The Case Against the Case Against NATO


From James Joyner, the New Atlanticist:  I share [Daniel] Larison’s skepticism of the value of many of the post-Cold War military adventures in which the United States has engaged.   But, with the possible exception of the intervention in Kosovo, where Tony Blair shamed Bill Clinton into acting, NATO can’t be blamed for them.   The Alliance had nothing to do with the debacle in Somalia or the invasion and occupation of Iraq.   And, without NATO, we’d still have American troops in Bosnia and would be carrying an even bigger burden in Afghanistan.

Indeed, while the United States has absolute veto power over being dragged into NATO missions it opposes, the opposite isn’t true at all.   When we decide to undertake military action, we’re going to do it with or without the allies on board.   See:  Iraq, 2003.

For that matter, even during the Cold War, it’s too simplistic to say that NATO was "a purely defensive alliance dedicated to European security."  Yes, Article 5 and, especially, the basing of American soldiers in Germany and elsewhere served as a "trip wire" to ensure our action in the case of a Soviet attack.   But our primary motivation was our own security, not selfless sacrifice for the love of our European cousins.  Yes, we were there to protect Western Europe.  But we were drawing the line on the limits of Soviet influence.

NATO’s premise from the very beginning was that we were all in this thing together.  And that remains the idea behind the Alliance.   "Out of area" and various mission sets are force planning concepts, not rationales for existence. …

But, no, "out-of-area" was not and is not about finding new conflicts to justify NATO’s existence.   It was simply a recognition that, given the collapse of the Soviet Union and the absorption of a goodly portion of the Warsaw Pact into NATO, the likeliest security threats were outside Europe.   The justification for the continued existence of a decades-old alliance was that it simply made sense for the West to continue working together to achieve our shared interests.

As to whether Europe can "afford it," however, I must strongly disagree.   As Julian Lindley-French continually reminds us, the European members of NATO have 127 percent America’s GDP and only 27 percent of our military budget.   Let’s concede that perhaps our spending is excessive.   Still, it’s difficult to argue that the Europeans can’t "afford" to spend a measly 2 percent of GDP on their own security.   But, again, Larison’s right that justifying devoting substantial resources to fixing Afghanistan is politically unfeasible at this juncture.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.  

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