但事实并非如此，实际上也永远也不可能发生，因为“新北约”已非旧日的军事防御联盟，现在其已然是美国对欧洲内外的“干预工具”。毕竟，兹比格涅夫·布热津斯基（Zbigniew Brzezinski）在其仍有影响力的著作《大棋局》（The Grand Chessboard）中预测，北约将会是负责维持美国世界霸权的众多机构之一。
知乎这条对北约现状和性质的解释在很大程度上呼应了当前西方，尤其是西欧社会正在进行的一种辩论。近十年前，《纽约时报》邀请专家讨论到底是否该解散北约。该讨论的主题和核心论点是“苏联解体，经济紧缩挑战国际安全，北约是否应被解散？”受邀参加辩论的来自法国巴黎战略研究基金会（The Foundation for Strategic Research）的卡米尔·格兰德（Camille Grand）表示，紧缩并非是解散北约的理由。格兰德说：“（讨论）北约是否已经变得无关紧要是没有意义的。我认为现在是时候重新审视北约在21世纪的作用和宗旨了。”
波士顿大学教授安德鲁·J·巴塞维奇（Andrew J.Basevich）回忆起伊斯梅勋爵（Lord Ismay）的经典表述，即北约成立的目的是“把苏联人挡在圈外，让美国人呆在圈内，压制德国人”。他加入了《纽约时报》的辩论，强烈主张“美国是时候离开北约了”。曾任美国陆军上校的巴塞维奇强调：“21世纪统一、民主的德国不构成任何安全威胁。与此同时，苏联解体后取而代之的俄罗斯，也不具备任何可以威胁到欧洲的军事能力或意识形态动员力。既然三大目标中的两个都实现了，剩下的那个就变得多余了，美国已经完成了自己的工作，应该回家了。”
然而，当谈到北约的存在和扩张时，尤其是在后冷战时期（“强人”普京上台之前），没有人能忽视玛丽·埃利斯·萨洛特（Mary Elise Sarotte）的《一寸也不能：美国、俄罗斯和冷战僵局的形成》。甚至连批评者都不得不承认，这本书是“1989年至1999年这段关键时期北约扩张历史的最好记录与论证”。建立在玛丽早期开创性的著作《1989年：冷战后重建欧洲的挑战》的基础上，该书被英国《金融时报》评为2009年关于冷战后北约的最佳书籍。
“柏林墙倒塌后，国务卿詹姆斯·贝克（James Baker）是这般向苏联领导人米哈伊尔·戈尔巴乔夫（Mikhail Gorbachev）提出一个预想中的交易：如果俄放弃在德国的领土，美国将不会让北约东扩，一寸也不能。这场1990年的沟通几乎立即引发了争议。但更为重要的是，未来的十年间，这句话有了新的含义。戈尔巴乔夫放弃了曾经掌控的德国，但美国方面却重新考虑了这个协议，尤其是在1991年12月苏联解体后。华盛顿意识到，自己不仅大获全胜，还能赢得更多，北约可以尽情东扩。”
但北约是怎么成为莫斯科和华盛顿之间的敏感问题呢？由于时间和空间的限制，仅回顾1991年苏联共产主义崩溃后的几年就够了。乔纳森·马斯特斯（Jonathan Masters）在外交关系委员会（Council on Foreign Relations，cfr）上发表的一篇长文中，揭示了时任美国总统比尔·克林顿（Bill Clinton）是如何不顾其官员的建议，迅速采取行动让北约东扩的。乔纳森写道：“克林顿选择制定一项新的北约倡议，即北约和平伙伴关系计划（PfP），该倡议将是非排他性的，对华约成员国和非欧洲国家一并开放。”
Three decades ago, in the US and in Western Europe many had wondered if the Cold War was gone, wasn't it time NATO was gone too. Some even argued that the European military alliance was an accomplished mission; and the US had done its job; and that the US ought to go home. But that never happened. In fact, that was never to happen. For the “new” NATO had shed its identity as a defensive alliance and become the US “instrument for intervention” within Europe and beyond. After all, didn’t Zbigniew Brzezinski prescribe in his still influential book, The Grand Chessboard, that NATO was one of many institutions serving to perpetuate the US hegemony in the world.
Two years ago, in the Chinese language popular question-and-answer website, Zhihu – China's equivalent to the popular English language Quora Digest, someone asked the question “What is NATO?” “On April 4, 1949, the United States, Canada and ten European countries including the United Kingdom, France, and Italy signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington. Further, they decided to establish the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. On August 24 of the same year, all the member countries completed their respective domestic ratification procedures of the Convention, and NATO was formally established,” Zhihu explained. Elaborating the present-day nature and role of the North Atlantic alliance, Zhihu further said: “After experiencing the baptism of the ‘Cold War’ and several twists and turns in the post-Cold War era during the past three decades, NATO has become ‘immortal.’ It continues to be proactive in the global geopolitical game and remains a driving force for Western civilizations’ global dominance.”
What Zhihu explained on the current status and nature of NATO largely echoes the ongoing debate in the West, especially in Western Europe. Nearly a decade ago, the NYT had invited a number of experts to discuss if the time had come to disband NATO? The theme and the core argument put forward by NYT was, “with the Soviet Union gone and austerity challenging security, should NATO be disbanded?” Invited to join the debate, Camille Grand of The Foundation for Strategic Research in France dismissed austerity as the reason for disbanding NATO. “To argue NATO has become irrelevant is missing the point. But I do agree it is high time to re-examine the role and purpose of NATO in the twenty-first century,” Grand argued.
