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NATO at 50 — Historic Past, Hopeful Future?

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Fifty years after its founding, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization stands at the crossroads of prophecy. What does the Bible tell us about America's role in Europe and in the coming world crisis?

In the spring of 1945 Europe lay exhausted and spent. After six years, the long, dark Nazi night finally seemed to be drawing to a close. A new day was dawning.

Through the last winter, Russian troops had advanced into German Silesia and from there to Warsaw and Cracow. American bombers by day and British bombers by night pounded of the German heartland. American and British forces under General Bradley and Field Marshall Montgomery crossed the Elbe. The Russians drew on toward Berlin while the Allies stopped and waited. The Allies had halted their troops — not for military reasons, but for political ones.

A short time earlier, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt had come together for the final time. Meeting in Yalta, a Russian seaport on the Black Sea, they had discussed the future of Europe and sought to arrange the post-war world. Stalin came to the meetings with an agenda designed to advance Russian communism, and plenty of high-sounding promises. An ailing Roosevelt readily accepted Stalin's promises. He failed to realize that Stalin's view of promises was the same as that of his predecessor, Lenin, "Promises are like pie crusts, made to be broken." Peace came with the end of the European war in May and the Japanese surrender in August.

Peace, however, meant different things to different people. A perceptive Winston Churchill, voted out of office at the end of the war, made a watershed speech in 1946 at Fulton College in Missouri. He had no illusions about either the nature of communism or the intentions of Joseph Stalin. "An iron curtain," he declared, had rung down in Europe. Immediately decried by the American left, Churchill's vision of the future proved, nevertheless, to be the correct one. Over the next couple of years the Soviets tightened their grip on the territory that their troops had occupied at the end of the war.

1949 — The Cold War Begins

In April of 1949 a new alliance, primarily formulated by the United States and Britain, was established. Originally consisting of nine members, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization sought to build a strong bulwark against Russian expansionism and bind together its members with the pledge that an attack on any member would be considered an attack upon all.

Soviet Russia countered NATO by forming the Warsaw Pact, consisting of the Soviet Union and its puppet regimes in eastern and central Europe, and providing an excuse for Russian troops to remain stationed in eastern Europe. Ostensibly, they were there to protect their allies from the West. In reality, they were there to ensure that their "allies" remained allies!

At the close of World War II, the allies intended that Germany, which had plunged the world into war twice in just over two decades, be demilitarized permanently. The new fears of Russian communism, however, changed the equation in western eyes. Increasingly fearful of Soviet expansion, the West began to view Germany as a potentially useful ally.

Konrad Adenauer, post-war Germany's first chancellor, began the process of bringing Germany into the western alliance. West Germany became part of the Council of Europe in 1950. In 1955, West Germany joined with France and Italy to form the European Union. Later in that year, West Germany was finally accepted as a member of NATO.

In ten years, Germany had moved from a defeated and occupied enemy to a valuable ally. Fear of Russian communism was the driving force in western foreign policy during those years. The Cold War was in full swing, the arms race was in progress and the world seemed permanently divided between east and west. Throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies the cold war divisions that had developed by 1949 appeared to be the eternal order of things.

Reunification of Germany, a goal to which a succession of West German governments paid lip service, seemed but an empty dream. All practical-minded politicians and pundits "knew" that Soviet Russia would never permit such a thing to happen.

The Wall Comes Tumbling Down

The fall of 1989 proved to be one of the most remarkable moments in the twentieth century. The post-World War II order collapsed in a heap in early October, shocking government leaders and opinion-molders alike. A movement that started in Poland, fueled by a Polish Pope, accomplished what NATO could have dared contemplate. Communist governments fell like dominoes. The Berlin Wall, hated symbol of the east-west division, was breached. German reunification took shape with breathtaking speed. The Cold War, which had held Europe and the world in its grasp for forty years, was at an end! Soon afterward, the red "hammer and sickle" flag was lowered from atop the Kremlin for the final time, replaced by the flag of old Russia. Not a shot was fired! The Soviet Communist experiment in Russia thus came to an end fewer than seventy-five years after it began.

Yet the euphoria of those months eventually gave way. High hopes and dreams of a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous world began to founder. Economies of the former communist bloc began to disintegrate. Unemployment soared. While a handful of people made astronomical sums of money, the nations of the former Soviet Union and many of its allies were faced with virtual collapse of their infrastructure. Even Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, foundered in trying to absorb the former East German territory.

In the midst of this, NATO seemed to be an alliance in search of a mission. Formed to combat Russian communism, that menace had faded away. Yet NATO continued. Soon former members of the Warsaw Pact, which had officially disbanded in the aftermath of communism's collapse, were clamoring to join.

March 1999, almost half a century after NATO's inception, saw the induction of three new members. Not quite ten years from the collapse of the communist dictatorships that had ruled them for forty years, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic officially became part of the western alliance. All three of these are heavily Catholic nations that have had historic ties to the West.

Other nations formerly in Moscow's orbit are also clamoring to join NATO. Countries such as the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, as well as Slovakia and Slovenia, have expressed interest in joining. Even countries such as Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania, with far closer ties to Russia than to the West, have also put out feelers.

The Future of the NATO Alliance

Where are these events leading? It made sense in the aftermath of World War II for the United States to have hundreds of thousands of troops stationed in Europe. After all, we were occupying the conquered lands of our former enemies. Once the Cold War began in earnest, there was another rationale for keeping troops in Europe. This time it was to prevent a Russian-led invasion of the West. Today, many on both sides of the Atlantic are asking why multiple tens of thousands of American troops are still needed in Europe. Who is protecting whom from what?

