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Lady Liberty

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Monday, June 28, 2004

Whither NATO? Or Wither NATO?
posted by Bathus

Patrick Belton at Oxblog does a fine job cataloging NATO's past, present, and future deficiencies, but I think he misses the bigger picture.

Yes, it would be best if other NATO countries contributed more, if they cooperated more, if European domestic politics did not make NATO so unwieldy, etc., etc. Inasmuch as those circumstances are unlikely to change, the more relevant inquiry is whether NATO should be disbanded or preserved.

Many wise commentators, such as Victor Davis Hanson, have concluded that we should encourage NATO to wither away as quickly as possible and encourage "more European muscularity" in its place.

I disagree.

We should preserve NATO, no matter how weak and ineffectual it becomes because NATO's very existence tends to preclude the dangerous emergence of an independent European military force. The nascent version of that force is known by an appropriately bureaucratic moniker: "European Security and Defence Policy" or "ESDP." As Belton notes, "ESDP is France's baby, which it sees as the EU's alternative to NATO, without the pesky Americans."

So long as NATO exists, Europe will (correctly) assume that the United States will wield its military might to protect Europe in any genuine crisis, allowing Europe safely to remain militarily weak. But if NATO were disbanded, that proposition would become extremely less certain, and Europe would then be motivated to develop its own force, independently from the United States. That development would not be in our interests.

Though we are frustrated with NATO's dithering, that dithering serves as a distracting and valuable substitute for real military reform among the the Europeans. So long as we are not so foolish as to rely on NATO in any substantial way and do not commit to NATO any forces that we absolutely need to deploy elsewhere (two important caveats!), NATO as now constituted can do little for good or for evil that cannot be accomplished by member countries acting outside NATO. By contrast, a viable united European military, established independently from NATO, would have a power and the concomitant legitimacy that NATO does not command. And we might soon find that power and legitimacy is arrayed against our necessary interests. It would be foolhardy for the United States seriously to encourage a united Europe to arm itself. As Machiavelli says, "Whoever is the cause of someone else's becoming powerful is ruined."

As things now stand, though NATO as a whole might be unwilling to participate or support a particular military objective the U.S. wishes to pursue, individual countries within NATO remain free to assist us on a bilateral or multilateral basis outside the NATO framework. Each NATO member remains free, for all intents and purposes, to use its forces as it wishes outside of the NATO framework. Thus, in Iraq we have a majority of NATO nations participating, even though NATO itself has until recently been unwilling to support the undertaking in any meaningful way. Similarly, in Afghanistan, though the support was slow in coming, many NATO nations are now participating. As an added benefit, joint training among NATO countries facilitates the rapid integration of any willing nation's forces with the those of the United States. NATO has become, so to speak, a handy storehouse at which we can "shop" for coalition partners on an ad hoc basis as a military or (more precisely) a political need arises.

But if NATO were replaced by a united EU military, that EU structure might have command and control over a sizable portion, if not all, of the military capacity of its member countries. Bilateral arrangements between the U.S. and individual EU nations would become more difficult, if not impossible, to establish. A Poland or an Italy, as a member of a united EU force, would probably not be permitted, as they can as NATO members, to use equipment and personnel committed to the EU to support U.S. military activities without explicit EU approval. And a single EU nation might be able to veto any supportive action by every other individual EU country.

Imagine the present situation if, instead of NATO, there existed a united European military force. Instead of our efforts in Iraq being supported by a majority of European nations, our efforts might be supported by none of them, because all might be bound by any individual European nation's veto, or worse, our efforts might be actively opposed by the European group acting as a single entity. Instead of merely having to tolerate the impotent protests of a France and a Germany while enjoying the public support and actual assistance of an Italy and a Poland, we might be opposed by a united Europe, led by a France and a Germany and backed by considerable military wherewithal. Although it seems fantastical to imagine that the U.S. and a newly militarized Europe would become open antagonists any time soon, one cannot preclude that eventuality.

In any case, the emergence of a militarized Europe allied with the United States might actually tend to cause the United States to become weaker relative to any third emerging global superpower, such as China. Or the emergence of the EU as a superpower could generate a spiraling arms race between the United States and Europe on one side and the third antagonistic superpower on the other side. Here's how it might well play out: Assume that during the next twenty years both China and Europe emerge as global superpowers, with Europe militarily independent but allied with us and China a potential antagonist. The Chinese superpower would be likely to measure the sufficiency of its military might against the combined strength of the two ostensibly allied Western superpowers, i.e., the United States plus the united Europe. Similarly, each of the two Western superpowers, the United States and the united Europe, might tend individually to gauge the sufficiency its military strength by adding its ostensible ally's strength to its own.

