Foreign Policy

The Obsolete Alliance

Has NATO outlived its usefulness?

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates went to Europe recently to announce that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization may have a "dismal future" and that before long, American leaders "may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost."

Why does he make that sound like a bad thing? "Watch out! We may have to stop spending so much money protecting countries that can protect themselves!"

The prospect is not likely to throw millions of Americans into despair. As Gates himself has pointed out more than once, the United States has been carrying more than its share of the load for a long time now—and the situation is getting worse, not better. It's hard to see what we would lose from the gradual dissolution of the Atlantic alliance.

It's also hard to see what Europe would lose. NATO has been around more than 60 years, which is an awfully long time for a coalition of sovereign nations to last. That survival is especially notable considering the monumental changes of the past couple of decades.

Its entire purpose was to protect Western Europe from the Soviet and Warsaw Pact forces in Eastern Europe, which were a plausible threat to invade and conquer. But at this point, maintaining NATO is like keeping forts in South Dakota to defend settlers against hostile Indians.

The Western alliance won the Cold War, and in the absence of some major, general threat, Gates would do better to ask why it needs to be preserved.

He certainly doesn't like the way it operates. In his June 10 speech in Brussels, he complained that "while every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated at all, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission."

This may have something to do with the fact that Libya is way outside NATO's traditional responsibility. The centerpiece of its founding treaty is this sentence: "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."

But in Libya—which, you may notice, is not in Europe or North America—there was no attack on any member. It was NATO that did the attacking. Not surprisingly, some allies haven't had their hearts in the war.

Ever since the end of the Cold War, NATO has been an answer in search of a question. It validates what Ronald Reagan is credited with saying: "Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program."

Everyone understood why we kept huge forces in (West) Germany a generation ago. But today, it's a puzzle. Who are they supposed to fight? The Finns? Missions like Libya are an attempt to justify an organization that has outlived the problem it was created to solve.

The attempt is not working well. NATO endured partly because for decades, it never had to go to war. Once it did, in Afghanistan, it was exposed as flimsy and unreliable.

In 2007, Gates accused our European pals of shirking their duty against the Taliban. He reiterated his gripe in 2008. In 2009, more of the same.

How much good did all this grousing do? The other day, on Capitol Hill, Gates called the European contribution to training Afghan security forces "a joke."

Libya is more proof of the futility of trying to rouse equal motivation among 28 different countries. It confirms that the alliance has become an obsolete luxury.

Our insistence on preserving it anyway means we have to take an oversized role, which frees our partners of the need to attend to their own defense. Only five NATO governments spend more than 2 percent of their gross domestic product on the military—while the U.S. shells out 5 percent.

The defense secretary fumes that too many countries "enjoy the benefits of membership" but "don't want to share the risks and costs." Of course they do. If you let people join a nice club without paying dues, how many would turn it down? And if you later asked them to mop the floors, how many would grab a bucket?

Our allies are behaving rationally, and we keep wondering why. Gates may enjoy continually pounding his head against a brick wall. But the rest of us might find it feels really good to stop.

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84 responses to “The Obsolete Alliance

  1. NATO is Europe’s untouchable entitlement program. Sans NATO, Europe would have to spend more on its own defense. Obviously that would bite into their socialist bent and make it even less sustainable. We can’t have that.

    1. It would also mean that US business and labor would not have to pay for Europes defense and therefore make US make the US more competitive. The same applies to South Korean and Japanese defense, its a subsidy that burdens US business and labor.

      If the Europeans and Asians claim that the US is not subsiding their defense then its even more reason to leave since why spend that money on something the Europeans and Asians don’t even think is happening.

      1. NATO should have been dissolved 10 years ago, if not 15. What we are worried about? German’s invading France? If they do, let em.

        1. Do you know who else thought we should just let Germany invade France?

          1. The National Socialists? The Kaiser. Barbarossa?

          2. Samantha Power?

    2. Maybe we should all be spending 1% on national defense.

  2. I thought we took over responsibility for Germany’s and Japan’s defense after WW II so they wouldn’t rearm.
    Anyway, we could start charging for mutual defense treaties. NATO would fall apart in no time.

    1. Charging for mutual defense? I would prefer one of the the older more honest term … Mercenary Inc., or The Bowery Italian Economic Development Association

  3. I thought it seemed pretty odd when NATO created a quasi-alliance with Russia.

    The original point of NATO was to fight Russia.

  4. Lord Ismay, the first NATO Scretary General, famously stated that NATO’s goal was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”. I don’t see why any of this is still needed.

    1. At best it is to keep the Europeans from going back to building armies and killing each other. But it really doesn’t look like we can prevent that even with NATO. So why bother?

