NATO

Without the Soviet Union, NATO Seems Increasingly Irrelevant

No number of NATO summits will re-energize an alliance against an enemy that went out of business nearly 30 years ago.

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President Trump's trip to London for the NATO summit is a reminder of the political importance of an enemy.

The North Atlantic Treaty that came into force in 1949 does not mention the Soviet Union. But its preamble referring to "the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law" was what today we might recognize as a subtweet, unmistakably casting shade toward Moscow.

The treaty served many functions, but one crucial one was defining the enemy. Without one, following the defeat of the Axis powers of Japan and Nazi Germany in World War II, America might have felt purposeless or adrift.

Much of American politics since the defeat or collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 can be explained as casting about in search of a new enemy. Sometimes, our enemies find us, as they did in the attacks of September 11, 2001 against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The day after, NATO invoked its collective responsibility against what it called "the scourge of international terrorism."

And for a time it seemed that Al Qaeda—or a more broadly defined violent extremism, including the Islamic State—might fill the role that had been occupied during NATO's glory days by the Soviet Union.

But then consensus broke down, in part over the definition of the enemy. Was it just Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda? Or did it include President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea? The congressional authorization for use of military force that passed immediately after the September 11 attacks gave the president permission to strike "those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons."

As the September 11 attacks wane in American memory—some voters in 2020 will have been born after the twin towers fell—politicians have been searching for new villains.

Donald Trump ran for president in 2016 promising to build a wall to protect America from illegal immigrants from Mexico—immigrants he blamed for bringing crime and drugs. Various Republican foreign policy thinkers have floated other candidates for American enemies—Communist China, or the terror-sponsoring, nuclear-bomb-building regime in Tehran.

While these enemies all have their possible appeals, none has proved as durably unifying as the Soviet Union did. China is an inconvenient enemy because it's also a big business partner. It makes a lot of our products, and we sell it a lot of things. Iran is terrible, but the Iraq War and the ongoing fight in Afghanistan have nearly exhausted American patience for ambitious projects to improve the Middle East.

The Democrats are in enemy-search mode, too. Listen carefully on the campaign trail or even in Congress, and the politicians test out possibilities. Tune in to the impeachment hearings, and it sounds like the enemy is President Trump, or Russia, or Ukraine. Watch a Democratic presidential debate, and the enemy to be fought is "millionaires and billionaires," or perhaps "the insurance companies," "Big Tech," and "Big Pharma," the fossil-fuel companies and their lobbyists. Perhaps an imaginative Democrat can channel American animosity toward something more abstract, such as racism or inequality.

Creative Republicans and centrists are testing similar ideas about making the enemy loneliness, addiction, or despair.

It's almost enough to make one nostalgic for the glory days of NATO. The Soviet Union was unspeakably evil. I'm glad it's gone. At least when it existed, though, pretty much everyone outside the Iron Curtain—America, Europe—understood that the communists were the foes. No number of NATO summits will re-energize an alliance against an enemy that went out of business nearly 30 years ago.

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  1. The relevance of NATO is so the US will pay for much of the EU’s protection. But the Orange Man bad for wanting other countries to pay up.

    1. You are right. And did anyone ever expect the European nations to come to the aid of the US if only the US were attacked?

      1. Don’t you remember their thoughts and prayers after 9/11?? How ungrateful!!

        1. I remember a French AWACS (equivalent) on US soil after NATO’s articles were invoked.

    2. Orange Man is responsible for a trillion deficit. But yeah, he is totally concerned about spending. Nevertheless, the US should pull out of NATO and stop funding EU’s military costs.

      1. A trillion dollar deficit, damnit.

      2. “”Orange Man is responsible for a trillion deficit””

        Is he? The dems in charge of the house have no culpability?

        1. You gotta look at it from another point of view. Specifically, the point of view that notes that Democrats are always for more spending and more taxation therefore the only possible culpability is on Republicans when they go along with that worldview.

          I suppose that’s how they must look at it, because otherwise it’s really hard to see how Republicans are worse unless you’re of the opinion that confiscatory taxation is superior to deficits.

        2. Never said they don’t. But did Trump veto the spending bill? Hell no. He demanded this budget.

        3. Given that on the D side of Congress, the Spending knob only turns higher, the fact that Trump managed to turn down the Tax knob is the only thing they can see as a variable.

    3. The relevance of NATO is so the US will pay for much of the EU’s protection.

      I missed the memo – is Spain about to be overrun by a superior army? Ditto Italy and Germany? Who the hell are we protecting them from?


  2. At least when it existed, though, pretty much everyone outside the Iron Curtain—America, Europe—understood that the communists were the foes. No number of NATO summits will re-energize an alliance against an enemy that went out of business nearly 30 years ago.

    That awkward moment when the author forgets that China exists.

    1. I was thinking the same thing also keeping NATO may help us if we need help

      1. I’m not so sure NATO means jack shit since we fund virtually all of it. Last I saw, American forces tend to be the main forces and NATO is basically a mask that pretends that Europe is ‘helping’ when measurably they are not.

