st century such as terrorism and cyber-attacks that require a combined effort to combat on a global and local scale. I will look at how NATO has operated in the 20th century, what is being done to update the organisation and public perception of the organisation to see if NATO is still relevant. Rationale An effective way to research my 1st aim would be to use the internet (secondary source) to gather information on why NATO was formed in the 20th century. This option would allow me to access a wide range of sources, collect detailed research and explore multiple viewpoints on the topic. While the internet allows me to analyse many sources, I will have to take into account the origin, the purpose and the author of the source to evaluate the reliability usefulness. This is a problem because anybody can post something online, so I will have to make sure the source is reliable with trusted information to further my investigation. I will use trusted websites for my secondary research such as the bbc news and any official website linked to my topic. I could use a primary source such as an interview or questionnaire, to gather information but that might be hard because my topic will require people with specific subject knowledge. Aim 1 is more suited to secondary sources because it requires facts and information rather than opinions, whereas primary research methods would be essential to gather opinions on a topic. I will collect my research for my 2nd aim by using a questionnaire to collect data on why NATO needs to change in the 21st century.

Primary research will mean I get accurate data relevant to my project and the local area around me. The problem with using a questionnaire for this topic is that people might have limited knowledge on this topic area, a solution to this problem would be to use an interview. This would allow me to gather specific opinions and primary research from the interviewee that I would not be able to obtain from a questionnaire. However, for my primary research, I will use a questionnaire as it will give me a range of opinions and statistics, as I would not be able to obtain statistics with an interview. This method will allow me to fulfil most of the aim but I might have to compliment my primary research with secondary research to meet the aim fully. I will use a range of open and closed question to gather a range of answers. This will allow me to analyse the data effectively and complete the aim. I will complete my third aim by collecting data from the internet, however this time I will specifically look for quantitative data, as it will allow me to more easily compare information to draw comparisons and answer the aim. This will allow for a different perspective on the issue and allow me to further my aim. The aim will also be supplemented by written documents as statistics don’t tend to give a broad view on the issue that written sources can supply. A wide view of the aim is needed because it will give a more complete answer. As with all secondary sources, I will have to be careful of bias and incorrect information as anyone is able to post something on the internet. By looking at the origin of the source I will be able to evaluate its reliability and in turn its usefulness in supporting my aim.

Aim 1 – Research the purpose of NATO in the 20th century and evaluate its effectiveness One of the main reasons for NATO’s formation was fear throughout Western Europe of an imminent attack from the USSR. An article was written by the Associated Press titled “A look at NATO and what the alliance does, past and present” was published on the 12th July 2018. The article outlines why NATO was formed and reveals the fear of the USSR. It describes how NATO started out mainly as a political alliance however when the “Soviets detonated an atomic bomb in 1949 and the Korean War broke out in 1950”, it grew into a stronger military alliance. A centralised headquarters was established and members committed joint military resources to safeguard Europe. A key part of the treaty is Article 5, that states that if “one member of the alliance is attacked in Europe or North America, it is to be considered an attack on all of them.” This means that is America is attacked by The Soviet Union with nuclear weapons Europe would have to respond in helping the United States of America. In the history of NATO, this article has only be triggered once, in 2001, after the 9/11 attack on America. The source is reliable as the Associated Press is a well known and trusted news outlet and on a media bias/fact checker the Associated Press is rated leased bias. This means that information is accurate and likely to be correct. The source might not be reliable because the writer has limited knowledge on the subject or because the source has a second purpose to entertain you, meaning that it might over exaggerate some facts to grab your attention. This is unlikely to be the case with this source as it is detailed explaining the subject in a clear and detailed way. The source is useful as it explains what NATO does and why it was formed, however, it is not as useful because it does not evaluate its effectiveness in the 20th century, therefore not completing the aim.

Another significant reason why NATO was formed, was to prevent the resurgence of nationalist militarism and to encourage political integration in Europe. After 2 world wars started by European countries, the world, especially the United States of America, was wary of a nationalist resurgence in Europe that could lead to another war. One way NATO achieves this goal is by implementing article 5. An article from NATO’s official website last updated on the 12th June 2018 and titled “Collective defence – Article 5” It outlines what article 5 is and how it affects the organisation. The source outlines that “Collective defence means that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.”, As a result of this, any attack against one NATO member is an attack against all of NATO, while this primarily acts as a deterrent for the Soviet Union, it also means that NATO members cannot attack other members. Therefore creating stability on the European for the first time since 1954. However, it can also be argued that the formation of the EU is also a key reason for bringing peace to Europe as it created an environment where countries could discuss and solve problems by talking rather than going to war. The source is reliable because it comes directly from NATO’s own website, however, it could be biased towards itself and anything to do with NATO.

