NATO may be the strongest military alliance in the history of the world.
Among its many accomplishments over the course of its 66-year history, the alliance protected Europe from Soviet expansion during the Cold War, intervened to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, and provided air support for the rebels who overthew Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
And now it’s responsible for what may be one of the the most frivolous moments in the history of recent geopolitics.
On May 14, during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Antalya, Turkey, a number of high-profile attendees somehow got roped into singing “We Are The World,” the 1985 Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie-penned charity single written to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.
At the time, it must have seemed like a stirring appeal to the world’s conscience — the single sold over 4 million copies within a month of its release. Today, it’s a relic of an outmoded and paternalistic mode of thinking that assumes individual awareness and charity can’t help but improve nebulous problems like “famine in Africa” — issues with political and social dimensions that emotional outsider-driven appeals like “We Are The World” glossed over almost by their very nature.
The spectacle of the representatives of the world’s leading military powers singing a song that is both unbearable and about 30 years out of date renders satire pointless, as architect and noted satirist Karl Sharro pointed out on Twitter.
It also casts an uncomfortable eye on NATO itself, especially amid questions about the alliance’s purpose in a post-Cold War world.
Some argue that NATO is more important than ever in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia; others believe that NATO’s expansion, if not its continued existence, is actually a cause of Russian aggression.
Integration of vulnerable post-Communist states like Georgia and Ukraine into NATO is a hugely controversial matter. And the central premise of NATO — that an attack on one member should be treated as an attack on all of them — is under perhaps unprecedented strain, in light of Russian meddling in the NATO-member Baltic states and repeated attacks on the Turkish military originating from Syria.
The NATO foreign ministers probably shouldn’t be singing a song that’s universally associated with a time when the alliance had a much clearer sense of cohesion and purpose.
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