      2. The sort of help we might require against China isn’t the sort NATO might provide, although its member states could certainly be helpful in other ways. Personally, I think NATO isn’t really worth the cash we’re spending on it at the moment. You think we can get Putin to throw the weight of his internet trolls behind the libertarian candidate if we make NATO withdrawal one of our issues?

        1. “You think we can get Putin to throw the weight of his internet trolls behind the libertarian candidate if we make NATO withdrawal one of our issues?”

          Hey, according to the Ds, that’s the only reason the hag lost!

      3. “I was thinking the same thing also keeping NATO may help us if we need help”

        Isn’t that cute?
        Yeah, the French will send 4 guys with pop-guns….
        If we pay the gas bill.

  3. While these enemies all have their possible appeals, none has proved as durably unifying as the Soviet Union did.

    Um, most Donkeys were aghast when Reagan labeled the USSR the ‘evil empire.’ Have you memory-holed their pusillanimity? They were ready to capitulate for decades, and criticized our resilience against communism.

    1. Didn’t a prominent Kennedy even write letters to the USSR asking for their help in blocking Reagan? And this was at the height of the cold war, one might add.

      Just goes to show that to some Democrats at the time, Reagan was a bigger threat than the Soviets.

      1. Reagan antagonized them constantly, causing them to spend good money after bad on foreign military ventures.

      2. Ted Kennedy very much did send that letter. The Dems frequently felt Republicans were a bigger threat than the Communist USSR (and China now)

  4. NATO jumped the shark when it let Russia have Crimea

    1. What would you have proposed NATO do?

      1. Nuke them all?

      2. Destroy all the invaders vehicles. It’s my understanding they weren’t marked so were in violation of the Geneva Convention and open to attack.

        1. In the territory that was constitutionally separate from Ukraine, hosts Russian military bases, facing literal neo Nazi invasion, and voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine then join the Russian Federation?
          And in this territory, the US/NATO is supposed to destroy lives and material we claim are illegal forces from Russia (the only nation on earth that can match or excees the US nuclear arsenal) while shouting Geneva Convention?

          Yea, US assault “on behalf of” Ukraine (vs Crimea) sounds super righteous.

          1. I’m glad you agree.

    2. There were no good guys in that conflict.

  5. Without the Soviet Union, NATO Seems Increasingly Irrelevant

    Well folks, I’m sure we’re all thinking of the same solution to this problem. We have to bring back the Soviet Union.

    1. isn’t Puttin’s orange puppet attempting to just that bring back the glory of the USSR under a new name after default since everyone knows Trump always comes out golden after defaulting

      1. Okay, warpig.

  6. Part of the purpose of NATO is to keep the Pax Americana over Europe and forestall any future temptations to a general European war by having a common military alliance. That is not something that is going to be touted loudly as a rationale though.

    1. bingo…and which is perfectly fine

  7. Various Republican foreign policy thinkers have floated other candidates for American enemies—Communist China, or the terror-sponsoring, nuclear-bomb-building regime in Tehran.

    I’m trying to think of another enemy that’s been resurrected for the purposes of political points at home…

    1. The Confederacy?

    2. Greta Thornberg?

    3. The Jews?

  8. though, pretty much everyone outside the Iron Curtain—America, Europe—understood that the communists were the foes.

    Now Communism is our friend… nay, our upcoming way of life.

  9. Not if you owe your 6-week vacation and free medical care to the US taxpayer providing your defense, it’s not irrelevant, monsieur.

  10. If NATO was founded to fight the enemies of “the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”, maybe we could turn NATO against Western Europe.

  11. NATO is devolving into a Fourth Reich, and Brexit is the updated version of Austria’s escape from Anschluss 2 weeks after the Christian National Socialists surrendered. Without NATO Britain would probably be free today and deporting amok terrorists across the Chunnel like they were going outta style. Our nuclear weapons in European hands are the sort of “MLF Lullaby” entanglement up with which George Washington would never have put.

  12. What they should do is have Russia join and turn towards China. Yeah they’re business partners but we used to feed the Soviets so…

    1. Russia has offered to join.
      Putin was rebuffed

  13. MSM declares IRA STOLL a Russian agent and stooge of Putin.

  14. No number of NATO summits will re-energize an alliance against an enemy that went out of business nearly 30 years ago.

    There was a time – 30 years ago – when hawks like Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote articles called ‘A Normal Country in a Normal Time’ about the post-Cold War possibilities for the US that still had some then who remembered pre-NATO. When the ‘volunteer army’ was still so new and memories of war protests fresh enough that ‘sustainable permawar’ was not even a theory. When we could get a bipartisan consensus to close 350 military facilities and lay off enough military/contractors to cause in part a recession. When France, Germany, Britain could at least seriously talk about a common defense (I assume the Italians just catered the event).

    I think Europe has made the mental leap post-Cold War better than the US has. They got a peace dividend – and hung on to it. We got one too – and decided we prefer permawar.

  15. I’m in favor of leaving NATO for a new organization called “Eastern hemisphere nations can solve eastern hemisphere problems”

    EHNCSEHP….hmmm..i’ll have to work on fitting it into an acronym

    1. How about,

      Eastern Hemisphere, Solving Their Own Problems

      EH, STOP

  16. but, but, but ….. Putin and the Russians are evil too! (sarc)

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