- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Of Course NATO is Obsolete

This editorial was published in the March/April issue of The American Conservative. 

Should the United States go to war with Russia to protect Montenegro, a nation of 5,332 square miles and some 620,000 people? Where is Montenegro, anyway?

You can answer the second question by consulting any map of the Balkans, where tiny Montenegro is wedged between Serbia, Bosnia, and Albania. You can answer the first question through a cursory consultation with the logic of national interest. The answer is no.

Yet the United States is bound by treaty to protect Montenegro militarily should Russia or any other nation violate its sovereignty. The fate of Montenegro has absolutely nothing to do with U.S. strategic interests. But the diminutive country resides in a region that has been of crucial cultural and geopolitical interest to Russia for centuries.

change_me

[1]

It’s the NATO treaty, of course, that requires U.S. protection of Montenegro. Donald Trump kicked up a storm as a presidential campaigner by declaring NATO “obsolete.” After Hillary Clinton retorted that it was “the strongest military alliance in the history of the world,” Trump explained he merely wanted the other nations to pay their fair share in alliance costs and also wanted NATO to do more to fight terrorism.

Later Trump allowed as how he didn’t really think the alliance was obsolete after all. He only said that, he explained, because he didn’t know much about it. But now, he said, he knew a lot more—enough to support the admission of Montenegro into NATO last year.

Trump was smarter when he was ignorant. Of course NATO is obsolete. It was founded as a Cold War defensive alliance to thwart any Western invasion by the Soviet Union, which had positioned some 1.3 million Warsaw Pact troops for such an incursion. NATO was indeed one of the greatest military alliances in world history. With America as its leader, it won the Cold War.

But that was 30 years ago. The Soviet Union is long gone, along with those menacing troops and the strategic threat they posed. The rationale for NATO has evaporated.

And yet it remains. Not only that, but it long since has abandoned its defensive posture and embraced an offensive temperament, moving inexorably eastward in a manifest effort to encircle Russia and remove its influence from territories that had been within its sphere of interest for centuries. Instead of an alliance to prevent war, NATO has become an institution generating tensions and hostilities where none need exist.

William S. Smith of the Catholic University of America noted recent meetings pulled together by NATO’s military committee chairman, a Czech army general named Petr Pavel. His sessions with his counterparts from Ukraine and Georgia, crowed Pavel, were “dedicated to Projecting Stability.” Given that those two nations are crucial to Russia’s sense of national security (and have been for centuries), wrote Smith, stability seems the least likely outcome of those meetings.

Now we have tensions rising in the Mideast between the United States and Turkey, which have competing interests in Syria. Turkey is a NATO member, which made sense in the Cold War as it was well positioned geographically to thwart Soviet expansionism. But now Turkey is developing friendly ties with Russia while snarling at the United States—and abandoning its previous interest in masquerading as a Western nation so it can join the EU. What happens when two NATO nations, from different civilizations, square off against each other?

Trump was right the first time. Those clinging to NATO simply can’t see that the world has changed and now requires new thinking, new geopolitical sensibilities, new alliances. To avoid obsolescence NATO must adjust to these new realities. If it can’t it should be killed off.

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "Of Course NATO is Obsolete"

#1 Comment By Tiktaalik On February 28, 2018 @ 1:19 pm

>>Of course NATO is obsolete. It was founded as a Cold War defensive alliance to thwart any Western invasion by the Soviet Union, which had positioned some 1.3 million Warsaw Pact troops for such an incursion

NATO was founded in 1949, the Warsaw Pact in 1955.

#2 Comment By Johann On February 28, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

When the Warsaw Pact went away, NATO lost its mission and should have also gone away. But large organizations have momentum because so many people owe their livelihood to the organization. And so new missions are invented. Europe can very easily defend themselves against Russia or any other threat. They should create their own European defense alliance.

Russia does not and never will want to overrun and control all of Europe. The do want control of countries along their border as a buffer, but not by occupation of those countries.

Even Russia did want to take over all of Europe, and even if Europe was taken by surprise with a Russian invasion, there is no way Russia could vanquish the entire continent before Europe wakes up and starts creating their own REAL military that would quickly wear down the Russian military through attrition, similar to how the Russians did the German invasion or their massive country.

