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John J. Bastiat / December 9, 2019

NATO: No Longer Relevant?

Some say the 70-year-old alliance is losing its relevance, focus, and raison d’être.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) just celebrated its 70th birthday, but a “happy” birthday it was not. The 29-nation security alliance between the U.S. and greater Europe, created in the wake of extreme Cold-War tensions between the U.S. and the former USSR, is being touted by some as losing its relevance, focus, and raison d'être. Other arguments point to the seemingly incessant infighting of its members, claiming such conflicts clearly demonstrate that the tenuous pact simply cannot last.

Among the former group of naysayers are such notables as French President Emmanuel Macron, who labels those who characterize Russia as a threat “relics,” slavishly chained to outdated thinking. Rather, he asserts, the real focus of NATO — setting aside the question in his mind of whether NATO has a place in today’s world at all — is to fight terrorism. And Macron should know a thing or two that particular topic, since his country is a veritable haven for terrorists — but we digress. The Kremlin, of course, is practically “giddy” at Macron’s attempt to draw fire away from Russia, even more so after his reckless statement that NATO is “on the edge of a precipice” and suffering “brain death” because of its loss of focus on its “real” target: Terrorism. Sure thing.

For our part, we actually echo Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s off-the-top-turnbuckle snappy retort: “First of all, check if you are not brain-dead yourself!” In other words, one would have to be practically brain-dead not to appreciate NATO’s contribution to the stability of the West — let alone to world stability. And NATO continues to anchor the European component of the Pax Americana international order. If even Erdoğan “gets” that, perhaps Monsieur Macron should, as well. All this “pushback,” of course, sources from a country whose on-again-off-again “full” membership in NATO was restored only 10 years ago, based on its cagey-at-best view of NATO. Moreover, Macron’s appeasing, willful blindness to Russia’s naked aggressions — for example, Russia’s energy-blackmail of Europe, its buildup of offensive military forces along its borders, and even outside its borders, in the cases of Ukraine, Crimea, and Georgia — can only have negative consequences in the long run. Ask Neville Chamberlain: “Peace for our time” — Oui, Emmanuel?

The U.S. has paid more than its fair share in blood, sweat, and capital to maintain NATO’s viability, and Europe — and the rest of the planet, for that matter — is so much the better off for it. In a related-passing question we ask: Why do some nations consider it surprising that a somewhat-brash U.S. leader is calling out foot-dragging NATO nations for failures to pony-up to obligations to which they’ve signed up for, for decades, but which they’ve never actually fulfilled? The U.S. has long seen its fate and that of Europe — however allegedly disparate our demographics, beliefs, and cultures — as being intimately and inextricably intertwined, and based on a lookback at history that view is more than justified. Asking for Europe’s member nations to step up to obligations to which they’ve previously promised to fulfill, in our minds, isn’t a stretch.

Hopefully NATO will endure through this present uncertainty. If not, it will be every-nation-for-itself, resulting in an endgame no nation should want. We should also keep in mind the existential threats posed by both China and Russia: Both nations are actively engaged in undermining the fundamental values and orders of both the U.S. and Europe, so to the extent these threats are ignored, to that extent they will continue to grow.

As to the argument citing discord among NATO member nations as a rationale for ending NATO, we note that while NATO isn’t perfect — no large alliance of hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people should be expected to be so — it has lasted now for more than 70 years with a demonstrated track record of success. Perhaps before we “throw the baby out with the bath water,” we — and the people of Europe — should reconsider the dire consequences of ending the amazing run of the success known simply as “NATO.” As one senior U.S. administration official noted, “Underneath all of the democratic politics hurly-burly, the alliance members are fully in accord on the goals of their shared commitments in this institute, absolutely.”

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