      The problem is that the Dems will never pull us out of NATO because it gives them a way to diminish US sovereignty and a way to get the US involved in all sorts of dumb ass humanitarian missions liberals so love.

      The Republicans will never pull us out out of habit if nothing else. Although we should, I don’t see us getting out of NATO anytime soon.

      1. the Dems will never pull us out of NATO because it gives them a way to diminish US sovereignty
        Is there a source for this other than Team Red propaganda?

        a way to get the US involved in all sorts of dumb ass humanitarian missions liberals so love
        Agreed.

        I think Republicans support NATO because foreign cooperation adds some perceived legitimacy to our kinetic actions and kinetic occupations.

        1. Republicans seek perceived legitimacy to the actions of a Democrat president?

          1. I was referring specifically to Iraq. Unlike Libya, there would have been no action in Iraq by any NATO country without US encouragement.

            1. Bush didn’t need NATO for legitimacy in Iraq. He had the US Congress. It is Democrats, Clinton in Kosovo and now Obama in Libya who look to NATO for legitimacy for wars that are not authorized by Congress and undertaken without any public debate.

        2. I love the “kinetic operations” language. They are called wars dumb ass. No amount of talking by trolls will change that.

          1. kinetic actions and kinetic occupations
            John, meet sarcasm.

          2. ass fucking is a kinetic action. I wish he’d be more specific.

        3. And as far as “red team propaganda”, I think making the argument that NATO approval vitiates the need for Congressional approval, which is precisely what the Department of State lawyers are arguing, is using NATO membership as a way to diminish US sovereignty.

          1. I’m pretty sure Obama is arguing that the actions in Libya do not meet the standards of hostilities under the War Powers Resolution. And Clinton used a national emergency argument for Kosovo.
            I don’t see at all how US sovereignty is diminished in any way. The military is following the orders of the CinC, not NATO.

            1. Any time the US goes to another country, be it by plane or by foot, and kills people, I’d call that war. In fact, any time we have military anywhere not within our own borders, I think we should call it war. Lawyers can spin it however they like, but if you ask anyone on the street, they’ll call it war.

              1. In fact, any time we have military anywhere not within our own borders, I think we should call it war.

                So we’re at war in South Korea? Or Germany? Or Cuba? Or any of the myriad other places U.S. troops are stationed?

          2. And as far as “red team propaganda”, I think making the argument that NATO approval vitiates the need for Congressional approval, which is precisely what the Department of State lawyers are arguing, is using NATO membership as a way to diminish US sovereignty.

            OK. That seems a pretty weak assault on our sovereignty, but ok. So, what is your take on the Bush Administrations push to have NATO take over operations in Afghanistan?

            It seems what both parties do is use NATO as political cover for things they don’t want to get blamed for. Bush got to blame the lack of success in Afghanistan on NATO, Obama gets to say the USA isn’t at war with Libya, NATO is. Seems like 6 of 1 and half a dozen of the other to me.

            1. Bush had Congressional Authorization to go into Afghanistan. Saying the NATO can get us into a war and there is no need for Congress to approve of it is a huge imposition on sovereignty. You are taking away the power to declare war from Congress and giving it to Congress.

              You just don’t have a problem because you like Obama. If Bush had tried this, you would be having the vapors. Saying NATO should run the war is a hell of a lot different than saying “NATO decides if we go to war”. Come on.

              1. You just don’t have a problem because you like Obama.

                Which is why I said what I said about Libya above? Obama is using NATO as political cover for what he is doing in Libya. I don’t think he should. But, I also don’t think it is much of a threat to our sovereignty, because no one is saying that “NATO can get us into a war.” It is an excuse by the executive to grab extra control over that sovereignty, but it does not threaten our sovereignty as a nation.

                If Bush had tried this, you would be having the vapors.

                Nah. I would have been about as annoyed as I am with Obama. Given the context of Bush’s foreign adventures it would have been a “here we go again” kinda thing.

                Saying NATO should run the war is a hell of a lot different than saying “NATO decides if we go to war”. Come on.

                Yes, they are different, but again, no one is saying that “NATO decides if we go to war.” What Obama has said is that “THE POTUS decides if we go to war along side our allies.” That is a much different argument.

                1. I was worried that all of this might be too subtle for John, but then I remembered that he likes subtle arguments. Surely he will see the subtle difference between using NATO as a cover to increase/maintain executive power and using it to undermine our national sovereignty(like a traitorous Democrat who hates our national sovereignty with a burning hate). And he will be able to juggle this distinction while still managing to see the commonality between the political uses of NATO by both parties.

