What Is NATO Good For Today?

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The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has lost its purpose. Created following the devastation of the Second World War, NATO was intended to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Throughout the Cold War, NATO proved to be an effective cudgel stunting the revolutionary push of Soviet Communism into Western Europe. Yet, following the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO became a defensive alliance with no clear enemy from which to defend itself. It became listless. Even as it expanded into former Soviet-occupied states, NATO became a purposeless, multilateral, intergovernmental bureaucracy.

Charles Krauthammer recently excoriated President Donald Trump for not explicitly stating his Administration’s commitment to upholding Article V of the NATO Charter. Article V simply states that an attack on one NATO member constitutes an attack on all of NATO. Krauthammer takes the view that by publicly humiliating America’s European partners and then refusing to reaffirm America’s commitment to Article V, NATO’s deterrent capability has been weakened. In turn, Krauthammer believes that, “deterrence weakened is an invitation to instability, miscalculation, provocation and worse.”

To be fair, Krauthammer’s assessment of the delicacy of deterrence and the threat that President Trump’s statements may pose to NATO’s deterrence capacity is not necessarily wrong. Krauthammer’s assertion that “deterrence is a barely believable bluff,” however, is absurd and illustrates the moral bankruptcy of maintaining the NATO alliance as it currently exists.

Fact is, NATO’s deterrent capabilities could be very believable if fundamental changes to the structure of the alliance are made. After all, if NATO’s deterrent factor during the Cold War was “barely believable” then its deterrent factor today is totally unbelievable. Don’t take my word for it, just look at the entirety of the post-Cold War period for proof.

From the Balkans to Afghanistan; from Georgia to Ukraine, does anyone seriously buy into the notion that deterrence in Europe is still a thing? Really? In each case, the decisive factor was the presence of American forces (or the lack thereof).

In the Balkans, it was not until the United States stepped up its military commitment that there was even any hope of resolving the seemingly intractable ethno-religious conflicts of the region. In the cases of Georgia and Ukraine, two countries who were up for NATO membership (Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014), it was the lack of American forces that permitted Russia’s military interventions there (ditto for Syria, but that’s another issue entirely). And NATO has done little to help America accomplish its mission in Afghanistan. If anything, NATO forces have hindered American forces in Afghanistan with restrictive Rules of Engagement and organization that have resulted in an inability to complete basic tasks,

The fact of the matter is that endless puffing up of our European friends is not a viable or sustainable foreign policy. It was “barely” viable during the Cold War, when most Europeans agreed (however nominally) that all were threatened by Soviet Communism. Today  no such consensus about the threat to the West exists (indeed, many even deny  that any threat exists).

For the Baltic and Nordic states of Eastern and Northern Europe, they are focused squarely on countering Russian irredentism. They care little for addressing the overwhelming (and apparently ceaseless) flow of refugees and immigrants coming into Europe from the Muslim world. Meanwhile, the Southern and Western European states wholeheartedly embrace the Russians and continue to lament their Faustian bargain of letting as many immigrants into their countries as possible (which had more to do with the economics of Western and Southern Europe than the morality of it). Frankly, the Western and Southern Europeans needed cheap labor and did not have enough native-born citizens to accomplish this goal, so they encouraged foreigners to come to Europe as workers. This is a primary reason behind Angela Merkel’s push for more refugees to come to Germany, despite the unpopularity of the decision.

Thus, there is little consensus among Europeans about what constitutes a defense of the West. There is even less agreement on how best to counter those threats. There are only three things about which the Europeans seem to be able to reach agreement: 1) that Global Warming is the real threat to Europe; 2) that America must continue footing the bill for a relatively purposeless NATO; 3) that, whenever possible, America should always be painted as the villain in European politics.

Gee, thanks. With friends like these, right?

Make no mistake: the old axiom that the only thing worse for American foreign policy than having NATO is not having NATO remains true today. Yet, NATO in its current form does little to further American strategic goals. Apparently, NATO’s purpose is to perpetuate its own existence. A defensive alliance without an enemy to defend itself against is, by definition, a waste of resources (and could actually encourage the kind of aggression that NATO was meant to prevent). Should we discount everything the Russians have been saying about how NATO and EU “double expansion” (as the Russians call it) into their periphery has encouraged Russia to be more aggressive toward Europe? Most certainly not. Though, to be sure, Russia would always be a perpetual thorn in the West’s side simply because Russia does not share the West’s worldview.

