Friday, June 10, 2011

Is NATO Worthless?

On his farewell tour, Secretary of Defense Gates warns NATO that they need to do more to make sure America will remain in NATO:

In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief, Gates questioned the viability of NATO, saying its members' penny-pinching and lack of political will could hasten the end of U.S. support. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 as a U.S.-led bulwark against Soviet aggression, but in the post-Cold War era it has struggled to find a purpose.

"Future U.S. political leaders - those for whom the Cold War was not the formative experience that it was for me - may not consider the return on America's investment in NATO worth the cost," he told a European think tank on the final day of an 11-day overseas journey.

And Europe is weak militarily, despite the raw numbers in uniform and the overall military spending that is hardly insignificant:

"Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform, not counting the U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more," Gates said.

The problem is, if we push NATO countries in Europe to do more than they want to in order to persuade Americans that NATO is worth supporting, then European NATO states may not think NATO is worth supporting.

Rather than looking for new military missions for the alliance to face in the absence of the Soviet threat, let's accept that NATO is valuable without an overall military mission.

American involvement in NATO keeps Europeans from threatening each other, keeps NATO members from fearing a united Germany, keeps even a weakened but aggressive Russia from thinking about recapturing eastern NATO countries, sets the standard of democracy and rule of law in member countries (and candidates for membership), provides the infrastructure and command relationships to intervene in the arc of crisis from Morocco to Afghanistan, and allows NATO countries to train together so that when a coalition of the willing is needed to intervene outside of the defense of NATO territory, NATO countries can join together and fight effectively. I've written about the value of NATO before (here and here, for example). So what if NATO no longer has the huge military task of stopping the Red Army? That means we succeeded! We don't want a military mission that vital, remember? Accept that less dramatic objectives are appropriate and remember that trying to find a new mission as dangerous and dramatic as stopping the Soviet Union will wreck the alliance and undermine those other less dramatic objectives.

These less dramatic objectives are valuable things and trying to make sure Belgium is as willing and as capable of fighting in Afghanistan as Britain is will just break the alliance and lose these advantages trying to achieve something we don't really need.