By Alexander Markovsky
Isolation is much less dangerous than the danger of being dragged into wars which do not concern us.
— Lord Salisbury, 1896
Speaking recently of NATO, President Trump said, “We’re the schmucks paying for the whole thing.”
At this juncture it is important to remind what “the whole thing” is and its original purpose. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established in April 1949 to serve three objectives: Deterring Soviet expansionism, preventing the revival of militarism in Europe, and encouraging European political and economic integration. At that time, Europe was in ruins — facing a formidable threat from the Red Army and later from the combined forces of the Warsaw Pact. Given strategic and political realities, the United States emerged as the principal guarantor of peace. The two military camps threatened to destroy the world in the standoff called mutually assured destruction, which lasted for 34 years.
Today, the strategic landscape is fundamentally different. Western Europe has become a massive economic power, with a population of 500 million and a combined GDP akin to the United States, while NATO has increased its membership from 12 countries to 29. Nevertheless, despite the economic strength and manpower, our NATO partners having neglected their military capabilities, continue to rely on the United States for maintaining their security.
At the opposite end is Russia, the alleged menace. The demise of the Soviet Union and subsequent disintegration of the Warsaw Pact completely altered the balance of power in Europe. Modern Russia is a fraction of what used to be the massive Warsaw Pact with a population of 380 million which exceeded NATO more than two to one in personnel and more than three to one in tanks and armored vehicles. At this writing, Russia is a country with a population below 150 million and a GDP equal to South Korea. So, there is no surprise that businessman Donald Trump, who is guided by effectiveness, not by ideology, is asking why America is paying for the defense of the economic powerhouse that is facing a potential adversary whose economy is a fraction of its own and a population is less than one third of the size?
To trump Trump’s logic, Europeans descended into political cleverness. It is fashionable nowadays to portray Russia as a bogeyman of Europe, which is a cynical maneuver to maintain the Cold War atmosphere and ensure American presence in Europe. The truth is that NATO is not afraid of the Red Army planting the red flag over Reichstag again or re-occupying the Baltic States. NATO is afraid that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, it finds itself without a mission. Mission accomplished is not good news for a military alliance — it needs enemies for self-preservation.
Hence, the concept of an alliance was quietly converted into a doctrine of collective security. The significance is that while alliances identify potential adversaries and serve clearly defined objectives, the doctrine of collective security implies much broader implications. It may oppose any aggressive conduct anywhere in the world that may be interpreted as a threat to the peaceful international order. In this spirit NATO, paraphrasing John Quincy Adams, has gone “in search of monsters to destroy.” It has been involved in Kosovo, Kuwait and Libya just to name a few, often pursuing not strategic but moral goals in an attempt to promote Western values.
The grim reality of the so called “collective security” is a collection of security guarantees extended by the United States to NATO’s other 28 countries that in most instances the U.S. cannot fulfill. As a result the U.S. is risking to be sucked into a European conflict it did not initiate and has nothing to do with. There are enough U.S. military cemeteries around Europe to remind us of the costs of defending our European allies which had in the past notoriously ignored the danger and failed to preempt the impending catastrophes of two world wars.
If history is not to repeat itself, we should recognize that after keeping peace in Europe for 70 years NATO has exhausted its usefulness and lost its purpose. It became an alliance with no mission and in a process to remain relevant became the destabilizing factor in Europe and a burden to the U.S. As long as the U.S. remains in NATO, Europeans will shamelessly exploit the schmucks.
The good thing is that after living under U.S. protection for 70 years Europe has undertaken the historic journey from dependency to self-reliance, from poverty to prosperity. The kids have grown up and it is time for the parent to let them go. By all practical purposes the U.S. should exit NATO and let Europe take care of its own defense.
Alex Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and author of “Anatomy of a Bolshevik” and “Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It.”