#3 Comment By Begemot On February 28, 2018 @ 1:33 pm

NATO is relevant to the US because it is primarily a control mechanism over Europe. Secretary Baker told Gorbachev in February 1991: “The mechanism by which we have a US military presence in Europe is NATO. If you abolish NATO, there will no more US presence.” The anti-Soviet/Russian component was/is the pretext for this alliance. So don’t expect the US to give it up until the US gives up its desire to control Europe.

#4 Comment By Will Harrington On February 28, 2018 @ 1:57 pm

Amen and Amen. It’s not like NATO was our baby. We were invited to join. Europe has been rebuilt, they don’t need us or our money. 73 years of occupying Europe are enough. President Washington would be ashamed of us.

#5 Comment By VikingLS On February 28, 2018 @ 2:42 pm

NATO needs to transition over to what it for the most part is, a function of the EU. The United States, Canada, and Turkey, not being EU nor going to become EU in the future, should be allowed to withdraw.

#6 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 28, 2018 @ 2:45 pm

It’s not obsolete as the occupying force for an American empire; it would lose its reason for existing only if American elites decided they didn’t want to control territory other than the United States. As logical as the stance against the Soviet Union once was, the equal motivation was American power projection in and of itself, and that is mostly what remains.

#7 Comment By The Wet One On February 28, 2018 @ 3:34 pm

“The fate of Montenegro has absolutely nothing to do with U.S. strategic interests.”

Isn’t this same phrase applicable to most places in the world where the U.S. had deployed its military?

Just curious.

I note most of those places don’t even have the benefit of being in NATO as well, which is at least something of a fig leaf for a U.S. military presence.

#8 Comment By Heavy Nova On February 28, 2018 @ 4:03 pm

Underlying this entire line of thinking is the belief that Russia is not an enemy, not a threat to U.S. security interests, and that if we just leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone. This is gross naivete and wishful thinking of the most foolish and dangerous sort.

International relations doesn’t work that way, especially between large powers. Quite the opposite: it’s dominate or be dominated. Period. There is no global social contract and no overarching authority with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force to set and enforce rules. The natural state of international affairs is anarchy. Dog eat dog. So, either we set the rules of the game and maintain enough power to compel as much of the world as possible to play on our terms, or we let someone else set the rules and submit to theirs. And if you think a Russian or Chinese-dominated system is going to be better for you and Middle America, you are in for a very rude awakening. Peaceful, neutral isolation isn’t an option for the United States.

Russia is not a status quo power. Russia is not some plucky, valiant underdog rightfully defending its turf. It is a great power doing what great powers do, especially ones that have lost a great deal of power within living memory: doing everything it can to regain what it lost and, if possible, take much more. Any vacuum we leave in Europe, Russia will fill.

The final solution for dealing with Russia was to do with it what we did with Germany and Japan after World War II: remake it in our image and integrate it into the world order we dominate. Contra Buchanan and the isolationists, the answer wasn’t to disband NATO; the answer was to bring Russia into NATO. But, we didn’t. Due to the lack of foresight and grand strategy in the Clinton and both Bush Administrations’, we blew it. And, now, here we are, back in another Cold War. Only this time, we’re squabbling amongst ourselves over whether it’s even happening while the Russians make fools of us and the Chinese rise at our expense.

NATO is more vital now than it’s been since 1989. What’s required now is a clear and sustained show of strength along with aggressive modernization and consolidation, particularly in the realm of asymmetric capability. Draw the line, then hold it. Ruthlessly. Following that, it needs to be tit for tat. They hit us, we hit them. They play nice, we play nice. Re-establish reciprocity. Only once they respect our strength again can discussions of “detente” and meaningful cooperation begin. On our terms, not theirs.

#9 Comment By b. On February 28, 2018 @ 4:48 pm

“Underlying this entire line of thinking is the belief that Russia is not an enemy, not a threat to U.S. security interests, and that if we just leave them alone, they’ll leave us alone. This is gross naivete and wishful thinking of the most foolish and dangerous sort.”

Mikhail Sergeyevich, underlying this entire line of thinking is the belief that the US is not an enemy, not a threat to Russian security interests, and that if we just go along, they will leave us alone.

One of the useful tools in parsing US behavior patterns is projection – take the worst things you know to be true about yourself, and accuse somebody else of it. Rove made this a staple of his inoculation campaigning.

