NATO’s Relevance


From James Joyner, the New Atlanticist:  Yesterday’s gathering of scholars and policymakers, most of them Atlanticists from way back, were mostly at a loss for how to reignite NATO in the wake of Afghanistan.   Indeed, it was as pessimistic a gathering as I’ve seen on the subject.   How gloomy was it?    Luncheon speaker Bob Kagan, who eight summers ago told us "It is time to stop pretending that Europeans and Americans share a common view of the world, or even that they occupy the same world," was among the most optimistic voices.

None of the panelists in the Political Will discussion had any illusion that there actually was any political will in NATO.  At least, not in the publics of Western Europe.   Kurt Volker, a career diplomat who served as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to NATO, said that "It is hard to overstate NATO’s lack of unified commitment and vision. …"

Former NATO assistant secretary general Edgar Buckley, first from the floor and later as a panelist in the NATO Military Transformation session, argued that we need the Next Big Idea around which to build the Alliance.    He suggested moving well beyond traditional military and security roles to working on issues such as disaster relief and energy.    

Former assistant secretary of defense Frank Kramer, suggested that the Alliance must work together on cyber security.  Others offered related ideas for solving the problem by expanding it.

A few, Kagan included, argued that we should move in the opposite direction:  Narrowing the mission to the defense of Europe or, perhaps, Europe "plus."  But it’s not at all obvious why the American taxpayer would want to continue to pay the lion’s share of the cost of an Alliance that exists only to defend a continent more than capable of paying for its own defense. …

There’s not much doubt that we’ll need NATO again.    One can only hope it will indeed plug along until we can again agree it’s for and generate enough political will to man it.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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