NATO at 60: A Hollow Alliance

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As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization celebratesits 60th birthday, there are mounting signsof trouble within the alliance and reasons to doubtthe organization’s relevance regarding the foreignpolicy challenges of the 21st century. Several developmentscontribute to those doubts.

Although NATO has added numerous newmembers during the past decade, most of thempossess minuscule military capabilities. Some ofthem also have murky political systems and contentiousrelations with neighboring states,including (and most troubling) a nuclear‐​armedRussia. Thus, NATO’s new members are weak,vulnerable, and provocative — an especially dangerouscombination for the United States in itsrole as NATO’s leader.

There are also growing fissures in the allianceabout how to deal with Russia. The older, WestEuropean powers tend to favor a cautious, conciliatorypolicy, whereas the Central and East Europeancountries advocate a more confrontational,hard-line approach. The United States is caught inthe middle of that intra‐​alliance squabble.

Perhaps most worrisome, the defense spendinglevels and military capabilities of NATO’s principalEuropean members have plunged in recentyears. The decay of those military forces hasreached the point that American leaders now worrythat joint operations with U.S. forces arebecoming difficult, if not impossible. The ineffectivenessof the European militaries is apparent inNATO’s stumbling performance in Afghanistan.

NATO has outlived whatever usefulness it had.Superficially, it remains an impressive institution,but it has become a hollow shell — far more a politicalhonor society than a meaningful security organization.Yet, while the alliance exists, it is a vehiclefor European countries to free ride on the U.S.militarycommitment instead of spending adequatelyon their own defenses and taking responsibility forthe security of their own region. American calls forgreater burden‐​sharing are even more futile todaythan they have been over the past 60 years. Until theUnited States changes the incentives by withdrawingits troops from Europe and phasing out itsNATO commitment, the Europeans will happilycontinue to evade their responsibilities.

Today’s NATO is a bad bargain for the UnitedStates. We have security obligations to countriesthat add little to our own military power. Evenworse, some of those countries could easily entangleAmerica in dangerous parochial disputes. It istime to terminate this increasingly dysfunctionalalliance.