Neocons vs. Eurowimps
How NATO Weakens the West, by Melvyn Krauss, New York: Macmillan, 480 pages, $25.00
"What's wrong with NATO?" is a question asked with increasing frequency in foreign-policy circles on both sides of the Atlantic. In How NATO Weakens the West, Melvyn Krauss offers the neoconservatives' answer to the question of what ails the Alliance: Western Europe lacks the political will to stand up to the Soviet Union, hence NATO is an impediment to the neoconservatives' goal of launching America on an ideological crusade against Soviet communism.
Krauss argues that Western Europe free rides for its security on America's nuclear deterrent so it won't have to divert money from welfare-state programs to build up the large conventional forces needed to reduce NATO's dangerous reliance on early use of nuclear weapons. But the Europeans lack confidence in the reliability of the U.S. nuclear guarantee. Their concern is well founded: given the prevailing strategic nuclear parity between the superpowers, Washington's threat to risk nuclear war in Europe's defense is not credible. Therefore the Europeans, to ensure their security, turn to détente, which Krauss describes as a policy of bribing the Soviets to refrain from invading Western Europe. "Détente," says Krauss, "allows Europe to keep its conventional defense spending low and its welfare spending high, and still feel safe vis-à-vis the Soviets despite the onset of U.S.-Soviet nuclear parity."
Western Europe's détente policy undercuts the neoconservatives' hard-line Soviet policy by giving Moscow access to militarily useful high technology and allowing the Kremlin to divert to defense purposes economic resources that otherwise would be committed to the civilian sector. This results in what Krauss calls the "defense feedback effect": America "must spend more on its own defense because the Europeans are adding resources to the Soviet war machine."
Neoconservatives want the United States to force Western Europe to fall into line with Washington's tough anti-Soviet policies by withdrawing from NATO if the Europeans remain recalcitrant. They argue that American concern with maintaining the Alliance's cohesion is misplaced, because it gives the Europeans leverage to force the United States to take a soft line toward Moscow. "An unintended and unfortunate consequence of the American attachment to Atlantic unity is to give the European license to disregard U.S. interests," Krauss maintains. "If the United States protests Europe's policies, the doctrine of Atlantic unity is waved in American faces by a coalition of European and U.S. 'Atlanticists' who claim the U.S. needs Europe at least as much as Europe needs the United States."
Neoconservatives believe the Europeans need America far more than the United States needs them. Therefore Washington should, Krauss argues, pursue its own interests unilaterally. If this leads to NATO's collapse, so be it. There is no benefit in the Alliance if Western Europe compels the United States to give up its "Star Wars" defense initiative, make arms-control concessions, and abandon anti-Soviet "freedom fighters" in the Third World.
How NATO Weakens the West is highly uneven. Krauss is very good at identifying the points of friction in Atlantic relations, and his book is important because it articulates the frustrations with NATO felt by a growing number of Americans. But he abjures a scholarly and reasoned approach for a polemical and superficial one. He thus fails to understand the underlying causes of intra-Alliance tensions and their longer-term implications for American foreign policy. Neoconservatives do not like Europeans—whom they regard as pacifistic "Eurowimps" hopelessly addicted to welfare-state socialism—and they believe Western Europe has no right to define its interests in a way that conflicts with the neoconservative vision of American foreign policy.
Obviously, Western European and American policies often differ sharply. One need not agree with those policies to recognize that there are good reasons—historical, geographical, strategic, and political—why Europe is different from the United States. For example, neoconservatives do not conceal their disdain for Europe's welfare states, which they believe undermine European defense efforts. But nations rent by bitter class antagonism are generally inhibited from pursuing strong foreign policies—as were Britain and France during the 1930s. By fostering domestic political and social cohesion, the welfare state may have made Western Europe stronger, not weaker, as the neoconservatives maintain.
Similarly, West Germany favors a low nuclear threshold not because it is obsessed with maintaining a high level of welfare-state benefits but because it is obsessed with deterring war. Since West Germany would be the battlefield, any war in Europe—whether nuclear or conventional—would be catastrophic. The West German government believes war is more likely to be avoided by a strategy of nuclear deterrence (provided by the United States) than by one of conventional defense.