Yet another rationale for NATO is now being advanced since the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO, it seems, is no longer an alliance directed at a specific enemy. Rather, it exists simply to promote peace in this region of the world. It seems that the end of the Cold War did not bring peace to Europe and the world after all.

In fact, in some ways, it may be that the twentieth century is closing in Europe much as it began, with strife and unrest in the Balkans. It was ethnic unrest in the Balkans at the beginning of the century, after all, that provided the spark which set off World War I. The present fear is that current Balkan strife will spill over into the surrounding countries, most of whom have historic ties with one or another of the warring factions.

The irony of pursuing an American- led peace in the Balkans today is that it was an American "solution" in the aftermath of World War I which contained the seeds of the current conflict. President Woodrow Wilson took the lead in creating a new country in the Balkans at the Versailles Peace Conference of 1918. This new nation of Yugoslavia, meaning the nation of the "southern Slavs," was cobbled together as a solution to ongoing strife in the Balkans. Americans in particular didn't grasp the differences and distinctions that existed among the various groups they sought to squeeze together.

Yugoslavia proved to be dominated by the Serbs who had longstanding rivalries with the Croats as well as with the Bosnians and Albanians. Traditionally the Serbs were Eastern Orthodox in religion and have had strong historic ties to Russia, the age-old protector of the Orthodox Church since the fall of Byzantium in 1453. Croatia, on the other hand, is Catholic in religion and has had strong historic ties to Germany and the West. Bosnia and Albania contain large Moslem populations, relics of several centuries of Turkish domination. They have historic enmity with the Serbs.

Now America is seeking to remold the purpose of the NATO alliance, to use it as an instrument to bring peace to the troubled "powder keg of Europe." Is NATO going to be the instrument that insures a peaceful, prosperous Europe? How much longer is Europe prepared to accept a dominant American role and to rely on the United States as the guarantor of its future security? To what extent does the United States even have the will to continue its current role?

Antecedents of Europe's East—West Divide

The division between east and west in Europe long antedates the post-World War II partitions of the Cold War. In fact, it dates back many centuries to the beginning of the fourth century AD. Roman Emperor Diocletian divided his realm into east and west for administrative purposes. Emperor Constantine, a successor, launched the grand scheme to build a "new Rome" on the Bosphorus to be the eastern capital. Constantine called this new capital Constantinople. Within a short period after his death, the Roman Empire had become permanently divided into two realms, the Eastern Roman Empire and the Western Roman Empire.

By the twelfth century, religious conflict between the Roman Pontiff and the Patriarch of Constantinople led to a formal schism in the professing Christian church. The old Eastern Roman realm, now known as the Byzantine Empire, was Orthodox in religion, Greek in thought and culture, and increasingly Slavic in population. The western realm, now called the Holy Roman Empire, was Catholic, Latin, and Germanic . Herein lies the historic divide in Europe. Military, political, economic, educational, and religious influence spread to the rest of Europe from these two centers of power, Rome and Constantinople.

This situation was foreseen anciently by the One who declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). He inspired the prophet Daniel to record a dream and its interpretation which laid out an overview of the history of the western world for the next 2500 years. The east-west divide in Europe and its final result are actually recorded in advance right in the pages of your own Bible, believe it or not!

It was an understanding of these prophecies that led Herbert W. Armstrong, our predecessor in this Work of God, to write in the April 1952 Plain Truth, at a time when the Russian boot seemed permanently planted on eastern Europe, that East Germany would be reunited with West Germany and that Russia would "be forced to relinquish her control over Hungary, Czechoslovakia and parts of Austria" (p. 16).

From Daniel 2 we learn that the ancient Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had a troubling dream which no one but Daniel could interpret for him. In his dream he saw a great statue with a head of gold, shoulders and chest of silver, thighs of brass, two legs of iron, and feet with the toes composed of a mixture of iron and ceramic clay. A stone of supernatural origin ("made without hands") appeared and smashed this image on its feet. The whole thing turned to dust and blew away, while the stone grew into a huge mountain that filled the earth. Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that in the days of the final ten kings (symbolized by the ten toes on the feet of the image) "...the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed" (v. 44).

Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar that he and the Babylonian Empire over which he ruled was symbolized by the head of gold (v. 38). After him, there would arise another great empire, symbolized by silver (v. 39). Historically, this was fulfilled by the Medo-Persian Empire which conquered Babylon in 539 BC. A third world-ruling kingdom, symbolized by the image's thighs of brass, was to arise as Persia's successor. This was the Greco-Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great which conquered Persia in 331 BC. The fourth kingdom, the iron kingdom (v. 40), represented the Greek realm's successor, the Roman Empire. Rome's empire, later divided into an Eastern and Western division, was symbolized by two legs of iron.

It is the ten toes on the feet of this image that represent the final end-time continuation of the old Roman Empire. This is the system that will be destroyed by Jesus Christ when He returns in power and glory as King of kings and Lord of lords. The end-time system, called in Revelation 17 and 18 "Babylon the Great," consists of a union of ten leaders whose origins are in the outgrowth of both the western and eastern Roman empires.

The old east-west divide is yet to be healed, but not by an American-led NATO. A short-lived European superpower will soon emerge on the scene, exercising economic, political and military dominance on a world-wide scale. This system will also represent a union of church and state, much in the tradition of the old Holy Roman Empire of the Middle Ages. Yet this coming United States of Europe will not really be cohesive. The nature of its union is, after all, pictured by ten toes composed of an iron and ceramic mixture. It will represent man's final flawed attempt at self-government cut off from his Creator before the return of Jesus Christ to establish His rule in tomorrow's world.

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