There was a noble if naive expectation that with the effective dissolution of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact in 1989 and even more so with its formal dismantling and the breakup of the Soviet Union itself into fifteen new countries two years later that an era of peace in the world and demilitarization of the European continent was dawning.
The peace might not be a just one, leaving the major Western military and economic powers in charge of the planet, but peace of a sort - any sort - seemed preferable to a continued state of armed, which meant nuclear, confrontation, some thought.
Hopes and talk abounded of a global peace dividend, with hundreds of billions of dollars and pounds, marks and francs and rubles hitherto expended on the production of weapons, the maintenance of armies and the prosecution of wars to be allotted to civilian production and to basic human needs in Europe, North America and throughout the world, especially its most underdeveloped and desperately needy nations.
The past twenty years, even the very first year of that double decade, 1989, proved that perspective wrong, tragically wrong, wrong in every particular.
With a diminished and all-but-dead Warsaw Pact and an internally weakened and infinitely compliant Soviet Union in 1989, the US felt free to invade Panama in late December of that year; the German Democratic Republic was incorporated into the Federal Republic of Germany - and NATO - the following year; and in January of 1991 the United States, acting on the so-called Carter Doctrine, launched Operation Desert Storm, a series of devastating and deadly attacks on Iraqi forces in Kuwait and on Iraq itself, with the assistance of local client states and NATO allies Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Portugal, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, the Netherlands and Norway. The only NATO nations not participating were diminutive Iceland and Luxembourg.
In March of 1991, six days after the war ended, then US President Bush H.W. Bush described the results of Operation Desert Storm and of the soon-to-be post-Cold War period: "Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order."
The new global order had no room for either peace or disarmament. It never intended that either should ever prevail.
Had the unified Germany of 1990 announced its withdrawal from both NATO and the by then largely fictitious Warsaw Pact, disbanded its redundant armed forces and thereby provided a precedent and model for a genuine new international order, matters may have proceeded otherwise.
After all, the Warsaw Pact was formed six years after NATO was and then only in response to West Germany being taken into the bloc earlier in 1955 with most of the military-industrial potential inherited from a Nazi Third Reich defeated only ten years before.
But the Europe Whole And Free (1), the title of a speech delivered by Bush in the West German city of Mainz on May 31, 1989 - the catchphrase still routinely used to this day by major American officials, most recently by current president Obama in first trip to NATO headquarters last week - envisioned in Washington and Western European capitals didn't include a demilitarized Germany and Europe or a peaceful world.
Neither would it brook neutrality or non-alignment.
Over the past twenty years not only the former East Germany but all Warsaw Pact members outside of the Soviet Union have been taken into NATO: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999 and Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia five years later. (Albania, which left the Warsaw Pact in 1961, was brought into NATO less than a week ago.) In addition, in 2004 three former Soviet Republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - were incorporated and in the same year the beginning of the full integration of ex-Yugoslav republics was marked by Slovenia's accession.
Far from the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union leading to either the abolition or shrinking of NATO, the end of both, the alleged opposition to which was for decades NATO's raison d'etre, rather unleashed the Alliance to become an expansionist and now international military power.
One which has expanded from an original twelve members to sixteen at the end of the Cold War to twenty eight as of last Saturday; one which has through collective or individual partnerships formal military arrangements with and commitments from over sixty nations, a third of the those in the world; members and partners in five of the world's seven continents, only uninhabited Antarctica and South American so far not ensnared in the bloc's worldwide nexus; and one which in 2005 conducted "eight simultaneous operations on four continents with the help of 20 partners in Eurasia, seven in the Mediterranean, four in the Persian Gulf, and a handful of capable contributors on our periphery."- (2)
That historically unmatched and until recently unimaginable expansion of the world's only extant military bloc into all parts of the globe is dismissed by most commentators, both NATO supporters and detractors, who either bemoan or ridicule the bloc as a paper organization. Family members of killed and maimed Serbians, Afghans and of late Pakistanis as well as those of young men and women from scores of nations serving under NATO command in war and post-war occupation zones in three continents would disagree.
Sceptics of all stripes may view NATO's star as dimming; Alliance policy planners see it as beginning its ascendancy to an intended zenith.