The Obama administration has just carried out one of its standard rituals – choosing a new commander of NATO. But why are we still in NATO?
When Adm. James G. Stavridis took over the military’s Southern Command in late 2006, his French was excellent but he spoke no Spanish. Not content to rely on interpreters, he put himself on a crash course to learn the language.
Over the next three years, his fluency was measured not only in the high-level meetings he conducted in the native tongue of his military hosts. He also read the novels of Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel laureate from Colombia, in the original rich and lyrical Spanish.
Now Admiral Stavridis’s boss, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, has given him a new assignment, which starts Tuesday.
“Jim must also learn to speak NATO,” Mr. Gates said.
As the new American and NATO commander in Europe, Admiral Stavridis, 54, becomes the first naval officer appointed to a position previously held by famed ground-warfare generals.
It is two jobs in one, as he oversees all American forces under the United States European Command and — far more important today — serves as the supreme allied commander, Europe, NATO’s top military position. He takes the NATO command as the future viability of the alliance is tested by whether he can rally members to make good on their promises to the mission in Afghanistan.
Adm. Stavridis obviously is a talented officer. Alas, his chance of winning more meaningful support from the Europeans for the mission in Afghanistan is nil. The Europeans don’t want to fight, especially in a conflict which they don’t view as their own.
But the most important question these days should be: why does NATO still exist – at least, a NATO dominated by America? No one, not even Russia, threatens “Old Europe.”
Moreover, Europe is well able to defend itself. The continent has a collective GDP more than ten times that of Russia, and even larger than that of America. Europe’s population, too, is bigger than those of both Russia and the U.S. The Europeans needed America’s military aid during the Cold War. But no longer.
What of the Eastern Europeans, who worry more about Moscow? We should wish them well, but we have no cause to threaten war on their behalf. Security guarantees should not be distributed like party favors, inexpensive gifts for friends and acquaintances alike. Rather, security guarantees should be issued to defend America. It is hard to make the argument that, say, Albania, is relevant to America’s security, let alone vital to it. Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we should start reshaping our alliance commitments to reflect our vital interest.