Of course, there are real challenges that threaten both the United States and the Europeans. There is still a chance for a unity of purpose to exist between America and its European allies. Yet, that purpose is not all-encompassing and it can never be unifying on a regional level.

That’s why the United States should begin looking for new ways at the sub-regional level to further its interests. For the Eastern and Northern Europeans, who believe that Russia is their primary geostrategic threat, the United States should look at bolstering the preexisting Viségrad and Nordic Battle Groups. Together, at the sub-regional level, these two alliances can be used as the proverbial tip of the spear in stunting Russia’s push into Europe (after all, these states are on the frontline of Russian aggression).

As Angelo Codevilla wrote in 2016, Putin has been pushing up against “mostly open doors” in Europe; it would behoove the West to slam those doors shut. Since the Western and Southern Europeans disagree about the threat that Russia poses to Europe (and seem far more intent on humiliating America), the United States should simply go over their heads and stop trying to go through the NATO bureaucracy to achieve its goals of sealing Europe off to the Russians.

Writing in his recent book, “All Measures Short of War,” foreign policy expert, Thomas J. Wright, explains that, “Europe’s exposure to its southern neighborhood is, at its heart, a geopolitical problem. It is rooted in the collapse of the Middle East regional order. Russia’s intervention [in Syria] was one part of that drama. The changing stance of the United States [under Obama] in the Middle East was another.”

Wright’s statement echoes the great European historian and environmentalist, Fernand Baudel’s belief that Europe’s southern periphery ended not where the Mediterranean Sea began, but rather, where the Sahara Desert ended. Neither the United States nor Russia fully understood just how much their military interventions in the Mideast would impact Europe. For the United States, this has had a destabilizing effect on the European status quo ante that it traditionally preferred. For the Russians, as Wright explains in his book, it has been beneficial (by making Western and Southern Europeans look to Vladimir Putin as a bulwark against the rising Islamist tide in Europe).

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Wright’s assessment is apt and troubling also, since both Italy and Greece, the two powerhouses of Southern Europe, are governed by Russophiles. For the Italians, they do a large portion of trade with Russia. For the Greeks, there are cultural and political affinities between themselves and Russia. Getting them to agree on a harder stance on Russia would be like pulling teeth.

Also, the Western Europeans (particularly the Germans and French) have close economic ties with Russia and favor increased migration flows into Europe from places like the Mideast, North Africa, and South Asia. Yet, these are the very same states that have been the hardest hit by jihadist terrorism in the last few years. Despite their support of immigration, the Western Europeans have started to recognize the threat and have begun calling for more stringent counterterrorism and immigration policies. So, while resisting Russian revanchism is not a priority for either the Western or Southern Europeans, they are more willing to address the issue of jihadist terror, which is a benefit for the United States.

The creation of Southern and Western European defensive blocs aimed at countering terrorism and stemming migration flows would be essential. What’s more, there is a chance to unify these two regions through France. You see, historically, France has always had influence over both Western and Southern Europe. It would not be hard to form a German-dominated Western European defensive bloc (with France as a member), and then form a French-dominated Southern European defensive bloc. This would serve two functions: It would buttress the militarily and economically weak Greece and Italy while  also curbing the growth of German power in Europe. It might also work to counter the increasing influence that Russia has over both Germany and France, by splitting the Franco-German alliance apart.

And, yes, while many ascribe the budding Franco-German alliance as a new unbreakable bond, we must remember that France and Germany have far longer histories of being competitive with one another than they do of being friendly. The deep-seated French distrust of Germany will likely become exacerbated, the stronger Germany becomes and the weaker France becomes over time. The United States should play these two forces off of each other by granting them their own sub-regional blocs to manage.

Taken together, the presence of four sub-regional defensive blocs would be far more useful for American foreign policy than continuing to support a mindless, multinational, centralized bureaucracy of the sort that exists at NATO headquarters today. Such American-backed sub-regional alliances would also be contingent on the indigenous forces not only providing for their own defense, but also, ultimately, becoming entirely self-sufficient over the next two decades. Hard power and national interests would unify these states together with America, as opposed to idealistic language and wishful thinking.

Continue reading over at American Greatness!

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