The source is useful because it shows how far NATO is willing to go with collective defence and it shows how NATO views collective defence. The source is less useful because it does not reveal how NATO would implement article 5 if one country was attacked. Another reason it is not useful is that European peace can also be attributed to other factors such as the EU and America The purpose of NATO was to ensure peace and stability on the European continent while at the same time preventing all-out nuclear war. To a large extent NATO, the achieved this as the closest the world came to nuclear war was in 1962, with Cuban missile crisis, and apart from a ten-day war in 1952 when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, there has been no war in Europe since 1965. An infographic from a magazine titled NATO Review, In the wake of Iraq and published by NATO review. The infographic shows the annual average strength of each NATO members armed forces in 1990 and 2002. from this data, you can see that every NATO member in 1990 and 2002 has decreased the armed force strength apart from Greece and Turkey. This shows that since the end of the Cold War NATO force have decreased significantly. The main reason for this is most likely to be the end of the Cold War and as result members requiring fewer armed forces. Though as a result of this the European Continent has become accustomed to peace and it could indicate that public opinion of NATO decreasing as more and more people feel that NATO has served its purpose. This source is reliable because NATO Review has been reporting on NATO for sixty years and is a trusted news outlet. NATO review makes it clear on its website that it does not necessarily represent official opinion or policy of member governments, or of NATO. However, because this is a fact-based infographic it does not contain any opinions.

We will write a unique paper on this topic for you!
Place Order

*No hidden charges

A limit to the reliability is that the figures from 2002 are estimates based off 2001 figures and early 2002 estimates. This means the figures could be inaccurate but overall they would still show the same trend as the estimates. The source is useful because it shows how peace is affecting NATO in the form of armed forces. The sources usefulness is limited because it only shows the change up until 2002 rather than the present day. It would be more useful if it showed present day figures as you would be able to see the long term impact on NATO. This infographic suggests that NATO, to a high extent, achieved its purpose as it shows a reduction in armed forces across the majority of NATO. This means that NATO achieved its main purpose of peace and collective defence, resulting in fewer armed forces being required. The infographic shows that in 1990 the average strength of NATO was 5778 thousand armed forces, this reduced to 4400 in 2002. This is a significant reduction in armed forces of 1378 thousand armed forces. Overall NATO was extremely relevant before the turn of the century as it provided security on the European continent and provided an effective deterrent for the Soviet Union. However, NATO also had its own problems, with strained relations between the United States with Britain and France in 1956 and France’s withdrawal from NATO in 1966. Finally, NATO was relevant in the 20th century, however, if NATO is to remain relevant it will rely on the willingness of current and future members to contribute to the alliance. Aim 2 – Outline how is NATO adapting in the 21st century After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 some people said NATO had served its purpose and there was doubt if NATO would continue to function as it had during the Cold War. Twenty-eight years later NATO is still continuing to operate and shows no signs of becoming irrelevant.

A topic titled Operations and missions: past and present on NATOs official website highlights the current operation that NATO is conducting. NATO currently has approximately 20,000 military personnel engaged in current mission managing ground, air and naval operations. The organisation is currently leading operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Mediterranean, and in 2018 NATO initiated a training mission in Iraq, which aims at developing the capacity of Iraq’s security forces to stabilize the area. Furthermore, NATO is assisting with the response to the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe. This information shows how NATO has evolved in the 21st century from an organisation primarily focussed on the Soviet Union to an undertaking much more diverse operations such as humanitarian aid, fighting terror and helping to stabilize less economically developed countries. This source is reliable because it comes directly from NATO’s website and is up to date with current NATO operations. It does not provide opinions on NATO operations so it is unlikely to be biased. The source is useful because it shows how NATO has changed its operations to suit the current time period and how it has adapted to the 21st century. A limit to the usefulness could be that not all operations are listed here as some would be classified, however, this does not change the fact that NATO is undertaking much more diverse operations. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, former countries who had been part of the Soviet Union all wanted to join NATO as it provided a “security umbrella” against Russia.

An article from Carnegie Europe titled NATO’s relevance and published on July 10th 2018, talks about how if these former USSR countries are to join NATO they would be guaranteed security my America. This indicates that NATO still holds relevance in today’s world as Russia still poses a threat to the former communist countries, for example, Russia’s invasion of Georgia and its illegal annexation of Crimea show that Russia is willing to use force to get what it wants. For this reason, it makes sense that these countries that would be unable to defend themselves from a hostile takeover would look towards an alliance supported by America and the most powerful countries in Europe. However, this puts pressure on NATO and is one of the reasons President Trump has criticised NATO for being over-reliant on America. The article explains that President Trump “sees NATO, not as an organization that provides safety but one that should give value for money.” the article also comments on how European Countries take “America’s security guarantee for granted.” This puts President Trump in a strong position to criticise NATO and other countries commitments to the organisation. President Trump has also criticised allies for not meeting the required spending amounts on defence. The article is reliable because it comes from a trusted news source that reports on European issues. The article is less reliable as it could be biased, however, the article agrees with other research and is written at a time when President Trump is criticising the NATO alliance for underspending. The source is very useful as it shows another side to why NATO is still relevant and because it highlights President Trump’s criticisms of the organisation. In recent times President Trump has criticised NATO members for not meeting the required spending requirements. The infographic shows how much each NATO member spent on defence in 2015. It is clear from the data that America spends the most on defence by a large margin, however, four other countries met the required amount in 2015.

