Second, Washington should suggest continuing cooperation over shared interests beyond Europe. That could be both geographic (such as the Middle East) or subject matter (cybersecurity and terrorism). The United Kingdom and France are likely to maintain out-of-area foreign interests, while other Europeans less so. However, the United States, too, should be more circumspect in its foreign entanglements. Iraq was a disaster. Libya was foolish and counterproductive. The endless war in Afghanistan is without purpose. American forces should stay out of the Syrian civil war. If Europe and America were not unnecessarily yoked together in alliance, then they would be less likely to drag each other into the other’s favorite senseless wars (e.g., Libya for Europe, Afghanistan for America). Rather, any joint conflicts would have to be important for both sides.
Such a division of responsibilities suggests refashioning NATO. The Europeans could take over the alliance, perhaps with America as an associate member. Or they could turn NATO into something more closely aligned with the European Union, though again offering intermediate status for Washington. The alliance structure would retain the connection between the European and American militaries, encouraging cooperation and coordination. Most important, the United States and various European states could decide on their military outlays based on their own requirements. No longer would Washington attempt to browbeat friendly states into spending more than their populations desired. The more distant relationship could ironically be a smoother and more satisfying one.
NATO needs to change. U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson said the theme of the upcoming meeting was “strength and unity,” but we should be well beyond such banalities. There is no reason to believe that an alliance created decades ago in the midst of the Cold War is the best form of military organization today. Instead of arguing over spending targets, the allies should discuss defense responsibilities. And then adjust NATO appropriately.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He also is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire .
Image: U.S., Estonia's and NATO flags flutter next to the U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II fighter in Amari air base, Estonia, April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins