Once and Future NATO
Speaking Loudly While Carrying No Stick

Calls to expand NATO are a reckless response to Russian aggression. Taking on new members without committing to their defense risks hollowing out the alliance and handing Putin an easy victory.

Published on: April 2, 2014
Raphael Cohen and Gabriel Scheinmann are Ph.D. candidates in international relations at Georgetown University.
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  • Andrew Allison

    “Calls to expand NATO are a reckless response to
    Russian aggression. Taking on new members without committing to their defense risks hollowing out the alliance and handing Putin an easy victory.”
    I stopped reading there. The authors of this tripe are apparently unaware that the treaty REQUIRES members to come to the defense of an attacked member. That’s why the immediate accession of Ukraine is would be the clearest possible signal to Putin that further adventurism would be ill-advised.

    • Boritz

      A generation ago requires = requires. Today requires = “requires”. One can easily imagine a NATO member Ukraine being provoked by Putin to the point where the letter of the treaty requires NATO to respond militarily, but instead Jay Carney goes to the microphone and announces that a last minute compromise has been reached in which everyone gets something [saves face] and armed conflict can be avoided. Putin no doubt already suspects that we are just that feckless but why provide a concrete demonstration. As for the European component of NATO, well.

      • Andrew Allison

        If NATO is not prepared to fight, we should dissolve it and face the consequences — the end result will be the same, but at least we’ll stop wasting money on a toothless organization.

    • Guest

      I don’t think you’re going to learn very much if you stop reading

    • adk

      “REQUIRES”? In 1939, France and the UK were also “required” by treaty with Poland to declare war on Germany in case of German aggression. They did indeed, and that brief period of their total inaction became known as Phoney War marking the official start of WWII.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoney_War

      A piece of paper, no matter how toughly worded, is not a substitute for the lack of will, and in that the West of today is very similar to the West of 1930s.

      • Andrew Allison

        Agreed. My point was the sheer ignorance of the writers. That if we lack the will to honor our treaties the outcome is inevitable is a different subject. History shows that the longer we temporize, the worst the eventual outcome.

  • BobSykes

    NATO is a hollow shell. Not only are the European armies very small, they lack the transportation capability to move ground forces to Eastern Europe, and their war stockpiles will not support more than a few weeks combat. Afghanistan has also shown that the national armies will not obey a united command.

    Additional members will only make these problems worse, and America’s own military capabilities are degenerating very quickly.

    Right down Russia can defeat NATO if the fight occurs in the Ukraine. This why the US/EU/NATO will (must) back down in the present crisis.

    • Pete

      “Not only are the European armies very small, … ”

      Yes, and the small military contributions to NATO are not only much smaller than is the U.S.’s, but a lot of it is on ‘fluff. In many ways, EU’s military spending is an extension of their welfare states, and is not really geared to war.

    • Andrew Allison

      US/EU/NATO have already backed down in the present crisis by, despite all the bloviating, accepting that the annexation of Crimea is fait accompli. If they don’t make it clear that they will not do so again, we’ll see a repeat of Hitler’s salami slicing. Puny as the NATO capability is, Putin won’t go to war . . . yet.

      • BobSykes

        I really think his offer of a nonaligned, federal Ukraine is his goal, and it is an acceptable out for the US/EU/NATO.

        I am especially upset by all the delusional, jingoist, warmongering coming from so-called foreign policy experts (many published on this site), high ranking NATO generals like Breedlove, and US Senators like McCain. If this is representative of the kind of advice Obama is getting (and it appears to be so), then we are very close to a European war.

        If it comes, Europe will have to fight it without US ground forces (although with our Air Force). It would take months to move heavy armored units back to Europe, even if there is no interdiction by Russian subs. The Battle of the Atlantic III would itself take many months.

        • Andrew Allison

          I really think [/grin] that, like Hitler, Putin will keep pushing until he meets real resistance; and that the long it takes, the bloodier the denouement will be.

  • Fat_Man

    In the wake of World War II, and the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe, it made sense for the world’s only intact industrial power to set up an alliance to counter Soviet power. If we hadn’t the Russians would have taken everything to the English Channel.

    Now, the Soviet Union is gone. Russia will never be a power like the communists were, it has no multi-national ideology and, as David Goldman (Spengler) points out it is facing a demographic implosion.

    Europe is united in the EU, prosperous, and free. If we dissolved NATO, the countries of Europe would have to look to their own defenses. This would be salutary for them, because it would reawaken their honor and dignity, and reduce their tendency to gripe about US, and, salutary for US, because we would save a lot of money.

    We should not hesitate to favor a German led Europe over the Russians, as we need to cabin Russian power and keep them busy on their western front. But, military alliance is no longer a good thing for either side.

    The US has far more important business in North America, the Caribbean, South America, the Arctic, and on the Pacific rim than it does in Europe. Our resources and attention should be directed to those areas. Oh yes, and the Middle East? Let them kill, cook, and eat each other. It is so clearly what they want to do.

  • Rajdeep Sardesai

    The expansion of nato to the east is at the root of problems the US has with russia. Seeing US post cold war behavior, the russions regret allowing Germany to unite. This is very irresponsible US foreign policy. NATO needs to be disbanded. It should have limited its borders to east germany. There is no reason for it to exist anymore.
    Also, military alliances such as NATO need to be made illegal. They result in major wars that are best avoided.

    • Diws

      Geopolitical illiteracy. NATO caused exactly zero wars. Making military alliances ‘illegal’ (who would enforce this edict? the UN?), even if practicable, would be undesirable, and an invitation for revisionist, predatory nations to bully, coerce, and annex the smaller, weaker nations.

