What’s So Wonderful About NATO?

A U.S. withdrawal from NATO would be good for both Europe and the U.S. For that to happen, Europe must rearm itself, and the U.S. must accept that Europe will no longer be the vassals of America…

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onald Trump recently resumed his role as the “wise fool” in recent, off-the-cuff remarks about NATO. He suggested that free-riding NATO members who do not pay their fair share might have to fight Russia on their own. National security hawks and Trump’s media enemies responded with lots of pious talk about our sacred NATO obligations. Joe Biden even said Trump was “un-American.”

Trump is not the first to suggest NATO partners should pay their fair share. But unlike his predecessors, he is willing to employ some leverage to make it happen. The real dirty secret here, as evidenced by how long this situation has gone on, is that enabling the Europeans to neglect their own defense is a feature and not a bug of America’s dominance over the NATO organization.

The weaker our European partners are militarily, the more they need the United States. With the destruction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and imposition of severe sanctions against Russia, Europe is even more dependent on the United States for energy supplies than it was before the war began.One disturbing and Machiavellian implication of American policy is that the official reasons for the war, such as deterring “unprovoked Russian aggression” or protecting democracy in Ukraine, are just fig leaves to conceal the real function of the campaign. Namely, the United States may be cynically funding the war to weaken Russia and Europe at the same time.

If that were true, this conflict would not merely be an expression of misguided idealism but proof of American indifference to the welfare of its vassal states in Europe. It would also demonstrate the perfidy of European leaders, who have not admitted they are hurting their own countries’ welfare in exchange for personal power.Whether an intentional outgrowth of American policy or otherwise, the Russia-Ukraine War has put the European economies into freefall because they were built on cheap natural gas from Russia.

Does NATO Actually Enhance The Security Of Its Member States?

With the recent proliferation of maudlin pro-NATO rhetoric, important and controversial first principles have not been explored, such as: Why are we in NATO? Why didn’t NATO dissolve after 1991? And how much “peace in Europe” has NATO really secured?

NATO’s defenders will say it has kept the peace in Europe “since World War II.” This justification falls apart under minimal scrutiny. After World War II, the European countries that made up NATO had common interests, low levels of nationalism, and few border disputes. During the Cold War, they were united because they faced a common threat from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. They would have had this unity regardless of any formal treaty structure.

By contrast, after the end of the Cold War, NATO’s contribution to European collective security and world peace has been less impressive. First, all of the European partners have significantly shrunk their militaries. This has made the protection of their collective sovereignty all the more dependent on nuclear weapons, of which the United States is the chief possessor.

The dependence on the American security umbrella has both costs and benefits for us. On the cost side, other NATO countries can do little to assist the United States, and we spend an unsustainable amount on defense. But, on the benefit side, this arrangement does make Europe more dependent on trade with the United States. It “keeps the peace,” but it also impairs European nations’ sovereignty, independence, and self-respect.

Twenty years ago, France meaningfully opposed American ambitions in Iraq and otherwise voiced its own national interests. It is hard to imagine an Emmanuel Macron or an Olaf Scholz doing so today. The latter didn’t even protest his country’s natural gas lifeline being blown up. Like other welfare cases, their nations are parasitical and weaken the host, but they do not forget who is boss.

Second, NATO did little to stop the violence during the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. A military structure in search of a mission, President Clinton turned to NATO when the United Nations rejected American regime change proposals in Serbia. Under the NATO banner, the United States initiated a shameful attack on Serbia to assist Kosovar separatists in 1999.

The Kosovo War revealed NATO as the very opposite of a defensive alliance, but rather a meddlesome and bellicose gang whose hypocrisy had become hard to deny. This was all the more apparent when NATO conducted a similar unprovoked war on spurious humanitarian grounds against Libya in 2011.

Third, NATO’s expansion towards the borders of the former Soviet Union and then to the former Soviet Baltic states served as a massive and needless provocation. By then, Russia was a non-communist, non-ideological, and non-expansionist nation, shaking off the dreadful economic conditions and national humiliation of the Yeltsin years.

Even as George W. Bush claimed he saw into Putin’s soul, the United States and NATO did not change course. Our national security apparatus expanded the alliance to Russia’s borders, suggested Ukraine and Georgia would soon become members, placed ballistic missile defense systems in Eastern Europe and even supported jihadist rebels in Chechnya. Combined, this all made Russia rather predictably fearful and hostile.

These policies also worked at cross purposes with American interests in other parts of the world. By encouraging a de facto alliance between Russia, China, and other emerging powers, our policy strengthens our adversaries and renders the continuation of “sole superpower” status less and less tenable.

