Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Nikolas K. Gvosdev writes in NRO on NATO's "existential crisis." We're about to admit up to seven new states to the alliance, not counting Russia, who is now effectively part of the alliance via the NATO-Russia council. What are we admitting them to? What is NATO for? How can we decide on whether to admit new nations if we don't know what NATO is for?
Back in the good old days, the British had a line about NATO: the purpose was to keep the Americans in, the Russians out and the Germans down. Is that still operative? Well, the Russians are in; that leaves 2 out of 3. Does America have an interest in staying "in"? Do the Europeans have an interest in keeping the Americans "in"? Who benefits from this? And do we really want to keep the Germans down? Who's a bigger threat to American interests today: the Germans? Or the French?
I'll tell you what I think is the purpose of NATO. The purpose of NATO is to prevent Europe from becoming an independent military power.
NATO is no longer trying to keep the Russians out. For the obvious benefits and in spite of the less-obvious dangers, the United States and Russia are moving towards a military alliance. Not a lot of point in a defensive alliance to deter a fellow ally. The United States has strong bi-lateral relationships with the two foremost military powers of NATO: Britain and Turkey. We have no interest in hamstringing these bi-lateral relationships by subjecting them to collective decisionmaking. As for the Germans, we've been trying to coax them into taking a more active role in foreign and military affairs for years. We hardly need NATO to keep their militaristic impulses under control. Finally, let's face it, the United States does not maintain the NATO alliance so that Belgium will help defend us.
So there are only two plausible purposes for NATO. Either it is a European project to mortgage American power to right-thinking European decisionmaking. Or it is an American project to keep Europe from developing into a unified military power - one with interests that will likely dovetail with American interests on many matters, but not all, and one we will have to be more mindful of than we do when Europe is weak and divided.
As I have argued before, it is not obvious to me that a weak Europe is in American interest. We will increasingly resent the burden of policing the world for them, and they will increasingly resent being an afterthought in decisionmaking. They will leverage their weakness into an argument for institutional restraints on American power - through international legal bodies controlled, effectively, by Europe. This is happening now; it will accelerate in the future, with very negative consequences for American interests.
That being the case, I think we need some hard thinking about what NATO's future is. Perhaps it's most important mission is to serve as a template for another part of the world, where its original mission - a defensive alliance of mostly democratic states against a megastate bent on regional domination and conquest - is highly relevant in the present. How do you like the sound of NEATO?