The alliance of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries, known as NATO and currently engaged in fighting in Afghanistan, has served the purpose for which it was created. It is now irrelevant and should be disbanded. The foot-in-mouth US defence secretary, Robert Gates, has done his best to damage or even destroy the shaky alliance. His belligerent and insulting public comment about his allies early this year to effect that everyone except the US is "deploying [military personnel in Afghanistan] that are not properly trained and I'm worried we have some military forces that don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations" was greeted with well-deserved derision, especially by the British and Canadians. I've had emails from officers in both armies who were furious about this jeering taunt by (in one quote) "a desk-bound civilian who has never heard a shot fired in anger." (OK, that comment is readily identifiable as coming from a Brit. It was a young captain, in fact; but resentment of the patronising US attitude by senior officers of NATO nations, although necessarily unpublicised, can also be acute.) Of course Gates tried to wriggle out of what he said by indulging in the usual double-speak of the febrile intellectual seeking to disguise the fact that he or she lacks the common sense to be able to see matters plainly. But, amazingly, he followed up three weeks later by criticising NATO countries again. You can't keep a fool from making a fool of himself, but this time even the polite Europeans objected officially to the shrill squeal that "Some allies ought not to have the luxury of opting only for stability and civilian operations, thus forcing other allies to bear a disproportionate share of the fighting and dying." This was a direct and deliberate insult that would offend even the most loyal of allies. And it did. Why does Washington seek confrontation with allies, rather than keeping quiet and embarking on a campaign of polite bilateral diplomacy? There appears to be total lack of realisation that aggressive public statements serve only to antagonise those against whom they are made, and thus make problem resolution vastly more difficult. Or does Bush Washington just not care about any other country on the planet, except Israel? Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Washington goes out of its way, in the shape of Gates in this instance, to pour scorn on foreigners. In the years of Bush and Cheney (no warriors they) Washington has chosen the public confrontational approach, and the US has suffered accordingly from withdrawal of support by many nations who formerly admired and respected - or at least tolerated - its international posture. But for the US to adopt a strategy of open contempt for formally-aligned allies took international manoeuvring to new and absurdly abysmal depths. Does the Bush administration really believe that by publicly insulting America's NATO allies that they will stay as allies and immediately rush to do its bidding on demand? Does Gates imagine that expressions of disdain and ridicule are the road to cooperation with reluctant allies? One of these allies that doesn't want to take casualties is Germany. And why should it? What the foolish Gates doesn't realise is that although the German parliament voted last year to extend the commitment to the hopeless Afghanistan war, this was backed by a mere 29 percent of the German people. Chancellor Merkel knows this well, and she knows, too, that the moment body bags start arriving there would be a political crisis from which her government would not recover. So Gates expects the leader of Germany to support him when such support would mean the instant political death of her government? The man is an oaf. In any event, why should any German soldier die in Afghanistan? What cause would he die for? As sure as the Lord made little green apples he wouldn't be dying for his own country. Well, here's Gates again: These soldiers must be prepared to die, he said, because NATO "must not - we cannot - become a two-tiered alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not." The basis of the NATO alliance is that the countries involved "are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area." Since when did the security of the North Atlantic depend on going to war in Afghanistan? Well that's simple, according to Bush and Gates and Cheney and all the other cleverdicks who were never "willing to fight" or to place their lives on the line for their own country. According to the gallant Gates the leaders of NATO countries must "recapitulate to the people of Europe the importance of the Afghanistan mission and its relationship to the wider terrorist threat." But why should the leader so NATO countries do this? Why should European presidents and prime ministers leap to do the bidding of the head of NATO? And this is the rub, because NATO is essentially an American vehicle. But although the driver and engine come from Washington, the brakes can be applied by lesser beings who have good reason to object to the US jibe that NATO is an "alliance of those who are willing to fight and those who are not." Fine. If countries object to a one-size-fits-all approach that requires them to conform automatically to US war aims, then disband the whole thing. Because of course there will be differing priorities in out-of-theatre wars that do not affect the peoples of Europe and Canada. The NATO Charter states that "The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area." NATO wasn't intended to operate outside Europe, and especially it was never designed to wage war in Afghanistan with consequential long lines of communication. Nor was it meant to be employed by Washington in its search for world domination. Developments in NATO since the ending of the Soviet Union have been largely concerned with menacing the Russian state. Ten new members were encouraged to join, all with reason to distrust Russia, and all located along or close to Russia's border. Many have US military personnel in advisory positions with their defence forces, and two have US military bases. Just what rationale there might be for having such a presence is not clear, but the message to Moscow is plain: We are confronting you in considerable military strength. The current fighting between Russia and Georgia is in no small measure due to Russian apprehension about US pressure for Georgia (and Ukraine) to join NATO, thus bringing a foreign-dominated military alliance even closer to its borders. As The Economist noted last week, "Some countries in Europe like the idea of a security structure that would rely less on American hegemony and more on international law," which is putting it mildly. The European Union is a creaky organisation as, no doubt, would be an EU military grouping. But at least it would be European, with European priorities and values. The best thing that could happen for Europe - and the rest of the world - would be creation of a joint and combined force, and the disbandment of NATO. The writer is a South Asian political and military affairs analyst