In the 1960s, Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Jack Kirby in the United States created a superhero with a novel twist. He was called Giant-Man, and the bigger he got, the weaker he became. Today that character is a prophetic parable about the future of the post- Cold War "super-NATO" that has expanded to include 29 nations compromising more than 880 million people.
Lee and Kirby actually based their premise on sound physics and biology. Given the mass and gravitational pull of the earth and the structure of the bones and muscles of the human body, any human being who grew too large would be unable to move easily or ultimately even support their own weight. This fate is now certain to destroy the still-manically-expanding NATO alliance.
The comic book hero Giant Man was at his strongest at only 12 feet tall, much as NATO was at its greatest effectiveness when it served only as a defensive deterrent alliance during the Cold War counter-posed to the Warsaw Pact
Over the past 30 years, NATO has steadily, inexorably expanded in size. First it absorbed all the former Warsaw Pact member states in Central Europe. Then it absorbed the three tiny and virulently anti-Russian Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia. Now NATO is looking to embrace former Soviet Georgia and Ukraine.
As if all this was not enough, some genius at NATO Supreme Headquarters in Brussels came up with the idea of calling the alliance’s June 2016 military exercises in Eastern Europe ANACONDA. An anaconda is a gigantic carnivorous snake in the Amazon rain forest that first encircles its victims, crushes them to death and then devours them. What message was Russia meant to take from such tasteless nomenclature?
However, it will not happen. Far from burying Russia, the US-led NATO alliance has been burying itself instead through its reckless, unending and remorseless growth. The curse of Giant Man is upon it.
When the comic book hero Giant Man grew to 50 or 60 feet tall, he collapsed under his own weight. Such a fate is already happening to NATO.
The fundamental problem of the NATO alliance is that it is simultaneously too big and too diverse. The bigger it gets, the weaker it gets.
This is because, with every state that joins the Alliance, the only militarily significant power within it, the United States, takes on an additional commitment to defend it.
What does the United States get in return for its reckless bestowal of such earth shaking commitments? It gets nothing at all.
When a tiny nation like Lithuania or Estonia boasts about meeting the 2 percent of GDP defense spending requirement of NATO this is ludicrous. The armed forces and GDP’s of such countries are so small as to be nonexistent. The much larger nations in the Alliance in Western Europe make no pretense of coming remotely close to their two percent defense spending pledge.
That means, in the formulation of the great British historian Lord Correlli Barnett that since the end of the Cold War, the United States has committed its destiny to the alliance and protection of 28 nations all of which are enormous importers of security – from the US. But none of them is capable of generating or exporting security either to the United States or to any other of their fellow NATO-member states.
And at the same time this happens, as President Donald Trump tactlessly but accurately pointed out at this July’s NATO summit, the United States is running an annual trade deficit of more than $160 billion with the very same block of European nations it pays so much to protect.
Therefore, the more NATO grows, the more vulnerable and weaker it will become.
For the frantic efforts of governments like Georgia and Ukraine, or even tiny Macedonia to join the Alliance are based on an enormous fallacy: Far from securing their eternal peace and security by joining NATO, they are guaranteeing their own eventual destruction instead.
For it is inevitable that the bluff of such a vast, over-reaching unwieldy and impractical alliance will be called. Not necessarily by Russia, Iran or China – but by any state actor or transnational mass movement.
NATO’s much touted efforts in Afghanistan have been a draining and expensive fiasco. It has accomplished nothing. In the campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS), apart from some air support capabilities provided mainly by Britain and France, all the other alliance air strikes and military operations against ISIS were carried out by US forces. America’s only effective ally in those operations – never thanked or acknowledged - was Russia.
The lesson to be learned from that experience is clear: The alliance and/or partnership of a single superpower (Russia) is worth infinitely more to the United States than all the endless empty rhetoric of every other nation in NATO.
The bigger NATO gets, the weaker it gets. Alliance grand strategy since the time of President Bill Clinton has been to consolidate all the tiny Eastern European states but this has backfired. It has produced the opposite effect from the one intended. Instead of turning NATO into a towering, unchallengeable global giant, it has made the Alliance a weak joke.
Not all the failed pledges to spend that paltry 2 percent per year of GDP will ever change that, even if every one of the 29 NATO states fulfil them – and in 2017, only four of them – a derisory13 percent – did.
Giant Man proved to be a failure as a super-hero, just as NATO is failing as an alliance. The laws and lessons of history, like those of physics and biology, can be denied, but they can never be defied.