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Thursday, February 25th 2010

Some Help Please (Or NATO’s raison d’etre)

One of my goals when restarting this blog was to be more focused and less off key. To keep Residency Notes centered solely on health care related issues.

Well, let me fail there for a moment. I’ve been thinking on the United States’ obligations to our allies since I’ve been interested in current affairs; I’m sure anyone with an interest in politics or world events has had the same thoughts. This week with Secretary Gates criticizing the demilitarization of Europe the issue comes forefront again,

“The demilitarization of Europe – where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it – has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st,” Gates said.

The perception of weakness in Europe could offer “a temptation to miscalculation and aggression” by hostile states, he said.

And while Europe shoots back they can hardly muster a convictionable excuse. The situation is that western Europe was allowed to flower into progressive liberal democracies, at THEIR discretion, behind a shield of American threat of force. Social spending in western Europe never could’ve been what it was through the 20th century without NATO. And NATO was little more than America’s guarantee to Europe (and Canada).

I’m hardly the first to say it. I’m hardly the most well read to say it. But it irks me that, whatever your convictions concerning the war in Afghanistan, America’s European allies seem so reluctant and seem to have contributed so little. I understand that NATO’s scope has been vastly expanded from its original premise by the September 11th attacks. That NATO was never intended to require its founding signatories to sign up for the projection of force outside of North America or Europe. But forget the official construct of America’s agreement with Europe.

The simple fact is that the promise, whether laid out in the North Atlantic Treaty or simply understood, of American force guaranteed European security throughout the Cold War. The NHS, French pensions, German infrastructure were paid for as much by American tax payers as anyone. Even a country like France who supposedly took on their own defense obligations: what would their defense spending have been at the height of the Cold War if not for the understanding that America would oppose any Warsaw Pact aggression? 8 or 9 or 10 or 15% of GDP? Not unrealistic. The lack of the obligation to fully supply for their own defense allowed for the growth of liberal Europe.

As The American Spectator quotes,

Vassilis Kaskarelis, the Greek Ambassador to the U.S., told the Washington Times: “They don’t have the capabilities, because in the last 50 years, the U.S. offered an umbrella in terms of military, security and stability.” So “You had the phenomenon [in which] most of the successful European economies — countries like France, Germany, the Scandinavians — channeled all the funds they had on social issues, health care, pensions, you name it.”

I’m not saying the United States didn’t have a stake in NATO. It did. But the benefits were lopsided in favor of the Europeans. And the costs were lopsided in favor of the Americans. America ponies up better than 2/3rds of NATO’s budget. Through the end of the Cold War America routinely mustered 5 or 6% of its GDP for its military and were lucky to see its European allies muster up 2%. Nowadays the situation is even worse. The SIPRI has a great resource looking at military budgets from the late 1980s.

And now America is facing its greatest threat to its national security since the fall of the Berlin Wall and some support would be lovely. What the European’s have at stake in Afghanistan is something less than what the Americans do. Fair enough. But those thirty or forty years of prosperity on American guarantees should count for something more than it has. From the Dutch government falling to limited engagement rules and caveats over their troops’ roles in Afghanistan to threats of British troops pulling out, evidence of a lack of commitment is all around. Support for America’s operations has been less than remarkable from the beginning.

I’m all for calls to leave NATO to the Europeans. That’s easy to say in the current enviornment with the threat of state versus state conflict in Europe at an all time low. I truthfully imagine the Europeans would regret that, when the current situation proves transient. Still I’m all for fostering unified European defense cooperation with North America stepping back.

Present-day Europeans — even Europeans with a pronounced aversion to war — are fully capable of mounting the defenses necessary to deflect a much reduced Eastern threat. So why not have the citizens of France and Germany guarantee the territorial integrity of Poland and Lithuania, instead of fruitlessly demanding that Europeans take on responsibilities on the other side of the world that they can’t and won’t?

But that’s for the future. I’ll be frank, the point I’m trying to make is that Europe owes the United States something in the present. If they garner nothing for their own security, if their populations are morally repulsed by the war…they should still muster up.

I’d like some payback for the thirty or forty years prior. I’d like Europe to remember what America meant to world security at its peak power; meant to their security at its peak power. Consider that petty but it irks me that Europe seems to have forgotten so quickly.

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