Thursday, June 16, 2011

NATO Debate

The NYTimes decide to host an online discussion about the future of NATO, and guess what, nobody has any idea why it's still around.

Josef Joffe, the most pro-NATO of the bunch, writes:
NATO is such a nice thing to have. After all, it is the longest-lived alliance in history. But it now comes with a warning: Use sparingly and only in combination with the United States.

Is NATO such a nice thing to have? FLG knows people believe this, but only because it won the Cold War. Again, the presence of an existential threat focused minds and aligned interests. That threat gone, NATO has no raison d'etre. Period. FLG still can't get over the number of people, supposedly learned, intelligent people, who confuse the alignment of interests in the face of an existential threat with the mere vessel that those interests through which this interests were expressed. They reverse the causality. NATO didn't win the Cold War. It was the commitment of the alliance members. Now that that shared commitment it gone, the institution, far from being something that can be repurposed to do super-awesome things in the international arena, needs to be disbanded.

Then we have Kori Schake of the Hoover Insitution, who doesn't say it, but basically considers NATO dead, but adds a word of caution:
The U.S. should be cautious as we further reduce our involvement in Europe that we continue to help those countries willing to do hard work that also benefits us. We should take an activist role behind the scenes to set them up for success, even as we shift our political and military cooperation programs to countries that may shoulder more of the burden with us.

Good point, says FLG.

Then we have the future dean of American University's School of International Service and an author of the study that rendered FLG apoplectic a few days ago, James Goldgeier, who writes:
Meanwhile, for NATO to have any future, the alliance will have to develop greater capacity to respond to global threats like terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction arising from outside of Europe and North America that affect our common security. To do so, it will need democratic partners from other regions — Australia, Japan and South Korea — that can add to NATO’s capabilities. An institution that remains purely trans-Atlantic in character will be neither relevant nor sufficiently capable in the face of 21st century challenges.

Let's put this in perspective. FLG argues that in the absence of an existential threat the NATO allies lack a shared and focused set of aligned interests. And FLG would further argue that basically everything that has happened over the previous two decades supports that argument. Oh, sure. Maybe NATO has some successes, but the exceptions, or perhaps more accurately one exception, don't disprove the rule.

And now, to save the institution, justified on the almost circular logic that we have to save the institution to save the institution, Goldgeier proposes that NATO needs a newer, broader mission?

NO. IT. DOES. NOT. This will exacerbate the problem of having a bunch of countries in an alliance with no narrowly-focused, aligned interests. The result will be an unwieldy, ineffectual mess.

Up next, Alexis Crow at Chatham House, who unlike the rest of these commentators makes an fascinating observation:
In the post-cold war world, NATO’s operations in theaters like Kosovo and Afghanistan (and the inability to secure clear strategic victories in these campaigns) have revealed NATO’s existential crisis: If the alliance cannot carry out clear military or political success, then why does it continue to exist?

Part of the problem lies in the contrasting American and European views of NATO’s raison d’être. For the most part, American statesmen have tended to see NATO as a collective defense community built on Western values, ideally harboring the ability to carry out operations across the globe to secure these values -- in essence, a "global NATO." As such, the alliance provides the U.S. with the political cover to embark on operations as a legitimate partner rather than a unilateral actor.

But Europeans, who pride themselves on being pacific and post-modern, would like to see NATO as a collective security community, one that "comes home" from ambitious nation-building projects abroad, and addresses softer, non-traditional security challenges like Arctic security or cyberdefense.

While this is a very astute observation, it ignores the larger picture, which FLG has focused on. Namely, the members don't have narrowly-focused and aligned interests. Ultimately, that's what drives this divergence in views towards NATO. The European view is simply a non-starter for Americans. And while FLG understands, at least conceptually, the argument for NATO from the American viewpoint, at least as expressed above, he also thinks this is short-sighted.

You want an alliance that can share burden of protecting Western values across the globe? Great. FLG'd like a Ferrari and a private jet. Ain't gonna happen. In fact, if what Americans want is European armies capable of projecting power around the globe, then FLG would argue that the existence NATO undermines this goal. Look at it this way, if you are in an alliance with the most powerful military this planet has ever seen, then why the hell would you spend more on defense? Right, you wouldn't. However, if that alliance fell apart, well, you might just spend more on defense. Thus, you'd have better European armed forces. Sure, they might not always go along with you on global adventures, but they aren't now. Alliance or no alliance, they only go along when they feel their interests are at stake. Therefore, better to close up the alliance, encourage stronger European militaries through lack of explicit security guarantees, and cooperate on conflicts where shared interests dictate.

Lawrence S. Kaplan, who teaches the Military History of NATO course at Georgetown that FLG thought of taking, writes:
The implosion of the Soviet empire inevitably strained the transatlantic alliance. Europe’s failure in the 1990s to cope with the breakup of Yugoslavia and negative European reactions to American unilateralism over Iraq in 2003 could have ended the alliance. Yet no member has withdrawn from NATO despite the provocations.

No matter how frayed the relations are, both the United States and Western Europe have recognized the benefits two generations have given them. There is no substitute for NATO that might deal more successfully with the many challenges confronting the world today.

FLG has a couple of responses. First, as they say on Wall Street, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Just because nobody has dropped out in the last 20 years, doesn't mean they won't in the future. In fact, FLG thinks Gates made a great point when he argued that his generation had an emotional attachment to NATO that future leaders won't have. Second, the argument that we've got no substitute isn't much of an argument. NATO, frankly, has shown itself completely incapable of dealing with the challenges confronting the world today. To the extent that people cling, emotionally and irrationally, to the hopes that NATO won the Cold War (again, an incorrect attribution of causality) and therefore it will be able to do all sorts of other cool things, the continuing existence of NATO is not only an distraction but a obstacle to addressing challenges.

NATO delenda est.


The Ancient said...

High friends in low places?

Dominique Struye said...

C’est ce qui m’amène à dire que ce sont les deux événements précités, c-à-d l’implosion de l’Union soviétique et les attaques du 11/9 qui ont donc le plus fortement marqué et influencé l’OTAN au cours des dernières années. Suite au premier événement, la question de la survie et de la raison d’être de l’OTAN fût en effet posée. Pourquoi maintenir une Alliance qui n’avait plus d’ennemis ? Certains dès lors ont même été amenés jusqu’à propager l’idée « Nato delenda est ». L’on vivait clairement une période de marginalisation de l’OTAN. Suite au deuxième événement, l’utilité et l’usage de l’OTAN dans un contexte mondial ont été remis à nouveau à l’ordre du jour, même si cela ne s’est fait que progressivement. Rarement donc une institution a connu dans un laps de temps aussi bref des attitudes aussi contradictoires quant à sa raison d’être, allant de la désaffection, du rejet et de l’irrelevance à une forme de redécouverte, de relance et de renouveau. Ceci explique probablement pourquoi la transformation en cours à et de l’OTAN se déroule quelque fois d’une façon chaotique, désordonnée et précipitée, sans qu’il soit toujours facile d’y voir clair.

FLG said...

Sorry, Ancient. I saw that and meant to comment.

You need to remember this blog's motto:
Fear and Loathing in Georgetown is the most influential blog you've never heard of and the least influential blog you've ever heard of.

Plus, this blog is fucking huge in Europe. Huge, I tell you.

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