NATO throughout the times (my interpretation)

The NATO as originally founded was meant as a defensive alliance against Soviet power, no doubt. It also served as a delineation of the Western bloc, and signaled that no overthrowing of any government by a communist insurgency would be tolerated within this alliance (everyone still remembered the Greek Civil War).

Western European designs for defence cooperation have in part been superseded and in part been given up once NATO with inclusion of the United States of America was founded in early 1949.

NATO assumed an additional role for some Western European governments once the Federal Republic of Germany joined; it was a harness to make Western Germany useful, and at the same time somewhat controlled while partially giving up its occupation.

NATO became the medium for the U.S. government for hegemony in Western and Southern Europe, and the French government reacted with a withdrawal from NATO's military institutions (France always remained a treaty member and thus a NATO ally).

This state of affairs lasted for decades till the end of the Cold War.

It was obvious that the old Soviet threat was gone by late 1991. This posed a huge challenge, for without the unifying bogeyman there was a risk that the European great powers and Americans would drift towards adversarial instead of cooperative stances. Western Europe and the U.S. could have become rivals or enemies instead of staying allied.
NATO thus became in part a bond - similar to a marriage vow - that was meant to keep Western/Southern Europe on the one hand and the U.S. on the other hand on friendly, cooperative terms - allied.

This required NATO to serve a more obvious purpose, though. A purpose that could be communicated (nobody wanted to talk of the risk of transatlantic hostility). Ideally, such an obvious purpose would require frequent cooperation and permanent institutions. Such a purpose was found by developing the idea that NATO wasn't only meant to defend itself, but also to provide for its security by stabilising and pacifying its periphery, its neighborhoods. This led to the multinational military actions in and over Bosnia and the Kosovo (Air) War. There were but two non-former Yugoslavian country that could have claimed that its sovereignty was at risk because of the wars in Yugoslavia: Austria (airspace violations) and Albania. Neither were NATO members. Still, every statesman in NATO seemed to pretend with a straight face that intervention in the neighborhood was actually about our security as well.

There was a parallel development in Eastern Europe. Countries that had gained freedom from Soviet dominance if not independence after generations or centuries of being incorporated into Russian Empires and Soviet Union joined NATO to protect themselves against Russia. Western Europe liked this, since pushing the frontier to the East made the distance to the Russian mainland very comfortable. Germany had been front nation throughout the Cold War and just about every WW3 scenario saw it nuked over and over. Now, after the NATO expansion, all of Russia but the Kaliningrad exclave seems very, very distant. The new NATO members saw this attitude and many of them (all three Baltic countries, Poland and Czech Republic maybe the most) sought close ties to the U.S. in addition to the treaty membership. They weren't terribly irritated by the obvious American disinterest in Eastern Europe and Russia throughout the GWB administration. They did to some degree refuse the idea that they should become obvious auxiliary forces providers, but they did pay a price to the U.S. for the feeling that the U.S: would be indebted in return: This price was participation in "small wars" (Poland in Iraq, several countries in Afghanistan) and the orientation of a substantial part of their armed forces towards such small wars rather than direct deterrence and defence in Eastern Europe. Much of the needed equipment was bought, but some equipment was also acquired through American military aid.

This state of affairs seems to have changed gradually from the South Ossetia War to the Crimea occupation. Calls for more seriousness in NATO about deterrence and defence in Eastern Europe (including finally creating contingency plans for defence) grew to public proportions (also in Norway) and by 2015 it's finally widely acknowledged that NATO is a defensive alliance - in Europe. Nobody really knows that Trump thinks about it.

There are nevertheless still remnants of the doctrine that NATO is a club for interventions, not the least because of the article V activation in regard to Afghanistan. This act was not really the intent of the Americans, but an effort to do once more something together for bonding and an effort to make the invasion of Afghanistan more acceptable at for the voters at home. The Taliban switched to guerilla warfare real quick and gave up overt political control of most of Afghanistan, so the supposed collective self-defence quickly assumed the shape of an occupation of Afghanistan. Never before had any alliance considered it to be self-defence to go after the hosts of an aggressor even after said hosts lost control of their country. But this wasn't about self-defence; it was about bonding for the cooperation-minded Europeans and it was about not yielding to brown Muslims for the Americans, which liked to receive so many auxiliary troops for Afghanistan while they were mostly busy occupying Iraq which they had attacked without any having any real self-defence excuse.

So now NATO is again a bloc facing the Russians, it may sooner or later be drawn into a U.S.-PRC conflict in one way or another and it's burdened by the remnants of a "bonding by intervention" doctrine. European statesmen are still very cooperation-minded, but the U.S. president seems utterly incapable of cooperation (neither understanding the concept nor how to exploit the European pursuit of cooperation), at least in regard to democratic countries. 
NATO is as of now mostly a European alliance, with the U.S. being a member in name due to inertia, not because of intact cooperation and will to cooperate at the level of its president.


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