No doubt, military force can be useful in a dangerous world. But treating war as just another foreign‐policy option can be an even bigger “impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace.” For years the U.S. government has engaged in promiscuous war making and threat mongering, leaving America less secure. In these cases, the “peacenik” Europeans have been more often more right than the United States.
Still, the dream of a revived transatlantic alliance lives on. A so‐called “group of experts” headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright released their report NATO 2020: Assured Security; Dynamic Engagement in mid‐May. The document called for “a new Strategic Concept”: defending Europe, confronting unconventional threats, acting outside alliance boundaries, winning in Afghanistan, preventing crises, creating new partnerships, “participating in a comprehensive approach to complex problems,” engaging Russia, adding new members, creating new military capabilities, maintaining nuclear weapons, providing missile defense, responding to cyber attacks, becoming “a more agile alliance” and, last but not least, “telling NATO’s story.”
An earlier, longer report for the European Union Institute for Security Studies called for “a commensurate military capability” to the EU’s “civilian power.” The EUISS also urged the Continent to “to act autonomously from NATO,” which would require “a fully‐fledged European command to plan and conduct military operations.”
These are ambitious agendas for nations which may not even have militaries in 2020 at the rate they are cutting defense spending. In fact, there are few threats against which the Europeans must arm. Russia can beat up on hapless Georgia, but trying to swallow Ukraine or Poland would be something else entirely. And a Martian invasion is about as likely as a Russian attack further west.
Of course, the Europeans are affected by events elsewhere in the world. But with existential threats lacking, any wars are likely to be matters of choice, not necessity. And the benefits have to be weighed against the costs. Just how much is it worth to Europeans to keep the Karzai clan in power in Afghanistan? Already there is a sense of “never again” when dealing with Afghanistan. The German defense minister recently proposed four new restrictive criteria, starting with “great and imminent danger to another NATO member.” The Afghan mission probably would have failed all four of his conditions even when it was proposed, let alone today.
The basic issue, argues Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, is cultural: the Europeans have lost their taste for blood. Thus, the attempt to transform NATO “from a defensive alliance into an instrument of power projection,” writes Bacevich, is merely another doomed attempt “to reignite Europe’s martial spirit.” It ain’t going to happen.
Rather than whining about European military spending — especially after doing so much to discourage the continent from acting independently — the United States should allow the Europeans to bear the consequences of their actions. That means withdrawing American troops and leaving NATO to the Europeans. Continental defense should be the responsibility of the EU, essentially NATO without the NA (depending upon what Canada would choose to do). If member states prefer to preserve their expensive and expansive welfare states, then so be it.
It would still be in the interests of both sides to cooperate militarily — on matters of joint interest. Washington simply has nothing at stake in the Balkans. No more U.S. threats, wars, or deployments there. Most Europeans believe Afghanistan is America’s war. The United States should seek support from nations which see involvement as a matter of global security rather than alliance solidarity.
Equally important, America needs to cut its defense budget. Total military outlays exceed $700 billion — nearly half of global expenditures. Yet America faces no obvious existential threat, other than an unlikely Russian nuclear attack. The United States has no reason to devote limited resources to defending prosperous and populous allies, most notably in Europe, but also in Asia.
During the Cold War, American officials feared the consequences of allowing their allies to be feckless. Today the allies rather than America would suffer from any mistakes.
Europe is bankrupt. It is spending less on the military. America is bankrupt. It is spending more on the military. And defending Europe.
To coin a phrase, it is time for a change. If the administration won’t lead the way, then Congress should take control through the use of the appropriations process.