What I know about NATO, the North American Treaty Organization, you could put in a bug's ear. Well, that's not quite true. I do know the treaty was signed April 4, 1949. It was the result of Cold War fears that the Soviet Union represented a military threat to Europe.
A commentary by E. Wayne Merry that appeared in The Journal of International Security Affairs, "An Obsolete Alliance," caught my eye. The author is a former State Department and Pentagon official who is now a Senior Associate of the American Foreign Policy Council.
Merry posed a question that had buzzed around in the back of my brain for a long time. Why is the United States still a member of NATO, an alliance that initially was intended to exist for twenty years, but whose life and mission has been expanding now for nearly sixty years? Since the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s and the Cold War is over, why does the U.S. or Europe need NATO?
"Over the years, NATO has turned its back on its inherently defensive and conservative origins to become a shameless hustler after engagements to justify its own perpetuation," writes Merry. He quotes Manfred Woerner, its Secretary General in the early 1990s, who said that in order to survive NATO "must go out of area or go out of business."
NATO was established by the Treaty of Washington and Merry points out that it was "purely defensive; nothing in it can legitimize use of force other than in response to a direct attack against its members. Article V, contrary to popular myth, does not even commit its members to the use of force." As such, "NATO lost its basic raison d'etre years ago, as Europe's need for American troops ended long before the Cold War did."
Thus, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO was left without a threat or a legitimate purpose. Merry correctly reminds us that "It is axiomatic that nothing in government is so long lasting as temporary measures. Policies, programs and appropriations initiated to respond to a transitory issue take on lives of their own, spawning institutions which not only outlive their purpose, but themselves create new problems to justify their continued existence."
Merry noted that "the collapse of Yugoslavia was a gift from heaven." It supplied a rationale to become "an international peacemaking force, something its founders never conceived and the U.S. Senate never would have ratified." I must confess that I never understood Clinton's decision to initiate military action because, as Merry points out, "the Yugoslav wars did not compromise the security of the United States at all."
Significantly, "Europe remains a net security consumer from America" despite the fact that its member nations maintain their own military capacity, organized on a national, rather than regional, basis, thus creating "vast duplication, overlap and waste of resources."
In effect, Americans provide Europe a low-cost service that frees European public funds for more popular programs "such as subsidized health care and opera." Why should the American budget underwrite a prosperous Europe with manpower and defense spending? Surely the European Union would not collapse if the American military was not on their continent.
Bluntly stated, "European purposes in NATO are clear; to subordinate American power and resources to their interests and to maintain a mechanism by which to constrain the United States." The unhappiness of Europe with America's projection of power in Afghanistan and Iraq is hardly a secret.
So, as NATO readies itself for its seventh decade, well beyond its original stated purpose and need, it is surely time for the next U.S. administration to consider ending this one-sided relationship. It has solved the conflicts that produced two world wars. There is no need for it to remain an American security protectorate.