Kagan must be an incurable optimist. The Europeans resisted U.S. pressure to expand their defense capabilities even during the cold war and routinely violated specific pledges to increase military outlays. British Defense Secretary John Hutton has spoken of “A legacy of underinvestment by some European member states in their armed forces, significant variance in political commitment to the campaign, and underneath it all a continued overreliance on the U.S. to do the heavy lifting.” As long as America does, the Europeans will not do.
The worst idea is to foster continued enlargement of the alliance, which the “NATO First Act” would do by subsidizing countries that want to join. NATO may be the first club which pays people to apply rather than vice versa. Most arguments for doing so have essentially nothing to do with augmenting U.S. security.
For instance, McNamara writes of “America’s long‐standing bipartisan policy of promoting the democratization and integration of former Soviet satellite countries into the Euro‐Atlantic community.” That’s a worthy objective, but democratic integration is something far more appropriate for the European Union.
In her view this process advances American security by “increasing the number of partners and their capacity and abilities to partner with NATO on alliance missions such as Kosovo and Afghanistan.” However, the former, undertaken in a region of no strategic interest to the United States, was of no security benefit to America. Indeed, Washington’s attempt to dictate boundaries in the Balkans has created greater regional instability, made Washington directly responsible for human rights abuses against ethnic Serbs, and soured relations with Russia.
In Afghanistan (and Iraq) the military value of the limited contributions—ranging from a couple score, such as from Estonia, to a couple thousand, such as from Georgia—of the new and potential new members of NATO has been negligible, and no where worth the cost of all the aid pumped into those same nations. McNamara also writes of “building interpersonal relationships between the militaries and commanders of partner countries,” as if Washington had much to gain from such relationships with countries that possess far more potential adversaries than military resources.
In any case, even the most fantastic claims of security benefits come in well below the cost and risk of guaranteeing the security of politically unstable, economically weak, and strategically vulnerable states. Even a science fiction writer would have trouble concocting a scenario under which the United States would be vitally affected by a contingency involving Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria or Georgia, to name a few new NATO members or aspirants.
There obviously are reasons to wish them well, but it cannot be America’s purpose—assuming preserving U.S. security remains the American government’s most important duty—to willy‐nilly promise to defend everyone from everyone, especially from a nuclear‐armed power like Russia. That small nations next to a larger state ready to play the bully desire protection is understandable. But that does not warrant America risking war.
Indeed, irrespective of NATO membership, it is hard to imagine France, Germany and Italy, in particular, declaring war on Russia to save Estonia or Georgia. As “Old Europe” has seen NATO expansion prepare to incorporate countries seriously at odds with Moscow, enthusiasm for enlarging the alliance has flagged. Even if Washington is able to force the accession of Georgia and Ukraine, America’s most important allies are likely to prove no more enthusiastic in backing up the new commitments in the event of a crisis. Fighting with recalcitrant allies would be almost as bad as fighting without allies.
Some enlargement advocates assume that Washington need only whisper its support to a friendly state and potential adversaries will assume the fetal position. If only that were true. But the United States is not the only nation that is concerned with security, worries about its borders, and is willing to use force to advance its interests. Nor is America the only country with nuclear weapons. Advocates of American military intervention endlessly denounce the slightest hesitation to intervene and threaten war as “appeasement.” Facing aggressively expansionistic U.S. policy, Russian policymakers are likely to speak in similar terms when dealing with Washington. And if it comes to securing the border, they may not back down.
It is hard to know what Europe will become. McNamara is right to point to “the European project’s serious lack of legitimacy and credibility.”
Attempting to force through continental in Brussels by preventing everyone except the Irish from voting—and forcing the Irish to continue voting until they say yes—is not likely to yield anything equivalent to a real country. For the very same reason, however, McNamara need not worry about the EU being “a counterweight in the making.” Europe does not speak with one voice, and is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future; it almost certainly will not have a military commensurate with its economic influence for an even longer time.
If Europe is to play a more important security role, something in America’s and Europe’s interests, it will do so only because of necessity. That is, the Europeans will not do more until Americans do less. Even then Europe might not rally behind the vision of Nicolas Sarkozy and others of turning the continent into a global power. There is, however, no chance of them much of anything serious until Washington stops subsidizing their security dependence.