When Will You Face Strategic Reality, Mr. NATO Secretary General?

2012 NATO Summit in Chicago logo

From Julian Lindley-French, the New Atlanticist: Dear Mr. Secretary General Rasmussen,

You and I share at least one thing: a passionate belief in the Atlantic Alliance and the vital role NATO must and will play in the future defense of our peoples and the security and stability of a fractious and dangerous world. Given the importance of that vital mission when will you face strategic reality, Mr. Secretary General? Chicago did not. All we the NATO public got were the usual blandishments from you the űber-elite and nothing to suggest the Alliance is properly preparing for the very big, dangerous, ‘strategic’ future that is about to ambush the West. Frankly, the NATO you oversee is losing strategic momentum by the day and Chicago did nothing to address that.

There are in fact right now four strategic realties you need to grip even before you begin to defend me credibly. First, what part does NATO play in America’s global role? The strategic dissonance between the United States (and the other ‘Anglo-Saxon’ powers in the Alliance) and continental Europeans is now critical. As the United States ‘pivots’ away from Europe towards the Asia-Pacific, it is opening a yawning gap in NATO’s already tattered strategic purpose. An Anglosphere is slowly forming that in time will see Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom join the Americans in a new maritime-centric global strategy whilst continental Europeans fiddle around with a failing defense effort that will kill NATO. The Eurozone crisis will drive the EU inexorably towards a new political settlement that in time will doubtless see the EU assuming responsibility for Europe’s defense however incompetent that may be. Chicago did nothing to answer that. . . .

Third, how does NATO rebuild a sense of a shared popular will? North Americans and Europeans might share the same values but do they really share the same security and defense? There is an implicit contract at the heart of Alliance; the less powerful gain the security of the most powerful in return for the sharing of NATO responsibilities. Today, that contract appears to many in North America and Britain as ‘you’ have a responsibility to defend ‘me’ but expect nothing back. To mask free-riding, European politicians routinely trot out the now tired mantra that the Alliance is bound by shared values but there is little to demonstrate the fact. At a time when financial pressures should be promoting greater defense synergy, the opposite seems to be happening. No Alliance can survive the imbalance of investment, risk, and effort that NATO today represents. Chicago did nothing to answer that.

Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, Fellow of Respublica in London, Associate Fellow of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Studies and a member of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Atlantic Council. He is also a member of the Academic Advisory Board of the NATO Defence College in Rome. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast.

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