Quo Vadis, NATO?

We’ve spent the weekend looking back on the heroics that led to Memorial Day. It is meet and fit that we do so, for in many ways that is where the American character was forged. From the loyalty of immigrants, to the battle heroics, the superb leadership, and the mastery of logistics, the Civil War was our graduation into the ranks of the great powers. From 1865 it has been self-evident that the United States could not be invaded by any other power, it could be defeated tactically, but only at existential risk to the power doing it.

From 1865 it has been self-evident that the United States could not be invaded by any other power, it could be defeated tactically, but only at existential risk to the power doing it. That is the grounding of the American hegemony which has existed since 1945 and it is a different ethos than any that has come before. That is because it has never looked simply to American advantage, but has sought mutual benefit, and in most cases that seeking has been rewarded.

That is the grounding of the American hegemony which has existed since 1945 and it is a different ethos than any that has come before. That is because it has never looked simply to American advantage, but has sought mutual benefit, and in most cases that seeking has been successful.

This has been especially true in Europe, which has been since Roman days subject to intramural wars. That ended in 1945, and it ended due to American leadership.

But that leaves the question: Quo Vadis? Where do we go from here.

Kori Schake wrote recently in The American Interest about this in an article entitled NATO without America. The article makes many good points, quite a few of which are not obvious.

[A] palpable sigh of relief emanated from NATO’s headquarters in Brussels and the capitals of 27 NATO members when Donald Trump finally had a good word to say about history’s most successful and enduring alliance. He did not, of course, go so far as to acknowledge NATO’s genuine achievements: agreeing in 1949 that an attack on any allied state would be considered an attack on all; creating in 1950 a structure of military commands that facilitates operations and creates a common strategic culture among members’ militaries; integrating West Germany as a military power into a cooperative framework in 1954; holding at bay bristling Soviet aggression for 45 years and Russian revanchism since; voluntarily sharing the burdens of a common defense—including nuclear weapons responsibilities; using America as a counterweight to potentially ruinous intra-European competition; reunifying Germany in 1991 without setting off alarms among European countries and Russia; imposing an end to the Balkan wars in 1995 and keeping the still-hostile parties from shooting at each other since; expanding the perimeter of security that encourages prosperity and accountable governance to Eastern and Southern Europe; preventing the Qaddafi regime from carrying out its apparent plan to massacre Libyans in March 2011; fighting for 15 years in Afghanistan; and continually finding ways to adapt a Cold War institution to new security challenges. […]

President Trump is certainly ruder than previous American leaders have been in decrying the shortfalls of our European allies, but the aggravation has long been widespread and is still growing. Americans of all political stripes believe it is long past time for Europe to stop indulging in post-Cold War defense cuts. Every American President of the past thirty years—actually longer, for the plaint goes back to the early years of the Nixon Administration—has dreamt up a NATO initiative to cajole greater defense expenditures out of our European allies. […]

Referring to the invocation (largely at British instigation) of Article 5 after 9/11.

But even if the support of some allies was grudging, they did nonetheless pledge on September 12 that the attack on us was an attack on them, and offer any and all support the Bush Administration wanted in the unnerving aftermath. That Americans were consumed with doing as quickly as possible all that was needed in those unimagined circumstances in no way diminishes the magnitude of commitment evinced by our allies.  […]

But most European governments conduct their national security policies at a much greater distance from their militaries, celebrating their concentration on “soft power” tools in lieu of force. Not only do they privilege those tools, they often consider their policies, and themselves, morally superior for the choice. One need only listen to EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker or read of the European Parliament passing legislation condemning U.S. intelligence agencies to share President Trump’s aggravation with Europe. We sentimentalize the Transatlantic connection at our peril.  […]

In some ways, we have created a ‘welfare state’ with regards to the defense of Western Europe, but it is very hard to see what the alternative was. We have become the ultimate European power, and the ultimate outcome of European culture, for better or worse. For all we wish that the Europeans would do more, well at least Germany isn’t invading Poland this week. We could certainly use better allies, but who, exactly might they be?

