After its pathetic performance in Libya, it may be time for Washington to suggest to Brussels that NATO become Europe’s defense agency, and gently bow out of the counter-Soviet alliance. NATO, divided among its own members, has proven unable to engage in a limited military action against a poorly-armed and lightly populated desert nation for ten weeks without American munitions and other assets. The members would rather prop up their decaying welfare states than contribute to their own security, and, as Robert Gates told them, “there will be dwindling appetite and patience in America for expending increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”
The creation of NATO in 1949 was an American deployment under a false flag. Everyone knew that. It was a deterrent to a Soviet thrust through the Fulda Gap into Western Europe. It was a good faith alliance that was to phase-in increasing European systems and assets as their economies gained traction and Europe, again, gained the capacity for self defense. A strong American presence was always anticipated, but the bulk of the walking infantry, and armored-, naval- and close air-support was to come from a revitalized Europe.
This never happened.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force command in Afghanistan – with only select members condescending to provide any assets at all, and those come with caveats as to what types of missions they may conduct, and whether or not they will operate at night under any circumstances – is only marginally better than the United Nations’ Potemkin “peacekeeping” forces overseeing untold slaughters all over the world. US officers in Afghanistan refer to ISAF as “I Saw Americans Fighting.”
The descent of Europe into flaccid welfare states, dependent upon someone else for their defense is an understandable devolution of public attitudes, and is jointly the fault of serial American administrations for not correcting the situation. With Europe in ashes from the Urals to the Atlantic, and a now-militarized Soviet Union devouring the continent to the Rhine, it was necessary to protect Western Europe and nurture its economic recovery or lose it to a ravenous, expanding Soviet sphere. NATO and the Marshall Plan did just that, but Europe has never fulfilled its part of the bargain.
There is still room for a robust trans-Atlantic military alliance in today’s world, but not merely as an extension of the Pentagon with none of the policy authority. As I commented at the outset of the Libyan adventure, running a war by committee is guaranteed to be messy – even for the inherently messy undertaking of combat operations. It’s a recipe for exploiting American capabilities for European interests that may or may not be congruent with ours.
Even a re-militarized Europe would require American strategic support – as do ROK and Japan, among others – but none are even capable of self-defense as it is. That must change, and NATO is a ready-built multinational defense force for a supranational European Union. The problem, of course, is that Europe shows no evidence whatsoever of the political will to be responsible for its own defense, and even if it did, it would take years to ramp up production of the necessary platforms and to recruit and train the necessary soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen.
This phenomenon is not unique to these three examples, rather a feature of international institutions and agreements. Various nations enter into these things for a variety of reasons – all local to each nation. The universal proclamations always turn out to be unenforceable and sparsely obeyed, again for purely local political reasons. The vision of enmeshing the world’s powers in a “normative web” of international agreements, treaties and organizations was always an illusion, and always yields to realpolitik when a signatory’s interests run counter to such obligations.
The real decision that pragmatism demands is to chose between the fiscal costs of retaining memberships in such façades and the PR costs of foregoing the Kabuki altogether.
27-sided figure, reflecting the 27-member (after American withdrawal) EU’s equivalent of our five-service Pentagon.
Ian Traynor, NATO faces “dim future”, warns Pentagon chief, in The Guradian [London], June 10 2011.
George F Will, Libya Should Force Rethinking of US Policy, role of NATO, in Tallahassee Democrat, June 19 2011, p. OPINION6.