When French President Emmanuel Macron said that NATO was experiencing “brain death,” he spoke an important inconvenient truth. Unfortunately, it appears that the ongoing NATO summit intends to focus on traditional burden‐sharing issues. In the days before the summit, European members released a plan to great fanfare that would increase their share of the Alliance’s direct costs and reduce America’s share. But NATO’s problems go far, far beyond burden sharing. Greater European financial support is akin to taking an aspirin to deal with a terminal illness.
Despite the usual talk about enduring transatlantic solidarity, there are deepening divisions about key issues. Sources of friction include the eroding democratic credentials of several Alliance members and disagreements about policy toward both Russia and the Middle East. Turkey’s growing authoritarianism and Ankara’s open flirtation with Moscow are only the most visible indications of ugly fissures.
The most serious threat to the Alliance, though, is the erosion of the commitment to collective defense on the part of European populations. A September 2019 European Council on Foreign Relations survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of respondents in all European Union (EU) countries favored neutrality in any conflict between the United States and either Russia or China. Such neutralist sentiment strikes at the heart of NATO’s Article 5 commitment that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all.
NATO was an alliance created to provide an American security shield for a weak, demoralized democratic Europe that faced an existential security threat from a totalitarian superpower. That security environment bears no resemblance to the one today’s prosperous, capable Europe faces.
Macron is right about NATO’s brain death. NATO is now a zombie alliance. He also is right about the policy solution—the creation of an independent European military capability through the EU as a successor. Instead of spouting increasingly irrelevant clichés about transatlantic solidarity, the NATO summit attendees should begin the important transition to a post‐NATO world.