Adapting Ismay's Dictum
The paradox of Germany's Western ties affirmed becomes more vexing
still if one applies a neorealist perspective to post-Cold War
European affairs. As early as 1990, it was argued that the demise of
bipolarity would return Europe to a multipolar order of five
competing major powers that would be "more prone to instability." In
other words, no more NATO and no more United States qua European
power. More recently, it was argued in these pages for the nth time
that NATO is doomed--the victim of victory in the Cold War. For
either "gone or eroding" are those "three unifying forces" that held
the partnership together--the Soviet threat, America's economic stake
in Europe, and a generation of Atlanticist leaders on either side of
To be sure, the Soviet threat is no more. It is also true that U.S.
trade with Asia is now one and a half times larger than with Europe.
But the latter for many years has been in slight surplus, whereas
America's permanent deficits with China and Japan are a constant
source of political irritation. Here are some other interesting
numbers: in 1998 Europe's investments in the United States quadrupled
compared to 1997, while American acquisitions in Europe doubled. This
hardly bespeaks a loss of economic interest in each other. As to
generational change, the more interesting observation relates once
more to the dog that did not bark. To stretch the metaphor a bit: not
only did Schroeder, Scharping, et al. not bark, but they have been
making the most friendly noises when facing the United States and the
alliance. The same holds true for Tony Blair and Labour and,
amazingly, even for the post-communist D'Alema government of Italy.
Though Soviet power is gone, structure is not always destiny, at
least not in the medium term that is now ten years old. Something
seems to have happened to the iron law of history that says,
"Alliances die when they win." NATO, of course, should be dead by
now, ten years after victory. The Soviet-American compact against
Hitler, for instance, hardly outlasted Germany's surrender. The World
War I entente against Germany was practically defunct by 1923, four
years after Versailles. And the all-European coalition against
Napoleon that brought France to its knees in 1815 had unraveled by
How shall we explain that events have refused to obey what history
and theory (at least the neorealist brand) apparently prescribed? The
best way is precisely in the language of neorealist theory.
Structurally--in terms of the distribution of power--NATO's functions
have always followed the immortal words of Lord Ismay, its first
secretary-general: "To keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and
the Germans down." Strangely enough, these may be precisely the
reasons that--suitably refurbished--still provide the triple raison
d'Ãªtre of the Atlantic Alliance.
Keeping the Russians Out: Russia is down and out as a state and as an
economy, and likely to remain so for the next quarter century. Yet
one thing will never change. Russia is simply too "big" for Europe.
It retains thousands of nuclear weapons and, though dependent on the
munificence and goodwill of the West, it has not always played a role
in Europe consistent with that of a responsible great
power--especially when acting as tacit protector of Serbia and
Saddam. Hankering for its lost power and once more unsure of its
mission in the world, Russia will be many things--but not a
predictable factor of stability in Europe. Russia is, has been and
will be a problem in the European balance, and so NATO with its
Atlantic anchor is, has been and will be the critical
counterweight--until Europe can discharge that task by itself.
Keeping the Germans Down: Evidently, this function changed long ago
to "keeping the Germans integrated." But even in the new setting,
this function has not lost its claim on the future, especially--and
this is a point worth stressing--in terms of German interests. No. 1
and in the middle, the country is again too big to be left alone, and
not big enough to go it alone. But this time the Germans know it.
Multilateralism and community remain unwritten articles of their
constitution. The Germans realize full well that NATO and the United
States reassure everyone else by shortening the shadow of German
power that has lengthened considerably since reunification and the
retraction of Soviet/Russian power.
NATO's subsidiary function is not only well understood, but welcomed
by the intelligent part of the political class. People like Foreign
Minister Fischer go even further by routinely stressing the powerful
connection between Germany's democracy and its Westbindung, its
community with the West. "If we turn our back on that community, we
might jeopardize our democratic revolution--the first in German
history that worked." "To me", Fischer insists, "the West is an
indispensable insurance against the return of German nationalism."
The more reassured everyone else is, the easier it is for them to
live and cooperate with the giant in their midst. The giant's clout
is fed mainly by "soft power"--economic strength, cultural influence
and geographic centrality. But "soft power", Germany's greatest and
most profitable asset, works best when "hard power" is devalued,
because classical security problems have virtually disappeared. NATO
helps keep it that way because it still provides the most solid
barrier between the Europeans and the renationalization of their
defense--historically the most powerful source of rivalry, conflict
and war. To remain integrated, to produce security collectively, is
good for Europe and good for Germany, and the Germans will
accept--nay, cherish--such a set-up as long as it is available.
Keeping the Americans In: Even with a reduced strategic threat, it is
not at all clear whether there can be European security without
Atlantic security. Europe has flourished because the United States
has essentially become a European power--and Europe did not flourish,
as in the first half of this century, when American power was not
part of the balance. Moreover, everybody from Lisbon to Lodz wants
the Americans in--even the cranky French who, deep in their hearts,
want to keep the Americans (at least half of the time) as a
counterweight to Germany, and as a reinsurance against Russian power.
The sorry record of Europe's attempts since 1991 to generate European
security on its own--especially in the War of the Yugoslav
Succession--has added a very practical dimension to these concerns.
Lord David Owen, the former EU representative for Yugoslavia, said it
all when he mused: "This was going to be the time when Europe emerged
with a single foreign policy and . . . it unwisely shut out an
America only too happy to be shut out." As I have written in another
context, while others
"may resent America's clout, they have also found it useful to have a
player like the United States in the game. . . . In the language of
'public goods' theory: There must always be somebody who will recruit
individual producers, organize the startup and generally assume a
disproportionate burden in the enterprise. That is as true in
international affairs as it is in grassroots politics."
The moral of the Bosnian War of 1992-95 and its Kosovo sequel of 1999
is still the old one. While EU-Europe matches if not exceeds the
United States in terms of economic, demographic and many military
resources, as a strategic actor it remains less than the sum of its
parts. Fifteen wills, alas, do not add up to one Big One. There is
also an unyielding technical problem. In spite of its wondrous
richesse, the EU has not been able to generate the military hardware
that counts. Europe has neither long-range logistics (ships and
transport aircraft), nor long-range intelligence (spy satellites plus
evaluation capabilities), nor long-range throw-weight (cruise
missiles and precision munitions delivered by strategic aircraft).
Europe at this point is not equipped to fight a Yugoslav-style war on
its own, let alone anything bigger at a farther remove like the Gulf.
And because it does not wield the clout, it cannot even begin to
impress the Milosevics of this world. The difference between being
hit by a British or German Tornado and an American F-16 is critical.
Behind those Tornados stand but medium powers; behind the U.S. Air
Force plane in the Balkan skies stands a superpower that can hurl all
the ordnance in the world without having to expose itself to
A Team Player at Last
The foregoing has tried to elucidate some general continuities--in
particular, why an alliance apparently doomed by theory and history
continues to flourish ten years after victory. Instead of succumbing
to a drastic downward shift of demand (the decline of the strategic
threat), NATO has successfully opened new markets (via eastward
enlargement) while hawking new products (peace enforcement in the
Balkans). A more specific question is this: On this new post-bipolar
stage, why does Germany continue to declaim from a familiar script?
Let us sharpen the paradox: Germany has suffered from more
constraints in the Cold War than any other nation in Europe; hence,
it has gained more freedom than anyone else in the aftermath. So why
does Germany insist on acting as avatar of continuity? Why not act
more like Britain or France?