      • Rajdeep Sardesai

        Both ww1 and ww2 spread greatly as a result of military alliances. NATO needs to shut down.

        • Diws

          I’m sure that this would delight revisionist powers such as Russia, China, and the India that Hindu nationalists such as yourself desire. Be careful what you wish for. A breakdown in the America-led international order would expose India to 2 potentially predatory states on its border that could cause real damage.

          • Rajdeep Sardesai

            The predatory states on indias borders should have been dismantled long ago, but were nurtured by the US empire. The failure of the america led international order is that they still exist today. There is not much to lose anyway. In this situation, any alternative to the current western hegemons will be welcome.

    • qet

      By my reckoning there has been no major war in almost 70 years (63 if you count the Korean War as an almost-major war given that China and the West actually fought and MacArthur almost succeeded in expanding the war to truly major proportions). Seems as though, as far as the NATO alliance goes, your point is not supported by history. But even for all that, I still tilt against further expansion of NATO for all of the reasons set out in this article.

      • Diws

        Obviously, we need to be careful in extending the guarantee of mutual defense. NATO is already diluted enough with the likes of Germany. I would not rule out any expansion of NATO, but it needs to be done judiciously.

        • qet

          I have really gone back and forth over the years on NATO, at times favoring its dissolution or at least US withdrawal and at other times inclining toward keeping and even expanding it. In favor of the “keeping” view is the fact that, no matter how hollow NATO might actually be in terms of available military resources and political will, it does exist as a functioning institution with a structure, and such an institution and structure cannot be the work of a moment.

      • Rajdeep Sardesai

        Ww1 and ww2 spreadgreatly due to military alliances. Your argument does not hold. NATO needs to be shut down.

  • Jim__L

    Germany up, America out, and the Russians in.

    Apparently NATO’s already dead.

    • S.C. Schwarz

      Agreed. We don’t have the money or the will to defend Europe or defend anyone really. NATO is a bluff and Russia called our bluff. We should withdraw from NATO and take our remaining, pitiful forces home before someone gets hurt.

      The Fall of the West continues.

      • Diws

        I don’t see how you arrive at the conclusion that Russia ‘called out bluff’, given that Ukraine is not a Nato member. Taking our marbles and going home does not make for good strategy, and is not something that a serious person should suggest.

        • S.C. Schwarz

          Perhaps bluff is the wrong word. Would you prefer lie?

          The US, along with Russia and the UK, was a signatory to the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. While not formally a mutual defense treaty there is no doubt that Ukraine believed they were receiving significant security guarantees in return for giving up what was then the world’s third’s largest nuclear weapons stockpile. Oops.

          As for “taking our marbles and going home,” I would argue that making promises, and threats, that we have no intention, or indeed capability, of carrying out is the thing no serious person should suggest.

          • Diws

            The Budapest Memorandum is one thing. NATO membership is another. I agree with you insofar as your reading of a weak American and Western European will is concerned. Now, is it so weak that NATO would actually fail to live up to its charter? That has yet to be tested in the context of a European war, but I would argue that sending signals of weakness makes that war all the more likely. Let’s just hope that NATO is not tested thus.

          • qet

            Well, even if NATO would fail the test, we ought at least right now to be counter-bluffing that it would not. Moving all those soon-to-be-retired A10s to Eastern European NATO affiliates, along with some of the soon-to-be-deactivated forces, might be a good way to do just that.

          • Andrew Allison

            NATO is being tested thus. Let’s hope it’s up to the test.

          • Jim__L

            Apparently Putin’s taking 19th century actions.

            What would be the 20th-Century response? Well, since a NATO-Russia fight is unthinkable. We would try a proxy war instead. Syria presents itself (the poor b***ards). We would demonstrate some of our warmaking capability in unequivocal ways, imply some of it by misdirection, and keep a couple of hole cards as well. Of course, this is only possible if we actually fund our military, something Obama is bound and determined not to do.

            What would be a 21st century action? What is “diplomacy by another means”, with the goal of eliminating your enemy’s will to fight, for this generation?

            We shall see. But I don’t think that various diplomatic wrist-slaps, or all the twittering in the world, is going to make it happen.

      • qet

        Concur. We do not have the will, nor are we likely to (the money we can always print). The USSR collapsed under the weight of the burdens of empire. If Putin tries to get that band back together, the same thing will happen again, eventually (and quicker this time). In the meantime, however, we may well have to suffer, and, in this Internet age, see in gruesome 24/7 detail, a Game of Thrones period of military adventurism, like we have been seeing in the Middle East for a while now.

    • Pete

      NATO should have been dissolved when the USSR disintegrated. But then what would all those pompous bureaucrats — many in military uniform — in the the NATO organization do for their livelihoods?

  • Rajdeep Sardesai

    The US funds 22 percent of NATO. This is money down the drain at a time the people of US can least afford it. All this to create an agent of instability in our planet. Nato needs to be shut down ASAP.

  • PJ1020

    Unfortunately obama and his cronies have made the USA the laughing stock of the world when it comes to foreign policy ( or lack thereof ). From the ” flexibility ” aside to Putin to red line after red line no one listens to the incompetent narcissist anymore or shudders when he speaks.

    Putin has been reading him like a first grade reader since he was elected. obama telegraphs his every move and blathers on as if anybody cares what he says or if he makes a difference.

    I shuddered when Putin called obama to talk a little while back. I was afraid we would soon be hearing that obama traded 5 states for Putin’s promise not to invade NYC. Of course obama would justify the trade by saying its OK because we still have 54 states left.

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