Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.
Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute [@Doug_Bandow]
NATO’s foreign ministers met recently to assess current security threats. Alas, the gathering illustrated how NATO has become an expensive burden for America, reducing U.S. security.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was birthed during the Cold War. America’s defense shield allowed the war-ravaged states of Western Europe to recover economically and politically.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact NATO’s raison d’etre simply disappeared. For a time alliance supporters worried about the organization’s future.
But the alliance soon reinvented itself as a sort of Welcome Wagon for Moscow’s former republics and satellites. Hence the inclusion of the largely indefensible Baltic States, which are attractive as friends but irrelevant to the safety of anyone else in NATO.
Newly invited Montenegro is noteworthy mostly for its reputation: high-level corruption and influential criminal networks. The world’s greatest military alliance, created to hold back the Soviet hordes under Joseph Stalin, has become a social club for tiny nations of no consequence.
The alliance also took on responsibility for "out-of-area” activities, including policing conflicts with no obvious security relevance to Europe. The Yugoslavian civil war was tragic, but with all parties guilty of atrocities the Balkans was a humanitarian, not security concern for the West.
While the initial action against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan was justified (though of minimal interest to Europe), nearly 15 years of attempted nation-building squandered thousands of lives and vast quantities of cash. European countries also participated in America’s debacle in Iraq. The intervention in Libya created chaos, loosed weapons, and empowered the Islamic State.
On his recent visit to Washington NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg talked about the ongoing work of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Afghanistan, Africa, Georgia, Iraq, Kosovo, Libya, Middle East, and North Africa. NATO is helping interdict migrant ships in the Mediterranean.
Worse, though, the alliance has turned back to its more traditional anti-Soviet role as it courts war with nuclear-armed Russia. At the latest meeting, said Stoltenberg, NATO discussed how "to adapt to a more assertive Russia.”
Poland and the Baltic States are demanding allied, effectively meaning American, garrisons. The U.S. already intends to add an armored brigade combat team, of more than 4000 troops, plus 2000 tanks and other vehicles, to America’s current European deployment of about 62,000. The administration requested $3.4 billion from Congress for the "European Reassurance Initiative.”
But this isn’t nearly enough in the view of some analysts. Why this move back toward the Cold War?
Vladimir Putin is a nasty fellow. But that doesn’t make him likely to attack America or Europe.
Putin could have overrun Georgia in 2008. He could have annexed eastern Ukraine, if not the entire country. If Moscow didn’t conquer these territories, why would it attack a NATO member? In fact, Putin has made no move against the Baltic States, the most vulnerable alliance members, despite their frantic fears.
How would Putin benefit trying to rule, say, a hostile Ukraine? Seizing the Baltics would result in catastrophe as well.
Russia has behaved badly, but Moscow believes the West has consistently ignored Russia’s interests. Moscow’s fears might seem irrational in Washington, but Putin has responded to the West’s expansion of NATO, dismantlement of Serbia, and support for a street revolution against a friendly president in Ukraine.
If aggression is not likely, intimidation still is a reality. That policy reflects Putin’s ruthlessness, but is no casus belli, especially for America. Where are the rest of the Europeans?
When NATO was created Western Europe was a wreck. Today the GDP and population of united Europe is greater than those of America and a multiple of those of Russia.
Yet Putin’s confrontational behavior has not resulted in much practical response, other than an upsurge in requests for U.S. action. Indeed, Europe’s collective military expenditures last year dropped further, though at least by a smaller percentage than in previous years.
America devotes $1865 per person to the military. Norway comes in a distant second at $1343. The UK is third at $851. A dozen European NATO members spend less than $300 per person.
Unfortunately, few of NATO’s critics go far enough. For instance, Donald Trump wants the Europeans to pay more.
But the only way to get them to make a more meaningful military contribution is to turn responsibility for their defense over to them. Washington should stop taking care of them.
Europe needs to be defended, it is said. But the continent no longer requires America’s protection. Washington should allow the Europeans to defend themselves.