Bernie Sanders Has a Good Idea about ISIS and Syria: Will Anybody Listen?

One reason why I like presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) is that he is not afraid to think outside the box and offer big, bold and sometimes innovative solutions to major problems. Sanders just made a really great proposal for dealing with the ISIS threat and terrorism in general that hints at a bold, exciting and intelligent new direction for U.S. foreign policy.

“We must create a new organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century—an organization that emphasizes cooperation and collaboration to defeat the rise of violent extremism and, importantly, to address the root causes underlying these brutal acts,” Sanders told an audience at Georgetown University. “We must work with our NATO partners, we must work to expand the coalition with Russia and we must work with members of the Arab League.”

This is a great idea because it offers a workable alternative to our current policy of America as sheriff of the world and the U.S. military as global policeman. It is a smart policy because it offers America a means of disengaging from dangerous entanglements that could lead to the Thucydides Trap without retreating into the destructive fantasy world of isolationism. Yet it allows us to contain and deal with threats without creating conflicts with other countries.

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Why NATO Worked

Sanders’ suggestion is a realistic one because it is based on a policy that was proven to be successful by history. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, worked.


It achieved its goals of containing Communism and keeping Western Europe free; the Red Army never advanced beyond East Germany, and both the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union eventually collapsed. More importantly, those events occurred without World War III.

The reason NATO worked was because it was based on thoughtful realpolitik rather than wishy washy utopianism. NATO welcomed all countries opposed to Communism, including some very undemocratic ones, such as Portugal, Greece, Turkey and Spain, then ruled by the brutal right-wing dictator Francisco Franco. A clear message was sent to Moscow not to attack any non-Communist country. It should be noted that today those countries are all democracies and members of the European Union.

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More importantly, the architects of NATO, such as Harry Truman, George Marshall and Clement Atlee, were willing to let in their former enemies, West Germany and Italy, just four years after the end of World War II. This was at a time when many Britons and Americans wanted to leave Germany a wasteland and throw its people to the Stalinist wolves.

By not imposing an ideological litmus test and refusing to bow to popular prejudice, NATO’s founders created an effective alliance and a workable international institution. That international institution paved the way for the Common Market and the European Union.

Part of the reason that was possible was that those countries shared a common enemy: Communism. Another was the memory of World War II, which nobody wanted to repeat. A big reason for NATO’s success was that the pre-World War II policies of isolationism and appeasement had failed miserably, which strengthened support for the alliance. Instead of preserving peace, those initiatives had emboldened tyrants like Hitler and Stalin and made war inevitable.

Why NATO 2.0 Is a Good Idea

We have a similar opportunity today with the threat posed by ISIS and the failure of America’s current foreign policy. The rise of ISIS and its recent atrocities, such as the downing of Russian airliner Metrojet Flight 9268 and the Paris attacks, show us that the recent U.S. policies of war on terror, nation building and policing the world are miserable failures.


The United States and other countries appear to be less secure than ever before. Instead of eliminating terrorism, we have created a next generation terrorist force that is more brutal, aggressive and capable than Al Qaeda. Terrorism is a bigger threat than ever, and we need a permanent means of dealing with it.

If we continue the present policies of limited warfare, allies chosen not to offend ideological sensibilities and avoidance of major military operations failure seems guaranteed. A massive military operation designed to pound ISIS into the Stone Age might work, but a new terrorist group will simply pop up elsewhere once the dust clears.

Something to remember here is that other threats will appear after ISIS. There will be other terrorists in other places such as Africa, where an organization similar to ISIS, Boko Haram, is already on the rampage, and not all of them will be Islamic. A more permanent means of dealing with the situation that involves all nations is needed.

Sanders’ suggestion of a NATO 2.0 that would involve Russia is a good starting point. Other nations that need to be involved from the start are China, India, Israel, Indonesia and Iran. Since these countries already participate in a wide variety of international bodies, their participation in NATO 2.0 is not farfetched.

A NATO 2.0 would provide a means of dealing with ISIS and, more importantly, a framework for countering future threats. This framework could enhance our national security by eliminating or greatly reducing America’s role as world policeman. America would be one member of the posse rather than the sheriff.


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It would also enable nations like Russia, India and China to use their growing military power in a constructive way. Another reason to involve these nations is to avoid the kind of dangerous international polarization we saw during the Cold War.

So What Would NATO 2.0 Look Like?

One good role model for NATO 2.0 is the World Health Organization, or WHO, which has been highly successful in the fight against disease. WHO eradicated the scourge of small pox, and it successfully contained Ebola in Africa.


Since terrorism is a disease, start treating it like one. Organize a WHO for terrorism with NATO 2.0 as a basis. This organization would coordinate the military, law enforcement and intelligence resources needed to eradicate terrorism. It would serve as a clearinghouse for intelligence on terrorism, provide training and support for military forces and law enforcement organizations fighting terrorism and maintain or coordinate military operations against terrorism when needed.

Unlike the failed U.S. nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, NATO 2.0 would only fight terrorism. It would not try to force any political system or values on a country. Instead, it would work with existing governments to provide security and peace. One reason why WHO works is that it only fights disease; it does not try to build democracy or promote capitalism.

Yes, that means we would have to work with Bashar Assad and Iran’s leaders. It also means we would have to work with other undemocratic nations, such as China. That might offend some Americans’ sensibilities, but those regimes, as bad as they are, are not a direct threat to our way of life like ISIS is.

More importantly, there would be a permanent structure in place when the next terrorist menace rears its ugly head. My suggestion is that this structure would be composed of an intelligence clearinghouse similar to Interpol, a training and assistance command, and a military command for rapid response to crises.


One institution that could provide a basis for the training command and possibly a WHO for terrorism, the EU’s European Gendarmerie Force, or EGF already exists. Perhaps it could be expanded on a worldwide basis through the United Nations.

How the UN Could Be Involved

Interestingly enough, the blueprint for such an organization already exists in the United Nations Charter. Chapter VII of the Charter provides for a Military Staff Committee composed of the Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces of the members of the UN Security Council: the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain and France. It also raises the possibility of permanent UN military bases and a permanent UN military force. This could be the blueprint for NATO 2.0, particularly if we could get India onto the Security Council.

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These plans were never put into effect 70 years ago when the UN Charter was created because of Cold War politics. They were revived in the early 1990s and effectively throttled by Republican members of the U.S. Congress under the shallow pretext that they threatened U.S. national sovereignty.

Instead of an effective framework for dealing with international crises, we got the current status quo of America as world policeman, which is not working. Unfortunately, USA as the world’s policeman seems to be the foreign policy of all the Republican candidates and Hillary, even though the American people are justifiably and rightly sick of the role.

The Only Logical Solution to Terrorism is NATO 2.0

We need an effective alternative, and Bernie Sanders is proposing one, which shows what an innovator he is. Unfortunately, the Establishment will ignore him until it is too late.


Sanders’ NATO 2.0 will become reality in the near future because it is the only workable alternative. The world needs a permanent structure for dealing with the scourge of terrorism and the conditions that give rise to it. Many of those who are dismissing Sanders’ proposal right now will embrace it because it is the only logical solution to the problem of terrorism.

It remains to be seen how many people will have to die before NATO 2.0 becomes a reality. Are our leaders so committed to the delusion of an American-run world that they would sacrifice our national security for such a fantasy?