To simplify the argument, let "x" equal a unit of military strength:

If at some point in the future the U.S. superpower possesses a military strength of 4x and the united European superpower possess a military strength of 3x, China will tend to seek to posses a military strength of 7x to balance against the cumulative strength of the Western allies. By the same token, if China achieves a military strength of 7x, while Europe possesses a military strength of 3x, then the United States--operating on the assumption it can always rely on its European ally to make up the difference between its own strength and China's strength--would tend to come to settle at a military strength of 4x. Having come to rely on the strength of its European ally, the United States might come to rest at a military strength vastly inferior to that of its primary antagonist. The danger in that calculus is obvious.

Alternatively, if the United States determined that it could not safely rely upon the strength of its putative European ally, but instead must on its own amass military strength sufficient to balance China without counting on its European ally, China would begin to feel threatened. As the US approached a strength of 7x, China would see itself opposed by the 10x combined strength of Europe plus the United States. China would then tend to seek to increase its strength to 13x to match the Western allies combined strength. In response the United States would seek to increase its military strength to 13x. Seeing the combined strength of Europe plus the U.S. at 16x, China would then seek to reach that same level. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. A spiraling arms race would ensue.

The obvious difficulty is that a tri-polar world is inherently less stable than a bi-polar world (at least that's what my manic-depressive friends tell me). The jockeying for a safe position would be constant--and constantly destabilizing.

Yes, an effective European military force within NATO is clearly "preferable" in theory, but remains clearly unrealistic in practice. Belton thinks that NATO "can be made to work again," and he puts the burden on Bush to make it happen. But Hanson knows better: Before NATO could be reformed, Europe would have to be reformed. Sadly, America's best efforts cannot reform Europe. Only Europe can reform the militaries and politics of Europe, and Europe has no incentive to reform itself so long as NATO exists. Yet the demise of NATO risks the dangerous emergence of a European superpower. There's the dilemma.

Given the reality that NATO's effectiveness will remain limited, the better remaining option is neither to abandon NATO nor seriously to rely upon NATO, but to do all we can to preserve NATO in its weak condition, so as to prevent the dangerous emergence of a united European superpower. (Incidentally, though the contributions of Poland and Italy in Iraq might seem miniscule, they serve the important purpose of confirming the present divisions within Europe, thereby further forestalling the emergence of a united European superpower. We must continue to seek these bilateral arrangements. Though in and of itself the actual materiel support we gain seems hardly worth the effort, the political advantages are of the utmost value.) A weak European military force within NATO, the present reality, is not only tolerable; it is in many respects advantageous to the United States. Yes, as Hanson explains, a militarily weak Europe is susceptible to an inferiority complex that causes "associate[d] pathologies of enablement and passive-aggressive angst" vis-a-vis the United States. However, as we shall never live in a perfect world, it is far less dangerous to administer frequent palliatives for those psychological disturbances than to confront the more palpable disturbances a militarily superior Europe would bring about. A powerful European military force outside NATO, which becomes possible only if NATO is disbanded, would create real difficulties for the United States in the short run and in the long run could be disastrous.

posted by Bathus | 6/28/2004 11:56:00 PM
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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read your last two posts and
I like your thinking and admire your
investigative diligence. I would however,
like to see links to the quotes of the Iraqi
artist (last posting).
At any rate you have a new regular reader.
Thanks for an alternative to "Big" media.

8:11 AM, June 30, 2004  
Blogger lostingotham said...

A tip for readers like the author of the previous comment, who admire Adeimantus' investigative dilligence but manifestly do not share it: links appear, conspicuously underlined, directly before the quoted text.

9:03 AM, June 30, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is Cam Edwards and I host Cam and Company on

Just saw your post on the Iraqi quoted in the AP article regarding the changeover in Iraq and would really like for you to be a guest on my program to discuss what you've found out.

If you'd be available this afternoon (6/30), please send me an email at cam-at-nrannews-dot-com.

Thanks, and great work!

9:13 AM, June 30, 2004  

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