        4. The problem is that the Dems will never pull us out of NATO because it gives them a way to diminish US sovereignty and a way to get the US involved in all sorts of dumb ass humanitarian missions liberals so love. The Republicans will never pull us out out of habit…

          It takes serious partisan filters to see a difference between the parties on NATO.

  5. I remember some dumb redneck guy who really liked guns and hated the Department of [insert useless fucking government organ] from somewhere over there, in the existential darkness that is the space between Los Angeles and New York, said in 1801 something along these lines: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”

    But that must be total bullshit and not at all credible, since it was all the way back when gay pride parades weren’t popular and there was no Medicare. Stupid republicans!!!1

    1. It’s a serious insult to TJ to imply that he would associated in any way with either of the modern major political parties. Especially when using that particular quotation.

      1. Thomas Jefferson believed in a kind of agrarian utopia that was rendered completely obsolete by the industrial revolution. The man died in 1826 before the train. He would be utterly bewildered by the modern world.

        1. Supreme principles apply to humanity in general, whether it abides largely on plantations, small villages, or world-spanning super-cities like Coruscant.

        2. The Industrial Revolution was fully underway during Jefferson’s life.

          1. I’m not sure whether John was intending to discredit Jefferson somehow.

        3. An agrarian utopia was his ideal. He industrialization of England had been underway for over 70 years when TJ passed on. Bewildered? Hardly.

          1. It was underway but the cities hadn’t grown that big yet and the locomotive hadn’t been invented or seen wide use. In Jefferson’s world, people still moved pretty much the same way the Pharaohs moved. In just 30 years everything changed. I don’t think you can underestimate what mobility and urbanization did. It was a five day ride from Monticello to Washington in Jefferson’s day. Most people never went more than a few miles from their homes in their entire lifetimes.

            1. This is a personal pet peeve of mine.

              Dismiss the ability, and intellect of our ancestors because they didn’t have our tools.

              That is like saying a farmer from the depths of Africa would be unable to function in modern America.

              Hubris.

                1. that was to Observer

              1. Well said. Galileo did alright without the aid of computers nor calculators. I would love too see what that man could have done with the tools of today.

            2. John

              Just so we are clear. What your saying is that there are NO universal truths? All philosophy is situationally dependent?

              So, “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” was nullified by the industrial revolution?

              Care to clarify that leap of logic?

              1. No. I am saying that Jefferson would identify with no political parties today because the world is so different. I am just saying both sides should stop using him as some kind of talisman.

                1. If by “no political parties” and “both sides” you are limiting your comment to ONLY Republicans and Democrats, I would agree.

                  Jefferson would, however, almost completely identify with libertarian philosophy. And being a libertarian, I feel totally comfortable applying his quotations.

                  1. But what about teh slaves? Hardly seems fitting of a libertarian…

                    1. You need to judge a man by the times HE lived in, not the times YOU live in. Jefferson’s views on slavery were EXTREMELY liberal considering where and when he lived. He advocated the abolishment of slavery. Unheard of for a Virginian in the early 1800s.

                      Why did he keep slaves? Easy, if all your competitors have free labor, it’s pretty tough to compete if your paying yours.

                      Jefferson, while a slave owner, was a net plus on the side of emancipation.

                    2. Sorry, “you’re”. I should proof read.

          2. Bewildered? Hardly.

            I think people that died 25 years ago might be somewhat bewildered by smartphones, etc.

  6. But, but, but without NATO, Europe would turn into Somalia!

    1. You know who else wanted to build roads all over Europe?

      1. In Soviet Russia, roads build you.

      2. Henry Ford?

        Of course, you know what foreign politician Henry Ford liked?

  7. Although I don’t support national sovereignty in theory, NATO and the UN are pretty bad from a libertarian perspective. We need a libertarian version of the UN that exists to promote free trade and small government.

    1. We need a libertarian version of the UN that exists to promote free trade and small government.

      Yeah that won’t be highjacked or get out of control or anything. Sovereignty may not be perfect. But it beats the alternatives.

    2. We need a libertarian version of the UN that exists to promote free trade and small government.

      You’re soaking in it!

    3. A governmental agency to promote small government?

      Isn’t that like curing cancer with cancer?

      1. It’s kind of like equipping firefighters with flamethrowers.

        1. To be fair, there are things called ‘controlled burns’ to combat forest fires.

  8. western Europe and the US think that the former no longer has to defend itself. But it may have to in the future.
    because the west has been so phenomenally successful and also liberal we think such things are normal, that it is normal to live with peace and prosperity and safety, that your village does not need armed guards to protect itself from other villages/nations, that your town will not be raided by some equivalent of the janjaweed,that people don’t want to take over others and only attack for some “good” reason (eg, to overthrow tyranny or protect civilians), that humans are not aggressive really, and that aggression is a “social construct.” all these beliefs are due to strength, which makes others afraid to attack. but as the west declines in strength, others may look at it with the new eyes of conquerors. the notion that life must continually improve and everyone get freer and richer and that everyone only wants more stuff and that no one really cares about identity or power or culture really is a “social construct” of ours.

