Response: Can NATO Survive Europe?

Response: Can NATO Survive Europe?

Mini Teaser: E. Wayne Merry responds to criticisms of his"Therapy's End" essay (Winter 2003/04).

by Author(s): E. Wayne Merry

This magazine invited four distinguished analysts to respond to my "Therapy's End" essay (Winter 2003/04). They did so in the Spring 2004 issue. This is my response to them.

When the USSR imploded, General Lee Butler suggested that his own Strategic Air Command be disbanded and America abandon MAD. He saw both this institution and that doctrine as inappropriate after the conditions which created them had fundamentally changed. Parkinsonian inertia has triumphed over Butler's wisdom. So too with NATO.

Radek Sikorski wants to keep hold on America's apron strings, arguing "we can be Europe and America, but we are also the Western civilization, with NATO as our invincible arm." I see much less common purpose or shared values, but then I do not regard America as a European country. Hans Binnendijk and Richard Kugler, although openly incredulous that my heresy could be genuine, argue NATO just needs rejuvenation to extend its benign influence to the Middle East. Our current efforts to engage Europe in transforming the Arab world have already substantially strained the transatlantic relationship.

Then there is John Hulsman's anathema. We learn I am a "utopian" NATO "romantic", plus that I am a product of the 1968 generation of "rebellion" against American policy; young Hulsman himself represents "a realist Hegelian synthesis" on the Alliance. Whew! For the record, in 1968 I was a student volunteer in Johnson's abortive reelection campaign and supported the Vietnam War (youthful follies). I regard Hegelian thought as the breeding ground for most of the modern world's tragedies. Hulsman's high-flown exegesis on NATO, when stripped of rhetorical flourish, is just a bonding of Madeleine Albright's notion of American "virtuous power" with Donald Rumsfeld's principle that the mission determines the coalition (both concepts have done NATO far more damage than my best efforts).

Hulsman is correct that I am a romantic, but about America rather than Europe. Where I differ from the NATO faithful is in their view that America should be permanently harnessed to Europe. Despite many years in Europe I feel none of the sense of cultural dependency which infests much of the American foreign policy elite. In this regard, my conceptual origins include John Quincy Adams and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Over the course of the 20th century, the United States played an increasing role in European security affairs. We did so because the catastrophic failure of the European state system at times reached beyond Europe to challenge American interests. This was not inevitable. The struggle among the European imperial powers might well have remained limited to their own continent and colonies. I regard Woodrow Wilson's policies as tragic for America, and perhaps also for Europe. I do not believe that it was in our interest to send our boys to France in 1918. Our later engagements in Europe were driven by necessity and valid self-interest. Today, both factors are fundamentally altered by the twin developments of European integration (however imperfect) and the collapse of the Soviet empire. There is no longer any need for American power in Europe.

Can NATO serve "Western civilization" by projecting common military power into non-Western regions? Even if the undertaking were sound, the transatlantic gap in culture and values is far deeper than a debate over use of armed force. Europeans and Americans differ on the basic role of the state, the status of the citizen and their visions of society and the future. I do not seek to impose American values on Europe. But when Gerhard Schröder sought votes by announcing that "America is different than Europe", my response was "Yes, and thank God."

I see the Atlantic Alliance as a phase of American external policy driven by interests and circumstances now changed. My critics want NATO to define America's role in the world through a link with Europe that, I believe, neither party can or should sustain. Thus, we differ.

Essay Types: Essay