#10 Comment By One Guy On February 28, 2018 @ 4:50 pm

Of course NATO is obsolete. Wouldn’t it have been nice if Trump actually knew what he was talking about for a change and wanted to follow through, instead of saying stuff to rile people up and get attention? “Withdraw from NATO”, “Build the wall”, “Get troops out of the Middle East”, etc. etc. These are things he says to get his name in the news.

#11 Comment By bruce Heilbrunn On February 28, 2018 @ 5:35 pm

How is your policy prescription to be effectuated when the president is suspected of colluding with Russia?

#12 Comment By cka2nd On February 28, 2018 @ 6:35 pm

Does anyone know how much Cold War Soviet war planning involved offensive vs. defensive operations in Europe in general, and the degree of offensive operations non-Soviet, Warsaw Pact troops were expected to engage in?

I’m not sure NATO ever faced much of an invasion threat, if any, from Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Romanian, Bulgarian or even East German troops under the Warsaw Pact.

#13 Comment By George Orwell On February 28, 2018 @ 7:49 pm

That’s adorable Heavy Nova, that you think that America is still a relevant power instead of a rapidly fading empire whose best days are behind it. Americans should back off from the world stage before the costs of maintaining their erstwhile empire completely crushes them.

#14 Comment By John S On February 28, 2018 @ 9:16 pm

“Should the United States go to war with Russia to protect Montenegro, a nation of 5,332 square miles and some 620,000 people?”

Yes, because Montenegro went to war to protect the United States just after 9/11 in Afghanistan, when the US invoked Article 5 (the only country ever to do so), even though Montenegro was not a part of NATO at that time.

“The fate of Montenegro has absolutely nothing to do with U.S. strategic interests.”

Yes, it does. NATO is a valuable alliance in the fight against terrorism, and as a deterrent to belligerents like Russia.

“….the diminutive country resides in a region that has been of crucial cultural and geopolitical interest to Russia for centuries.”

Not a meaningful statement, and certainly no reason for the West to hand that territory over to Russia. The Montenegrins prefer to look West at this point.

“The Soviet Union is long gone, along with those menacing troops and the strategic threat they posed.”

Tell that to the Georgians and Ukrainians.

“…it long since has abandoned its defensive posture and embraced an offensive temperament…”

Huh? Exactly how?

“…moving inexorably eastward…”

Invited eastward is more like it. This statement makes it sound as though NATO divisions have been invading and annexing. That would be the Russian approach.

“…remove its influence from territories that had been within its sphere of interest for centuries”

More accurate to say Russia lost its influence. The people in those territories are not clamoring to join Russian World, they’re looking for rule of law, which Russia is incapable of offering. Speaking of spheres of interest, I wonder if the Russians are considering giving Konigsberg, I mean Kaliningrad, back to Germany.

“Instead of an alliance to prevent war, NATO has become an institution generating tensions and hostilities where none need exist.”

Pure Kremlin propaganda.

“To avoid obsolescence NATO must adjust to these new realities.”

I agree. Put more troops on the eastern front.

#15 Comment By Mark VA On February 28, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

The TAC Staff speaks out of both sides of its mouth what it comes to NATO and Russia:

The Soviet Union and its menace are long gone, so NATO is no longer needed, however, Eastern Europe lies within Russia’s sphere of influence (an area of its “crucial cultural and geopolitical interest”), thus Russia is entitled to this sphere;

Therefore, a threat does not and does exist at the same time. Parenthetically, I find using small Montenegro as emblematic of Eastern Europe’s non-importance in TAC Staff eyes, distasteful;

I agree with Heavy Nova above. This analysis is somewhere between high school Machiavelli and utter naivete. If NATO is reduced to protecting just Great Britain, France, and perhaps Germany, the rest of Europe, out of necessity, will likely realign with China in a heartbeat. Eventually, Great Britain, France, and Germany may follow their lead as well. That would leave the US a regional power – not good for the world, in my view;

One lingering question – why is the TAC Staff so consistently agreeable to Russia’s “right” to a sphere of influence?

#16 Comment By Clyde Schechter On February 28, 2018 @ 11:57 pm

I agree with the thrust of this article, that NATO has outlived its purpose, the containment of the Soviet Union. It has persisted instead as a mechanism for the US to dominate the globe.

