Why NATO Matters

https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2018_07/20180706_2018-07-RSM-Placemat.pdf[M]any people — including, evidently, the president of the United States — wonder whether the alliance still has a purpose.

It does. It remains the most successful military alliance in history, the anchor of an American-led and American-financed peace that fostered Western prosperity and prevented new world wars. No one has proposed anything credible to improve upon it. But as the allies gather in Brussels this week for their annual meeting, many are wondering whether the American president is intent on wrecking it.

Born after World War II, NATO linked America and Europe not just in a mutual defense pledge but in advancing democratic governance, the rule of law, civil and human rights, and an increasingly open international economy….

Across seven decades NATO has invoked its Article 5 mutual defense commitment only once: to rally to the defense of the United States after the attacks of 9/11. Even today, the armed forces of 39 countries are serving, and sometimes dying, with American troops in Afghanistan.

More than 70 (NATO and non-NATO) countries are part of the U.S.-led fight against the Islamic State; two dozen countries have joined a global counterterrorism initiative.

In short, NATO remains central to major American national security initiatives in a world shaken by the rise of an increasingly assertive China, the expansion of competing power centers from India to Saudi Arabia, the surge of migration from the Middle East and Africa and the dislocations caused by globalization.

Yet NATO is being weakened from within — by members’ failure to spend enough on defense; by the rise of nationalism and authoritarianism, especially in Turkey, Hungary and Poland; and perhaps most of all, by President Trump, who seems to prefer President Vladimir Putin of Russia to America’s European allies.

NATO has always depended on leadership from the United States, the world’s biggest economy and most lethal military power. Mr. Trump not only doesn’t want to lead the West, he has denigrated the alliance, bullied its leaders and accused NATO and the European Union of exploiting American largess….

Mr. Trump is burning up all the credit the United States has accrued with our allies across decades by attacking the basis of this alliance, if not the very idea of any alliance — thus, deliberately or not, doing the bidding of Mr. Putin in his quest to divide the West.

NATO can withstand four years under Trump,” one former NATO ambassador said in an interview. “I don’t think we’ll withstand eight….

At this week’s gathering, the result that matters most is a firm and convincing commitment to a strong NATO, ready to contribute to stability today, and to adapt to future challenges. With no coherent vision of his own to make Americans, and democracy generally, more secure in a world without NATO, Mr. Trump would do well to make that commitment, and honor the friends we have.

Image: Nations contributing troops to NATO mission in Afghanistan, July 2018 (graphic: NATO)