Recalling Lord Ismay’s classic formulation that NATO’s founding purpose was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down,” Boston University’s Professor Andrew J. Basevich joined NYT debate strongly advocating “it was time for the United States to leave NATO.” Basevich, who had been a US Army colonel, emphasised: “The united and democratic Germany of the 21st century poses no security threat whatsoever. Meanwhile, an implosion of the Soviet Union has yielded a Russia that possesses no military or ideological wherewithal to threaten Europe. The achievement of these two great objectives renders redundant the third remaining item in Ismay’s triad. The United States has done its job and ought to go home.”
Further, long before the NYT debate in 2013, the clamour for “terminating” NATO had been growing in several European countries. Just days before the US presidential election in November 2004, The Guardian’s influential security affairs columnist, Jonathan Steele, wrote: “Nato is a threat to Europe and must be disbanded.” “An alliance which should have wound up when the Soviet Union collapsed now serves almost entirely as a device for giving the US an unfair and unreciprocated droit de regard over European foreign policy,” Steele added. Besides, it has been now over three decades that the debate over the continuous existence, enlargement and expansion of NATO has engulfed the media, the academia, and the political class in the West.
Additionally, in a profound, insightful essay recently, the historian Mark Rice, while wondering whether NATO has any purpose in a post-Cold War world, reminds us “NATO’s mission from the very beginning was as much political as military.” Trying to be fair to both supporters and critics of NATO’s post-Cold War continuing expansion, Rice wrote: “For supporters of expansion, a larger NATO would provide security to democratizing countries, solidifying their transitions from communism and opening new economic prosperity through greater connections with the European Union; on the other hand, critics of enlargement argue that the new members would not offer NATO much military or strategic benefit, and that those countries would be better served through other organizations, including the OSCE and EU.”
However, when speaking of the NATO existence and expansion, especially during the post-Cold War period – before the rise of “strongman” Vladimir Putin to power – no one can ignore Mary Elise Sarotte’s Not One Inch: Russia, America, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate, acknowledged by critics “the best-documented and best-argued history of the NATO expansion during the crucial 1989-1999 period.” Not One Inch (2021) builds on her earlier ground-breaking work 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, adjudged the best book on NATO in post-Cold War era by the Financial Times in 2009.
In the book, the US historian Sarotte using new evidence has shown what went wrong in the US-Russia relationship. “Not one inch. With these words, Secretary of State James Baker proposed a hypothetical bargain to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev after the fall of the Berlin Wall: if you let your part of Germany go, we will move NATO not one inch eastward. Controversy erupted almost immediately over this 1990 exchange—but more important was the decade to come, when the words took on new meaning. Gorbachev let his Germany go, but Washington rethought the bargain, not least after the Soviet Union’s own collapse in December 1991. Washington realized it could not just win big but win bigger. Not one inch of territory needed to be off limits to NATO,” Sarotte stated.
In today’s context, some experts view the current Russia-Ukraine war crisis as the result of tensions reaching its peak between Russia and NATO. Wondering as to what is the source of Russia’s dispute with NATO, these experts point out “Russian leaders have long been wary of the eastward expansion of NATO, particularly as the alliance opened its doors to former Warsaw Pact states and ex-Soviet republics in the late 1990s. But how did NATO become a sensitive issue between Moscow and Washington? For the limitation of time and space, let it suffice to go back to a couple of years after the collapse of Soviet communism in 1991. Jonathan Masters, in a long essay in the Council on Foreign Relations – cfr – reveals how the then US President Bill Clinton, against the advice of his officials that such a move “would rankle Russian leaders,” anyway wanted to move quickly and start expanding NATO’s membership eastward. “Clinton chose to develop a new NATO initiative called Partnership for Peace (PfP), which would be nonexclusive and open to both Warsaw Pact members and to non-European countries,” Jonathan wrote.
To conclude, as early as in December 2020, days after president-elect Joe Biden looked certain to enter the White House, experts had started pointing out the primary agenda of the Biden Administration foreign policy would be “to reassert U.S. global leadership by reconsolidating a common U.S.-European capitalist program of domination that was disrupted with the ‘America first’ positions of the Trump Administration.” A similar concern is now increasingly being reflected in media commentaries in China. Ding Gang, a senior editor with the official People’s Daily, was quite blunt recently in accusing NATO and US-European “hegemonic” agenda for the current crisis in Ukraine: “The Russia-Ukraine war is both a natural consequence of the dramatic geopolitical changes in Europe in the wake of the Cold War and the nature of NATO - the world's single most powerful military bloc.”
Joining the growing chorus of scholars and analysts in the West against NATO and calling it a military bloc to perpetuate the combined American-European hegemony in the world, a Columbia University senior researcher had written: “NATO was the most successful military alliance in the 20th century, accomplishing its significant mission without bloodshed. In the 21st century NATO has become an impediment to a global security architecture of which it could be a cornerstone.” Today, when Beijing is most fearful of a NATO-like organization surrounding China, and Russia which has been baited by NATO into invading Ukraine, one wonders why there are no voices in China and Russia demanding it is high time to write NATO obituary?