Cold War Ideology Was Outdated Before the Coronavirus Era

Reuters
May 10, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: CoronavirusPandemicCold WarResourcesDepression

Cold War Ideology Was Outdated Before the Coronavirus Era

The world changed dramatically after the Cold War ended. The coronavirus is likewise a significant force for change, one with the potential to shift the balance of power. This current crisis should remind us we have finite resources and should allocate those with prudence—otherwise, we risk further overstretch and depletion of U.S. power.

 

The coronavirus should be recognized as the unpleasant wake-up call it is. After squandering our finite resources on dubious missions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Niger, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti—and elsewhere—the coronavirus exposes how Washington has long-neglected priorities at home. Stagnant Cold Warrior thinking and devotion to the false idol of the “rules-based international order” are major culprits.

Thankfully, the Pentagon—or at least part of that sizable institution—seems to have heard the wake-up call. A memo released by the Secretary Esper last week announced a shift in funding, allocating resources to pay for the construction of a U.S. border wall. Regardless of where the money will be diverted, what’s notable is from where the money was taken. One shift was $274 million worth for projects that include “infrastructure for military aircraft, fuel and munitions storage” for the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI).

 

You won’t find this spelled out in Secretary Esper’s memo, but those with keen eyes will note the admission between the lines: these EDI projects are unimportant.

The EDI was implemented in 2014, boosting the U.S. presence in Europe after Russia annexed Crimea. Originally, and more accurately, called the European Reassurance Initiative, this move was more about reassuring our European allies: The U.S. would continue to serve as first responder for the continent’s problems. Nothing could have done more to undermine allied burden sharing. Though Esper’s memo had its detractors, a couple more hangars and fuel tanks will not do much to deter Russia—and that’s assuming Russia has the capability and intent to pose a serious threat to Europe in the first place.

We need not assume that.

To be sure, the EDI is unnecessary to maintain America’s security, but the EDI is also redundant. A much larger Russian deterrence initiative has existed for seventy years: NATO.

America’s commitment to this military alliance has been unwavering since its founding in 1949. In the seven decades since, the world has seen monumental changes, but NATO has failed to modernize with reality. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, Europe’s impressive economic might, a population more than three times larger than Russia’s, and a combined EU defense budget four times larger than Russia’s investments, the U.S. is still providing European security for wealthy allies—and Moscow is still perceived as a bogeyman.

With the fall of the USSR, NATO lost its raison d'être. In this environment, NATO is perhaps not best described as brain-dead, but as an institution past its time—a Blockbuster in the age of Netflix, if you will.

 

NATO needs a fresh rethink. The alliance should start by ending its much-lauded open-door policy. Recently, it has hailed the admission of North Macedonia, a country with little geopolitical relevance, but that adds one more item to America’s list of security burdens. North Macedonia will not cripple the alliance, but it means more territory to defend without a commensurate increase in military value. It means more momentum to expand NATO toward Russia’s periphery, and that’s the real danger—employing a military alliance to force Russia’s retreat from Ukraine would have severe consequences. Some in the United States wish to admit Ukraine and Georgia—two countries that border Russia and that have actually fought with Russia this century.

Russia views NATO largely as an excuse for the U.S. military to gain an ever-encroaching foothold on its border. Admitting Ukraine and Georgia into this alliance would exacerbate Moscow’s concerns, to say the least, and ratchet up tensions with the world’s only other nuclear superpower. Because Russia is currently fighting in Ukraine, adding Kyiv to NATO’s roster would immediately put the world’s two nuclear superpowers at risk of direct military conflict—an outcome the United States spent the entire Cold War trying to avoid.

For the United States, this is a lose-lose proposition. Best case, the United States stretches its limited resources further addressing peripheral concerns, focusing more on European interests (that Europeans can and should handle) than core American interests. Worst case, we get involved in a shooting war with Russia.

European countries have the wherewithal to field modern militaries—if they invest more seriously in their own defenses. This will never happen if Washington continues to use the U.S. as a security blanket for Europe. A stronger Europe would be prudent policy for Europe—and a more reliable partner for America.

The world changed dramatically after the Cold War ended. The coronavirus is likewise a significant force for change, one with the potential to shift the balance of power. This current crisis should remind us we have finite resources and should allocate those with prudence—otherwise, we risk further overstretch and depletion of U.S. power. The EDI is not only duplicative of NATO, but also counterproductive. It both harms U.S. burden sharing efforts and makes the U.S. the Russian antagonist, rather than wealthy European allies. Though many Cold Warriors are still in power, the Cold War is over—its precepts should not be dogma in the twenty-first century. U.S.-Russia policy should get off autopilot—sound strategy, not inertia, should determine this vital strategic relationship.

Michael R. Hall is the communications manager of Defense Priorities and a geopolitical analyst. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelryhall.

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