From the infographic shows why President Trump is criticising NATO member for underspending as only 5 nations are reaching the requirement. In 2017 at a NATO summit, President Trump said that ‘Over the last eight years, the United States spent more on defence than all NATO countries combined. If all NATO members had spent just 2 percent of GDP on defence last year, we would have had another $119 billion for our collective defence.’ While many NATO members then criticised President Trump for creating turmoil, an article from CNBC news included an interview with General Jens Stoltenberg who is NATO Secretary General. He said that President Trumps’s message is having an impact on NATO members and since the 2017 NATO summit there are ‘ more nations spending 2 percent of GDP on defence which is the NATO guideline and we see that all nations have stopped the cuts we saw for many years to their defence budgets.” This shows that while many European leaders dislike what President Trump is saying, there is a positive impact from his criticisms of NATO. This could be happening because a lot of the smaller members, who are unable to protect themselves for Russia, look towards the USA for protection, therefore if President Trump is threatening to pull out of NATO because members are not meeting the commitment a lot more countries might increase their defence spending to ensure protection from America The source is mostly reliable because it comes from a well-known news outlet and was published on the 19th February 2019, this means the information will be up to date, however, CNBC is left centre biased.

Therefore the article might try and persuade you of a certain opinion, however, as I am mostly using the source for the interview with the Secretary-General it will be his words rather than CNBC’s opinion. The source is useful because it shows a positive outcome of President Trump’s criticisms and also shows how he is pushing NATO members to pay more towards defence and as a result increasing NATO’s relevance. From my primary research, it can be seen that 80% of people who answered my questionnaire thought that Trump is wrong to question the value of NATO. This shows that overall a high percentage of people think Trump is wrong to interfere with NATO by questioning its value. When asked to explain their views one person said: “Trump should understand how important NATO is to all the countries involved within it.” However, while it can be seen that President Trump does not care about NATO and only cares about whether it adds value for money, it could also be seen that President Trump wants all members to pay the agreed 2 percent, this was agreed in 2014 before President Trump came to power, so that NATO can operate with better funding, increasing relevance and effectiveness of the organisation. The statistics are not very reliable because there are only 25% responses, however, a wide range of people were asked and the statistic does give an indication of opinion towards President Trump’s view on NATO.

The statistic is useful as it shows most people think that President Trump is wrong to question the value of NATO, it might also show a stereotype toward President Trump that he does not know what he is doing and only interfering with NATO members commitment, however from the previous article it shows that President Trump’s methods might be having a positive effect. Overall it can be seen that NATO still remains to be relevant in the 21st century as it is undertaking new and diverse missions. Furthermore, it appears that President Trump’s abnormal methods could be having a positive effect on NATO in spite of much criticism from the media and NATO members. Aim 3 – Explore why NATO needs to change in the 21st century Identify what the collapse of the Soviet Union mean for NATO and explore new threats facing the western world Use primary sources to discover what people know about NATO and analyse why it might need to change. NATO was formed out of a common goal. To provide peace and stability in the face of the Soviet Union. But now with the Soviet Union gone is NATO still required? This is the question that many western leaders were asking in 1991. President Bill Clinton’s administration favoured expanding NATO to both extend its security umbrella to the east and consolidate democratic gains in the former Soviet bloc

You can receive your plagiarism free paper paper on any topic in 3 hours!

*minimum deadline

Cite this Essay

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below

Copy to Clipboard
To What Extent is NATO Still Relevant in the 21st Century. (2020, November 26). WritingBros. Retrieved November 28, 2021, from
“To What Extent is NATO Still Relevant in the 21st Century.” WritingBros, 26 Nov. 2020,
To What Extent is NATO Still Relevant in the 21st Century. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 Nov. 2021].
To What Extent is NATO Still Relevant in the 21st Century [Internet]. WritingBros. 2020 Nov 26 [cited 2021 Nov 28]. Available from:
Copy to Clipboard

Need writing help?

You can always rely on us no matter what type of paper you need

Order My Paper

*No hidden charges