Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Future of NATO 

An article from The Belmont Club links to some other very valuable information about the changes that are moving through US military forces, and what that means for NATO.

As I read this, it became clear to me that what America needs right now, in terms of alliances to help it meet current threats, is not geographically centered alliances like NATO, whose very name demonstrates the desire to protect certain geographic areas from very specific types of threats. NATO was very successful in its mission, but its mission is now over, and the organization is increasingly held captive by people like Chirac who want to limit its activity.

Open-ended alliances are a bad idea. They cause mission creep; they become ossified; they distort the members' true interests by shielding them from reality. This is certainly the case with Europe, as the member states continue to rely on the US (through NATO) to provide their military needs long after the reason for that state of affairs has disappeared and many of the members themselves have ceased to be US allies in any meaningful sense. Alliances ought to be temporary, to meet the need of the day, and when the need disappears, so should the alliance. We can have friends; we can have interests; but permanent alliances never seem to accomplish much good. The relationship between the US and Britain might be cited as an exception, and perhaps it is. But maybe that's why they call it the 'special relationship'- it's the exception that proves the rule. And even if we're close and share many common interests, does that mean we share all interests? Should Britain help us if we intervene in Haiti? Should we be required to help them if they go to war in Northern Ireland?

What the US needs is a new alliance designed to meet the new threat. We have the 'coalition of the willing' now, that's helping us in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should formalize this kind of relationship. It should not be based on geography or even on ideology, but on the commonly shared interest of eradicating these terrorist groups. We should be willing to work with a wide variety of countries to this end, even countries that we have ideological differences with such as Pakistan or China. This would be an alliance just for this purpose- pursuing terrorism, and would therefore not be viewed as endorsing (for example) China's human rights record or Pakistan's problems. The alliance would be functional only on these commonly shared interests. When the problem of terrorism is controlled, the alliance would end.

As an alternative, we could form a more narrowly focused, but more broadly functional alliance, with like-minded democracies around the world, with the larger goal of promoting democracy, security and human rights as well as controlling terrorism. This alliance would be more like NATO but without the geographical focus. And as a matter of fact, there's no reason why both these arrangements can't exist together. We could work with Pakistan on such issues as terrorist control, but not really view them as allies, and at the same time have a much closer relationship with Japan or South Korea and work with them as partners on a wide range of strategic concerns. In fact, this is largely what we do now, except that we have these formal arrangements such as NATO and the UN that hamper this more pragmatic work and yet contribute very little (and even negatively, I'd argue) to US Security.

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