Therapy's End

Therapy's End

Mini Teaser: NATO died with the Soviet Union. Get over it.

by Author(s): E. Wayne Merry

The Iraq conflict ignited transatlantic tensions smoldering since the
end of the Cold War. Although politicians in both Europe and America
profess to regret the obvious split within the once-sturdy Atlantic
Alliance, the United States and its people clearly perceive their
security needs very differently than do most of Europe's governments
and all of its populations. NATO is not the solution to this split;
it is the heart of the problem. The continuing existence of this Cold
War relic stands in the way of the necessary evolution of European
integration to include full responsibility for Continental security.
In the 21st century, Europe can neither become a responsible power
center nor a competent partner for the United States so long as
Europeans remain dependent on a non-European power for their
security--or even for the appearance of their security.

A Transatlantic Watershed

What A.J.P. Taylor called "the struggle for mastery in Europe" is
over, replaced by the slow construction of the "Common European
House." Europe today faces no external military threat, but many
dangers in other fields. This is, by the destructive standards of
European history, a uniquely blessed set of circumstances. Nor does
the United States exercise a dominant role in European
affairs--despite the overheated rhetoric about American
"imperialism", "hegemony" or "hyperpower" status. The ability of
European governments to thwart Washington's agenda on Iraq in the
United Nations, and the inability of American diplomacy to open doors
in Brussels for genetically-modified agricultural products, helps to
demonstrate that Europe retains its freedom of action when and where
it chooses to exercise that freedom. Sadly, and without
justification, Europe remains willfully subservient to the United
States in the security realm.

Today's tensions are not the temporary kind the Alliance experienced
during the Cold War. There is no Soviet threat to bring us together,
nor much memory among our populations of the shared burden of
maintaining the West during those decades. As the distinguished
German commentator Josef Joffe said recently in these pages,

The Atlantic Alliance has been dying a slow death ever since
Christmas Day 1991, when the Soviet Union committed suicide by
dissolution. Having won the Cold War, the Alliance lost its central
purpose and began to crumble like a bridge no longer in use--slowly,
almost invisibly.

The United States did not assume the role of European ordnungsmacht
either quickly or willingly and has always carried the burden
uneasily. Even after World War II, the United States initially
responded to Europe's crisis with economic rather than military
support. For many Americans, the Marshall Plan was seen as an
alternative to what eventually became NATO. Only thanks to the
crudeness of the Soviet threat did the United States again engage
itself in European security affairs, but even then without believing
it would involve a long-term commitment of forces. When the Alliance
was formed, it was to serve a European purpose: to provide military
security during a period of postwar reconstruction and the reforming
of the European state system. The United States, albeit reluctantly,
undertook this task because it could find no other viable means to
prevent Western Europe from falling prey to Soviet power.

Today, the Alliance serves a non-European purpose, that of "force
multiplier" and "toolbox" for supporting U.S. military interventions
outside Europe. Many in Washington are understandably attracted to
this seemingly useful transformation of NATO, but the change contains
a fundamental flaw. The entire rationale for the Alliance--collective
defense in Europe--has been reversed, or even inverted, without any
revision of the North Atlantic Treaty or consideration by national
legislatures. This transformation of the Alliance came about for the
most bureaucratic of reasons: to give NATO something to do so as to
justify its continued existence. Yet, redefining the Alliance as a
"toolbox" for global power projection raises the issues of whosepower
and for whose purposes? These questions are the cancer that has been
eating away at NATO for the past decade.

No longer can thoughtful Europeans argue that Europe's interests are
congruant with NATO's purpose. The United States envisions a NATO
that no longer provides for Europe's security, but instead requires
Europeans to serve as auxiliaries in distant enterprises of
questionable benefit to Europe (and with little if any genuine
consultation). Whether out-of-area activities are valid on their
merits is not the point. In going out of area to avoid going out of
business, in the formulation of a former Secretary-General, NATO has
carried out a silent, political coup d'état on its member-states.

