US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is right. "In the past, I’ve worried about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance. Between members who specialize in ‘soft’ humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and talking tasks, and those conducting the ‘hard’ combat missions. Between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership – be they security guarantees or headquarters billets – but don’t want to share the risks and costs. This is no longer a hypothetical worry. We are there today. And it is unacceptable".
Here in Poland, for so long on the front line of freedom’s defense, where Solidarity was born to defend it, I have just emerged from a session during which Senator John McCain spoke eloquently of the ‘power’ of Secretary Gate’s remarks. Senator McCain reminded Europeans of the warning from history that is Poland’s past.
Last night I attended the Freedom Awards dinner of the Atlantic Council of the United States and its partner the beautiful City of Wroclaw. Wroclaw is a city which is occasionally potmarked by a violent history, themselves eloquent testimony to a struggle for freedom which for millions of Europeans died.
It was a great privilege simply to be there. It was a dinner from which this old Cold War worrier came away with a simple life belief restored. For freedom to be maintained it must be believed in and if necessary fought for. Ask the people of Egypt, on whose behalf Esran Abdel Fatah was honored. Ask the people of Belarus, on whose behalf Ales Byalyatski was honored. Ask the people of Poland, on whose behalf Helena Lucyzwo and Adam Michnik were honored. People who are either fighting for freedom or fought for it. And, of course, ask the people Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and many others.
Secretary Gates is of course right. This is all very 1930-ish – as we talk about freedom even as we retreat from its defense. Freedom will only flower if North Americans and Europeans together tend the lighthouse of hope so many millions want to believe in. We must therefore face together the world as it is, for it is far too soon to believe the world is as we would like it.
That means a strong West. But ‘strength’ must include in its inventory legitimate armed forces credible and able to act in the world of today and tomorrow, not the past. ‘Soft’ power is all well and good but all the lessons of the past and the present suggest that without the firm foundation of hard power Utopia will eventually fall.
Frankly, too often the ‘strategies’ I read to justify the squalid nature of Europe’s retreat reveal the lie that is Europe’s contibution to defending freedom. Indeed, in the visionless world of Europe today we only recognize only as much threat as we can afford. It is thus a short step back to Munich and Neville Chamberlain’s grovel that he was unwilling to defend the freedom of a small country far away about which he know nothing. The rest is barbarous history.
There is one small country over which freedom is not only being defended, but supported. Sadly, only eight NATO nations are doing it, with the rest shuffling their collective feet in the shameless defiance of solidarity. If Freedom and solidarity go hand in hand. Sadly, there is a sub-text in Secretary Gates speech which I see here at this impressive conference. Too many Europeans either take feedom for granted or simply do not believe in preparing for its defence.
The consequence? A very real danger now exists that in the face of coming challenges European democracies will simply lack the means to defend freedom, even if they want to. 1939 all over again.
Here, on the front-line of freedom’s defence Europe’s retreat is poignantly and painfully apparent. The bottom-line is this; no Alliance nor Union can survive both a lack of solidarity and capability over time. If we collectively fail to lift our heads from the defeatism and short-termism, from the rejection of freedom’s projection that is Europe’s lot today the twenty-first century will be every bit as dangerous as the twentieth.
We are still all of us on the front-line of freedom’s defense. If you do not believe me come to Wroclaw.
Professor Julian Lindley-French, a member of the Atlantic Council Strategic Advisor’s Group, is Special Professor of Strategic Studies, University of Leiden, Netherlands and Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London. This essay first appeared on his personal blog, Lindley-French’s Blog Blast.