How Would We React If Someone Treated Us How We Treat Russia?

The possibility of adding Ukraine to NATO has not been fulfilled, but it has resulted in a massive, unfortunate, and avoidable war between Russia and Ukraine. While not a formal belligerent, NATO has openly and dangerously provided intelligence and reconnaissance support to the Ukrainians, in addition to massive financial and military aid.

Russia has so far avoided targeting American Global Hawk drones and RC-135 aircraft patrolling its borders—both of which are undoubtedly providing information Ukraine uses to attack and kill Russian forces. But imagine for a moment how the American public would react in the reverse scenario.

We know this because of the public reaction to fake intelligence that said Russia put out bounties to encourage the killing of American troops in Afghanistan. Some members of the intelligence community leaked this falsehood as a political attack on Trump during the final days of the 2020 election, and it made a lot of people understandably angry. It was, like so many of these stories, later disavowed. It is still important, though, because it reveals the incompetence and politicization of our intelligence services.

Even at the time, this always struck me as a ridiculous claim considering Russia’s permission of overflights allowing troops and equipment to reach Afghanistan. But illogic has never been a strong deterrent to lurid tall tales about Russian intrigue.

The neocons have cultivated a pervasive, unthinking, and mostly fact-free anti-Russian ideology ever since that country became more capable and assertive following Putin’s rise to power in 2000.

The Other Cold War Treaty: SEATO

Alliances are supposed to make nation partners stronger, not weaker. They are supposed to be mutually beneficial; and hopefully, they serve to prevent wars.

Alliances can also weaken their members by exposing them to conflicts that would otherwise only implicate a subset of their members. Alliances also make their members weaker if things go “kinetic” and member nations fail to meet their commitments. In such a case, the fair-weather friends lose their credibility, and their allies lose that nation’s help.

Sometimes alliances can make their members both stronger and weaker. Shortly after NATO came into being in 1959, the United States entered into a similar treaty called SEATO, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. SEATO’s members included Australia, the Philippines, France, Great Britain and the United States. SEATO was one of the foundations for our country’s military commitments to South Vietnam.

The United States stuck to these obligations for nearly two decades, using logic similar to our current involvement in Ukraine, including the importance of maintaining credibility. But the Vietnam War proved very costly, and, over time, the American public lost confidence in the mission.

After cobbling together a peace treaty between North and South Vietnam, we skedaddled in 1973 and failed to honor our treaty obligations and other commitments to South Vietnam. This all culminated in the successful North Vietnamese offensive of 1975. When South Vietnam fell, it became clear that the loss of so much life, treasure, and credibility was a worse outcome for the United States than not having been in such an alliance in the first place.

The United States is about to learn this lesson again in Ukraine. We have no treaty obligation to Ukraine, but Biden has put our prestige on the line by repeatedly committing to stay “as long as it takes.” Since Ukraine is going to lose and the front has already started to collapse, the ultimate failure of the mission will further undermine our credibility as an ally. It will also discredit the deterrence value of America’s own military capabilities since so much of the war was fought with American equipment, American money and American tactics.

While the credibility hit is unavoidable, America should end its involvement not only with Ukraine but with NATO before things come to a head. It seems very likely the disunited American public would renege on our treaty obligations if it meant World War III to resolve a border dispute in Romania or Estonia. There is nothing sacred about NATO; our connections to Europe have been weakened by diversity, and spending hundreds of billions of dollars on hopeless border wars in Europe is not in the American interest.

For the American NATO withdrawal to happen, Europe must rearm itself, and the United States must accept that Europe will no longer be in the position of vassals, whose inferiority is reinforced by enabling their neglect of their own collective self-defense. The current arrangement only gives the illusion of power and stability, but it is fragile and also stokes resentment and dependency among our allies.

This is to say, an American withdrawal from NATO would be good for both Europe and the United States. It would tamp down current European hostility toward Russia—because they would need to be more circumspect—while giving Russia a sense of safety that it currently lacks. It would also restore America’s strongest attribute, which is the “soft power” that we once possessed because of our rejection of colonial empire building. Our international prestige has always been inseparable from this aspect of American idealism, but it has also declined as America behaved more and more like the displaced European imperial powers in the post-Cold War era.

Outside of the NATO treaty structure, America could still care about European civilization, maintain strong commercial ties, and involve itself where its friends are threatened without having an ironclad treaty obligation to do so. This would reduce tensions and restore American flexibility. It would also be consistent with broader principles of justice that enhance our prestige and “soft power.”

This is the way counseled by George Washington; and such a posture would honor and protect American sovereignty and independence. ✪

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