Finally, it is easy to see why West Germany is so strongly committed to détente. Unlike the United States, the Germans (and other West Europeans) have reaped tangible benefits from détente, both economically and in terms of increased human contacts with Eastern Europe. Moreover, Americans persistently discount the degree to which West German foreign-policy elites are committed to Ostpolitik and thus to resolving the German national question. Relaxation of tensions in Europe allows West Germany to seek close intra-German relations, and the West Germans hope to institutionalize divisible détente by drawing Moscow into a web of cooperative political and economic relations. But détente in Europe is linked to the climate of superpower relations. Hence West Germany opposes American policies—in the Third World and on arms control—that heighten tensions between Moscow and Washington and thus chill détente in Europe.
American and Western European interests are different. That is why NATO is in trouble. Maintaining the present structure of Atlantic relations makes matters worse by perpetuating Western Europe's anachronistic and humiliating dependence on the United States. In such an imbalanced relationship, Washington expects Western Europe to support U.S. policies and Europe is pressured to conform. But the Europeans resent pressure to follow policies they regard as counter to their own interests. This resentment fans the anti-American and neutralist sentiments already rampant in Europe. On the other hand, Europe's recalcitrance illustrates the reality that NATO is actually a unilateral American guarantee of Europe's security—not an alliance with reciprocal obligations. With increasing frequency, Americans ask why they should bear the nuclear risks and economic costs of such a one-sided relationship.
Atlantic relations will be stable only when America and Western Europe are on an equal footing, which requires that Europe be able to defend itself. Yet it is not likely that any fundamental reordering of strategic responsibilities will occur within the Alliance's structured framework. Only when America no longer is the ultimate guarantor of Western Europe's security will the Europeans have an incentive to transform their strategic defense potential into actual self-defense capability.
The growing rift between America and Western Europe suggests that Atlantic relations are headed for major change—either an amicable separation or a bitter divorce. It is cause for concern that the loudest voices in the debate about NATO's future belong to European leftists who dislike the United States and to American neoconservatives who hold Europe beneath contempt. Their trans-Atlantic antipathy is mutually reinforcing and is pushing the Alliance to a nasty breakup that will benefit only Moscow.
Passion can never be entirely divorced from politics, but wise policies are not made in the heat of emotion. The United States still has important interests in Europe and cannot simply walk away from NATO. Yet in the long run, the Atlantic Community can be preserved only by transcending the structure of the Atlantic Alliance. Washington must begin to move toward a gradual withdrawal from the Alliance and a devolution to Western Europe of full responsibility for its own defense.
Krauss and other neoconservatives profess to support devolution in the belief that Western Europe on its own would abandon détente and take a harder anti-Soviet line. This is wishful thinking. Devolution is in America's interests but comes with a price tag that neoconservatives fail to see. An independent Western Europe will be less, not more, likely to follow America's lead.
It was inevitable that as it recovered from the effects of World War II, Western Europe grew restless under Washington's Atlantic hegemony and began to chart an independent course in world politics. Western Europe's strategic independence would remove the last inhibition that restrains it from clashing even more sharply with Washington on sensitive policy questions. Moreover, the emergence of a militarily independent Western Europe would be a major step in transforming the international system from bipolarity to multipolarity. The inexorable consequence of multipolarity is enhanced political and economic rivalry between the United States and the emerging new powers—in this case, Western Europe—and a corresponding diminution of America's ability to influence international outcomes.
The price of multipolarity is high but nevertheless is worth paying if it enables America to escape the nuclear peril and strategic overextension imposed by NATO. And on those occasions the Atlantic Community would be stronger, because neither America nor Europe would have false expectations about the other's behavior. Americans, even neoconservatives, would have no legitimate basis for objecting to the policies of a militarily independent Western Europe. And when they do cooperate with Washington, Europeans will know that collaboration results from the voluntary choice of equal partners, not the imposed diktat of a hegemonic power.
In coming years, the future of the triangular U.S.-Europe-USSR relationship may be the most important item on America's foreign-policy agenda. Making a successful transition from an Atlantic to a post-Alliance world will not be easy; the possibility of disaster can never be discounted. Success depends on thoughtful planning, empathy for European interests, and wise statesmanship. But if Melvyn Krauss's How NATO Weakens the West is indicative, America's neoconservative foreign-policy elite is not prepared to exercise the kind of leadership required to bring about an orderly transformation of Atlantic relations.
Christopher Layne, a Los Angeles attorney, served during 1984 as the NATO/Western Europe analyst at the U.S. Army's Arroyo Center think tank. He has written extensively about foreign-policy issues in Foreign Policy, Orbis, The New Republic, and various newspapers.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Neocons Vs. Eurowimps".