Wednesday, July 11, 2018

America is Not Walking Away from NATO

The article asks "Does old squabble over NATO’s costs mask US shift away from Europe?"

The answer is no. If Trump wanted to shift away from Europe, why would he loudly ask NATO to fix the imbalance of defense effort and justify American presence?

Seriously, if Trump wanted to walk away from NATO, he'd have ghosted them already and NATO would be wondering why Trump didn't respond to their text messages.

The article also asks whether NATO is obsolete, in part because it has so many members. Why not, the author asks, abandon it and just have coalitions of the willing, like Afghanistan.

I don't get why people question the value of NATO.

One, Europe is a large pool of economic, demographic, scientific, and military power that America needs to keep on our side and out of the hands of any hostile power--as we have done for more than a century now. NATO keeps America in Europe with Europeans as our (admittedly sometimes imperfect--but they can say the same) allies.

Russia may not currently be the threat to Europe that the Soviet Union was because of their power and geographic position, but nuclear-armed Russia is a threat to the alliance and Russia's conventional and irregular military power is a threat to weaker states; and the alternative to NATO within Europe, the European Union, is a potential threat as a non-democratic imperial state with its own hard power at the end of that body's planned path.

Two, NATO is hardly too big. Most deployable military power is still in the hands of a relatively small number of members, reducing the size issue for practical purposes. And if there was a long war, we will be happy to have the rest who collectively will be able to mobilize considerable power.

Three, the geographic location of NATO Europe helps America deter threats in Europe, where even weaker NATO states can provide valuable bases.

Four, the geographic location of NATO Europe provides a forward staging location for operations further abroad in an arc of crisis from West Africa to Central Asia.

Five, America's comprehensive power and depth helps knit together bits and pieces of European power to make it effective. The 2011 Libya War, for example, demonstrated how limited European NATO power was, requiring American operating and logistics capabilities to enable the Europeans to fight even a small power.

Six, the so-called alternative to NATO--just creating coalitions of the willing for specific missions--is far more difficult without NATO. Without effort, American military services have found they had trouble operating together. How much worse would it be in Europe without the efforts of NATO to standardize equipment features and operating standards for troops?

Those are just off the top of my head in the military area.

Mind you, there is one area where NATO is obsolete and needs to be adjusted--NATO is still geared to defending the Elbe River line within Germany because that was the edge of NATO before 1991.

NATO from its new eastern edge to that Elbe River line is virtually non-existent in alliance terms. Yet Russia still screamed about the NATO threat when there was no logistical support network built in the expanded NATO and no NATO forces other than the forces of individual NATO states within their own borders were facing Russia. NATO had little ability to send forces east from the bulk of the military power further west.

And because of Russian aggression and hostility, NATO is finally working on the logistics aspect of the alliance. Whether the center of gravity of NATO forces will shift east is still uncertain.

NATO is worth keeping and strengthening in a world different than the Cold War. And President Trump is trying to get Europe to take their NATO membership seriously.

UPDATE: Well that's nice:

The Senate is sending a couple of legislative messages in advance of the NATO summit in Brussels this week and next Monday's Helsinki summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As Trump flew to Belgium today, the Senate passed 97-2 a measure offered by Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) to "reaffirm the ironclad U.S. commitment under Article 5 to the collective defense of the alliance." ...

Separately, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution today condemning Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea and calling on the Trump administration to formalize a policy of non-recognition of Russia's land acquisition.

While I don't think there is any justification for worrying that Trump is anti-NATO, it doesn't hurt to remind people that our membership in NATO is a national commitment and not one based on any president's view of the moment. As I've said repeatedly.

UPDATE: And don't forget that NATO was in a "mid-life crisis" in the Obama administration with European allies worried about American commitment.