    1. Only 1 blue water navy in the world. China meanwhile is pending all this money to build up enough of a navy to control her own sealanes in case of attack. Wow impending dooooooom on the horizon. Doesn’t Russia have the GDP of both the Koreas combined? Scary.

    2. You forgot to mention that Europeans are disarmed by law; they’re apocalyptically fucked just as soon as their national militaries are defeated. If there truly is a benevolent God somewhere, however, the next few decades will see most Americans who aren’t already armed equip themselves (just as a cultural trend, that is, not explicitly to prepare for some war, that happens to double as a strength and deterrent to aggression).

      The Limeys and Frogs can burn, for all I care.

      “You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

      1. I seem to recall hearing somewhere that the Soviets were deathly afraid of a land war in the United States due to a misconception of Americans as armed to the teeth from watching westerns and other popular films.

        1. Not really a misconception in a great deal of places. 😛 But yeah, my mother used to joke about that (Soviet-born Russian).

  9. western Europe and the US think that the former no longer has to defend itself. But it may have to in the future.

    Then I suggest that western Europe prepare to do so.

    1. then we can rescue them from the Kaiser (part III) again.

      I keed, I keed.

  10. Existing international alliances can certainly use improvement, but I think that any policy that moves toward more isolationism is dangerous. Whatever failures on the part of NATO and the UN, such alliances do seem to have served to end the cycle of warfare in the western world, and not a moment too soon. New forms of imperialism have certainly cropped up, but I think it’s progress that we’re wringing our hands over a fairly limited operation such as Libya, even if the hand-wringing originates in partisan politics. I don’t think going from the massive fuck up of Iraq to being prickly over Libya is so much an evolved sensibility as it is a consequence of the fact that a Democrat is president. Still, any skepticism of the use of the machinery of war is welcome. But all evidence suggests that the only thing that will diminish this tendency on a global scale is strong international formal and economic alliances.

    1. International alliances have a sordid history of either failing to prevent war (the League of Nations) or causing wars in the first place (e.g. the Triple Alliance).

      1. Well it’s hard to prove the cause of something that was prevented, but there has been a noticeably lack of World Wars since the formation of strong western alliances.

        1. Pretty Hard to have world wars when you invent these things called nuclear weapons.

          1. SHHHHH! You’re getting in the way of his promulgation of the greatness of entangling alliances! You disrespectful, mean man!

          2. A+ for irony.

    2. I don’t think you understand what isolationism is.

  11. [ I don’t think going from the massive fuck up of Iraq to being prickly over Libya is so much an evolved sensibility as it is a consequence of the fact that a Democrat is president.]

    I see there how you artfully dodged Kosovo.

  12. I have long been of the opinion that the US should withdraw from NATO (I actually had a letter to the editor on that point published in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago). NATO is a military alliance, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union and dissolution of the Warsaw Pact it has completely outlived its usefulness. NATO is an alliance in desperate search of a mission, which is why it engages in (largely ineffective) “peacekeeping” operations and “humanitarian” missions on other continents. NATO should be disbanded, the US should withdraw all its troops from Europe, and the EU nations should be responsible for their own defense.

    Now, let’s move on to pulling out of the UN . . . .

    1. Now, let’s move on to pulling out of the UN . . . .

      Dunno why this made me think of it, but wouldn’t UN ambassador be the perfect position for Anthony Weiner?

      1. 9.3/10

        Work on the character development a little more next time! 🙂

  13. NATO is a structure whose time has come to an end. Absent some other structural function (coordination of military training activities, or some other useful mutually supported purpose, it needs to end. We get nothing out of it. The only NATO members we can count on are Britain and Denmark. I see no reason that we couldn’t negotiate separate treaties with these two countries directly.

  14. I just read a semi-relevant article in regards to foreign policy in general, titled “Non-intervention: A foreign policy for the American Citizen” figured some of you might be interested…
    http://hubpages.com/hub/Non-In…..an-Citizen

  15. Great post,I will read your post time to time.thank you!

  16. I hate the Alliance, hate war! You say what is the difference between Alliance and gang?

  17. YEAH, NATO has outlived its usefulness!

    Cause every country don’t scare your weapon any more! Except this, you have nothing!

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