I have always felt, and I think most conservatives would agree – that the United Nations is a pointless organization, a waste of US taxpayer dollars and a waste of some decent real estate in New York City. Let them move the UN to Caracas or Moscow or Tehran – somewhere where the host nation is more supportive of their leftist, anti-US agenda. But, growing up a Reagan baby and watching the final confrontation of the Soviet empire, I never dreamed that I might one day say the same thing about NATO. Unfortunately, the day has come.
I don’t know a damned thing about Los Angeles Times columnist, Andrew Bacevich. So I don’t know where he’s coming from here. I just know that he makes a valid point in his latest article.
Once the Soviet threat disappeared, the European nations making up the core of the alliance wasted no time claiming their peace dividend. They cut defense budgets and shed military capacity. For example, the German army, which had 12 divisions in 1989, today maintains the equivalent of three.
Meanwhile, back at NATO headquarters, the iron law of bureaucratic self-preservation kicked in. Justifying the alliance’s continued existence became a cottage industry. Even as armies shrunk, new missions proliferated.
One of the new missions was to expand. Today, NATO consists of 26 members, with Albania, Croatia and Macedonia lined up to join next. Still more candidates — Serbia, Montenegro, even Georgia and Ukraine — are knocking at the door. Adding members provided a mechanism for incorporating what had been Eastern Europe and even parts of the former Soviet Union into Europe proper. But enlargement diluted NATO’s actual ability to defend itself. Rather than a collective security organization, the alliance became something more akin to a political club, far more adept at convening conferences than at organizing itself for war.
You have to wonder. I’m not saying that NATO is inherently useless. It has the potential to be a significant organization – especially in the light of Russia’s desire to reassert its bellicose, military dominance on the world stage. And I am not against including Eastern European nations in the organization. Just the fact that NATO expansionism pisses Putin off is enough to make me smile a little bit.
What I am against is the fact that NATO membership just seems to be a status symbol for new European democracies aspiring to membership in the European Union. Most of these guys have no intentions of honoring NATO’s goals or participating in the miltary aspects of the organization. I can think of a few exceptions such as Poland.
The more saddening aspect of this is that older members such as Germany, France and Spain have sought to scale back their roles while simultaneously desiring to retain membership. They want to be members; they just want the United States to do all the hard work.
The ongoing Afghan war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban is now providing a second and more demanding test case. This test demonstrates just how much the alliance’s capabilities and solidarity have withered.
In Afghanistan, NATO is failing. Nominally, all 26 alliance members are contributing to the war effort, with some 43,000 total troops deployed. In reality, stripping away the forces provided by the United States, Britain and Canada, the alliance has fielded barely 20,000 soldiers — this to pacify a country that is 50% larger than Iraq. Many national contingents, Germany’s being the most prominent, operate under restrictions that make them unusable except in areas where relative security exists.
U.S. officials call for the allies to do more — more troops with fewer strings attached. But Europe lacks trained soldiers, lacks adequate stores of equipment and above all lacks political will. European publics have an exceedingly limited appetite for sending their fellow citizens to chase insurgents in other parts of the world. European governments, with Germany again providing a good illustration, reflect the will of their people.
I think Afghanistan is an excellent illustration of NATO’s ineffectiveness. Europe isn’t the same. The US and Ronald Reagan took care of the Soviets. So the member states don’t feel like there is much reason to keep up the effort. Add to the equation the fact that their citizens are increasingly liberal, pacifistic and anti-American – you are left to wonder about the point of it all.
I don’t want to be a reactionary, but as I eye some budget cuts – I look to NATO. Our “partners” were pathetic in Kosovo and are balking in Afghanistan. Now I’m left to be a little cynical in asking – who needs them? They certainly need us more than we need them. Maybe it’s time to show a little tough love.
Of course, I’m just an arrogant American. My opinion probably doesn’t mean much to them.