Some Europeans, especially in the former Warsaw Pact countries now
entering the Alliance, are concerned about Russia. Yes, Russia
presents a real, even acute, security crisis, but to itself more than
to others. While Russia retains major nuclear capabilities, the bulk
of its ground forces have deteriorated to such an extent that they
may be more of an internal danger than a direct one to any potential
adversary. In Russia (as in Ukraine and Belarus) multiple
crises--demographics, epidemic diseases and health care,
environmental degradation, industrial and agricultural collapse, the
weakness of both civil society and the rule of law--combine to
present the rest of Europe with the potential of large failed states
on its eastern edge.

The challenges Europe will face on its eastern edge are similar to
those already posed by Africa: legal and illegal migration, organized
and disorganized crime, plus new strains of drug-resistant diseases
and HIV/AIDS on an epidemic scale. No military alliance can respond
to these dangers. Indeed, the real threat is that Russia and its
neighbors may be permanently excluded from the Common European House
by the severity of their problems. Just as the Iron Curtain once
divided the First and Second Worlds, the new Schengen frontier of the
European Union (what some already call the "Paper Curtain") is poised
to separate an expanded European First World from a neighboring
European Third World.

The intense controversy over the Iraq War demonstrated that many
Europeans are not willing to accept any transformation of NATO into
America's toolbox. While some European governments will support the
United States in most out-of-area undertakings, such as in Iraq, and
all European governments will support the United States in some
contingencies, as in Afghanistan, no European government will accord
Washington automatic cooperation in situations in which European
interests are not clearly engaged. As the United States is a global
power, a clash between America's needs and Europe's interests is
inevitable. Iraq was merely the first instance.

No reconfiguration of NATO will solve this problem. Moving bases from
Germany or the Low Countries to Poland or Romania may provide some
employment in the recipient states, but bases are not much good if in
a crisis you cannot rely on overflight rights from other countries.
European governments more than once denied overflight or use of
facilities to American forces even in the halcyon days of Cold War
solidarity when the issue at hand was out of area. More recently, the
inability of the United States to use the formerly-vital facility at
Incirlik in southern Turkey for combat operations in Iraq, despite
intense U.S. pressure, shows that bases remain very much subject to
the discretion of sovereign states with interests and policies of
their own--as, indeed, they should be. In any case, the tendency in
Washington to think of Europe and NATO in terms of refueling points
and as a "toolbox" is hardly the stuff of a robust alliance. This is
how one speaks about underlings, not allies. Such condescension
speaks volumes about how both NATO and the transatlantic relationship
have changed.

Building a Common European House, Not a Garrison

Both NATO and the European Union (EU) are expanding eastward, yet,
for the states of central and eastern Europe, Russia included, the EU
is of far greater importance than NATO. Most applicant governments
understand that membership in the EU means joining Europe, while
membership in NATO is reaching beyond Europe to the United States.
That the two are inherently contradictory is not yet clear to many in
eastern Europe, but this reality will become obvious as the
coordination mechanisms of the EU begin to impose common external
policies on the former Warsaw Pact states. Whether they like it or
not, the new EU members have no credible alternative to a full
European identity. They are too small and economically backward not
to require the sponsorship of larger powers. But they are no longer
front-burner topics for American policy. As a global power, the
United States is drawn to the crisis points of the world. The region
from the Baltic to the Black Sea is simply not troublesome enough to
retain more importance for Washington than for Brussels.

The core dynamic of the European Union is integration and the sharing
of former national prerogatives. This dynamic has progressed quite
far in many areas but remains inert in defense policy because NATO
has remained the primary security instrument for most EU members. The
Alliance, however, is not a mechanism of European defense
integration, nor has it ever been. NATO is a mechanism to integrate
American power into Europe. Yet its very success has inhibited
significant military integration within Europe. Despite a number of
showcase combined units, like the Danish-German-Polish Corps or the
Baltic Peacekeeping Battalion, there is no aspect of public policy in
Europe today as rigidly organized within national parameters as

Essay Types: Essay