How the Transatlantic Alliance Makes America Less Secure

"America is willing to risk war with a nuclear-armed power to protect countries that matter little for U.S. security."

Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization met in Wales in the shadow of the Ukraine war. Alliance advocates hoped to use the conflict to revive NATO, but responded, as usual, mostly with promises.

In fact, Ukraine demonstrates how the military pact today makes Americans less secure. Expanding NATO to countries such as Georgia would multiply the risks faced by the United States for little gain.

The transatlantic pact was created at a particular time in response to a particular threat. Washington desired to “contain” the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II, which had left Europe devastated. An American shield would allow the continent to revive economically, but U.S. leaders, like President Dwight Eisenhower, worried lest the alliance make the Europeans dependent.

That fear turned out to be well grounded. European governments discovered that it didn’t matter how little they spent on the military or respected America’s priorities. Washington would keep them secure. NATO’s European members broke promises to devote more money to the military, built a natural-gas pipeline to the Soviet Union, aided Washington’s enemies in Latin America and blocked overflight by U.S. planes to bomb Libya. But the United States continued to defend the continent.

At least there was a plausible case that doing so was in America’s interest. While a Soviet attack on Western Europe seemed unlikely, Washington was determined to prevent any hostile power from gaining control of Eurasia. Better safe than sorry.

But that possibility disappeared with the Cold War. Russia lost a third of the USSR’s population. The military shrunk in size and diminished in effectiveness. Even more dramatic was Europe’s economic success and political consolidation. Today, the European Union enjoys an 8-1 economic advantage and 3-1 population edge. The Europeans don’t need America’s protection.

Yet U.S.-dominated NATO expanded through Central and Eastern Europe up to Russia’s borders. The new members added to Washington’s defense responsibilities without providing countervailing military benefits. Most notable were the Baltic States, which have troubled relations with large ethnic-Russian populations. Existing members never seriously considered the possibility that adding new members could lead to war with Russia.

Now the newly fearful Baltics and Poland are demanding “reassurance” that they will be defended by the original members, meaning the United States. These countries want permanent garrisons, which would act as tripwires ensuring that Washington will come to their defense if Moscow attacks.

While the alliance didn’t approve such deployments, member governments took a number of steps, which, explained Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, demonstrated that “NATO protects all allies, at all times. And it sends a clear message to any potential aggressor: should you even think of attacking one ally, you will be facing the whole alliance.” This means America is willing to risk war with a nuclear-armed power to protect countries that matter little for U.S. security.

Yet expansion may not be over. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Georgia all want in. (Ukraine may join the parade, but until recently, both the government and public rejected the idea after a previous government applied for membership.) The first three matter little; they are small states threatened by no one and irrelevant to U.S. security. There’s no reason to induct them, but doing so likely would have little impact, positive or negative, on U.S. security.

Far more problematic is Georgia’s candidacy. Tbilisi has long courted NATO, even providing troops for the allies’ Kosovo mission. After the “Rose Revolution” the Saakashvili government accelerated cooperation with NATO and hired an adviser to Sen. John McCain as a lobbyist. At the April 2008 NATO summit, alliance leaders agreed that Georgia would eventually become a member.

Although the process then was derailed by the latter’s war with Russia, Tbilisi continued to press forward. Before the latest summit, Georgia’s ambassador to the United States, Archil Gegeshidze, argued that “the United States and NATO should …voice their support for Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations and provide a clear path for Georgia’s NATO membership.” Vice President Joe Biden met with Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and issued a statement supporting “Georgia’s NATO-membership aspirations.”

Although the allies did not approve a “membership action plan” or formal accession path for Georgia, they agreed to a “Defense Capacity Building Initiative” which, said Rasmussen, was “to reinforce our commitment to partner nations.” Citing Tbilisi’s cooperation with NATO, alliance members offered Tbilisi a promise of “Enhanced Partner” status. NATO’s “substantive package,” explained NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, “will help Georgia advance in its preparations towards membership of NATO.” Rasmussen emphasized the desire to “enhance our cooperation.” The alliance intends to hold military exercises and create a training facility in Georgia.