The Saudis are often maligned as being as great a threat as al-Qaeda or ISIS. This not only ignores the great changes in Saudi national security policy, especially after the 2005 terrorist attack in Riyadh, but also the important political and social changes enacted under the influence of the Emirates’ successes and a reformist leadership in the Kingdom. America’s partners in the region have gone on a defense-spending spree, driven by concern about Iranian efforts to destabilize Sunni governments and infiltrate Shi‘a ones. Even with those changes, however, impediments to deeper cooperation remain […]

Jordan, in particular, has been heroic in its generosity to Syrian refugees and courageous in its policies toward the Assad government. The United Arab Emirates  leads in the development of serious military forces and in cooperating with U.S. operations, as it did in Libya. Jordan, Egypt, and the UAE have been stalwart in their commitment to the war in Afghanistan and are being cajoled into a common front against ISIS. Even so, the countries of the Middle East pose challenges that European allies do not. […]

[I]t also merits emphasizing that NATO and “Europe” are not the same. Very often when American exasperation boils up at Europeans, it is the European Union we are reacting to. Not only do the EU’s ambitions outpace its achievements, its advocates and officials often seek acclaim in the present for intentions to accomplish things in the future. But while most NATO allies are also in the European Union, they behave differently in each setting because the institutional cultures of the two organizations are markedly different.

American leadership in NATO creates opportunities that we will never have in other venues. The integrated military command (IMC)  in NATO is the way we go to war, because the NATO allies are the countries we most frequently fight alongside, and the long-practiced procedures of the IMC facilitate understanding. Allies show up using equipment compatible with American equipment, talk on radio frequencies already known to American forces, share intelligence across linked systems, and drop bombs that can be shared if one country’s forces run short. […]

[R]ussian aggression is reviving interest in European security, but not diminishing other claims on American attention. Part of the reason why Trump’s criticism of European defense resonates is that challenges in Europe look manageable with the power Europeans could muster on their own. Could Britain, France, Poland, and Germany really not bring enough power to bear to defeat a Russian invasion of a Baltic state? If not, should they not quickly mobilize greater military forces—or more creatively use the nuclear and conventional forces they already have—instead of relying so heavily on American guarantees? Russia is not the peer of any of those countries (with the possible exception of Poland), much less all of them combined.

This plaint misses an important point. In aggregate, Europe’s military assets look formidable, but only the United States can bring them together in an effective fighting ensemble. We are the mainframe, so to speak, and the allies plug into that—whether we are talking about intelligence, logistics, lift, or half a dozen other crucial functions in contemporary warfighting. However well equipped they look on paper, our allies strain to coordinate their assets without us.

In any event, Americans would be wise not to scorn Europeans for clinging to us when they’re worried. Few states have the ability or domestic support to act without benefit of allies or international institutions. The United States does. But allied support matters for our domestic political purposes as well: Americans are more confident that our government is in the right when we win the support of other states that share our values. It matters especially now, when the international order is fraying. The world looks less safe, and the rules less respected, than they did a decade ago.

There is quite a lot more at the link, which you should read and digest. But the point is valid. Without the US at the center, as we have been for 70 years now, Europe has real problems in executing anything especially at any distance from home. It’s easy for us, as Americans, to forget that while we easily switch from considering the Balts to the middle east to Asia, only we, and before us, Great Britain, have ever truly been world-wide powers, able to project force almost anywhere on earth. The other are all regional powers of one sort or another, but they can be and are increasingly worldwide partners, because their militaries are constituted to work within the distinctive American pattern.

That makes them uniquely valuable, and it makes us essential to them, forging a win for all of us.

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

2 Responses to Quo Vadis, NATO?

  1. the unit says:

    Let’s see now. My garbage pick-up man bills me every three months. I send payment and a small bonus for his good service. Recently he notified me I’d been over paying for some time and could skip a payment. I replied I paid bonus for his good service and didn’t want to. Appreciate him much.
    Isn’t that what NATO allies have been doing? Over paying U.S. for good service though the years, and appreciating it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Kinda, Sorta, Maybe, indeed! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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