But one minor technical point. The NATO treaty does not require any of its member countries to respond *militarily* to an attack on another. The earlier Treaty of Brussels, which preceded and evolved into NATO was explicit that it was a committment to mutual military defense. But the NATO alliance does not require that. And while I think NATO should be dismantled, I think it is most unlikely that any of the NATO allies would rush to war just over an attack on Montenegro.

If nothing else, right now we’re too busy fomenting war in the Middle East and on the Korean peninsula to bother with Montenegro.

#17 Comment By Telegram Sam On March 1, 2018 @ 5:12 am

@Heavy Nova : “Draw the line, then hold it. Ruthlessly. Following that, it needs to be tit for tat. They hit us, we hit them. They play nice, we play nice. Re-establish reciprocity. “

Too late for that, I’m afraid. We lost all credibility by letting ourselves be jerked around and exploited by pipsqueak client states like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

An America that lacks the guts to stop client states from spitting in its face can hardly be expected to effect the kind of cold calculus you recommend vis a vis great powers.

Our role now is chump. Sap. Dupe. The big rich loud-mouthed drunk who gets rolled and wakes up wondering where his wallet went.

#18 Comment By Michael Kenny On March 1, 2018 @ 9:49 am

As always, the bottom line is “let Putin win in Ukraine”. The only surprise that awaits the reader is to see what pretexts that argument is dressed up in this time. No surprises today, though. It’s just the umpteenth repetition of Putin’s 19th century “spheres of influence” doctrine. The cynical dishonesty of the argument is that the same people who argue that the US has no interest in defending Montenegro are, at the same time, trying to undermine the EU. Montenegro, like the majority of European countries, including my own, is far too small to defend itself. If the US refuses to defend it, then the only realistic alternative is to band together in the EU and defend each other mutually, like the Swiss cantons. In practice, therefore, the authors’ argument amounts to handing over Montenegro to Putin on a silver platter, regardless of what the Montenegrins themselves want by hamstringing the only realistic defence options open to them. Thus, the question is not what interest the US has in defending Montenegro but what interest the US has in preventing Montenegro from defending itself against Putin.

#19 Comment By Andre S. On March 1, 2018 @ 12:15 pm

NATOs only purpose for existence ceased to exist in 1991. The last legally fought war, in international legal terms, was the 1991 Gulf War. Since then, US establishment hawks and NATO buraeucrats sought ways to maintain NATOs relevance and continued military expenditures at pre-Soviet collapse levels. They found it in helping instigate, and then cynically involving themselves in the Yugoslav civil wars of the 1990s, under the false pretense of a humanitarian intervention. With the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia, outside the auspices of the UN, to help violent, drug-money funded Albanian muslim separatists in the Serbian Christian province of Kosovo, the Clinton administration and Washington signaled to Russia that it not only had no intention of being restrained by the Security Council process or previous promises of no NATO expansion, but that it intended to use whatever means it could to attack any real or perceived Russian interests wherever they may be. The result we have now is Putin, still supported by a large swathe of the Russian people, who became disillusioned with a hypocritical and arrogant western political establishment, and a new Cold War 2.0.

#20 Comment By bkh On March 1, 2018 @ 1:54 pm

Europe seems to still be under German rule for now, but there are silent invaders who continue to worm their way into Europe that mean it harm. Putin atleast would not creep in silently.

#21 Comment By Room 237 On March 1, 2018 @ 2:00 pm

NATO is not obsolete. It just needs to be converted into a purely European defense system. Russia is a treat to the Baltic states and Poland. All large countries are to their smaller neighbors. Putin is a thug not a person for conservatives to emulate.

But Russian troops are now 800 miles east of Berlin. They no longer are a week’s march from the Rhine. Thanks to fracking the oil sales that fueled Russia are not taking in quite as much.

If European NATO members met their 10% gdp requirement they would not need our help. But to meet that requirement they need to be told we are leaving.

Give a ten year transition period at the end of which we lower our flag and go home.

#22 Comment By Josep On March 1, 2018 @ 3:23 pm

@ bkh
I don’t understand the notion that the EU is “German-led” aside from the European Central Bank. Can you clarify this for me? Thanks.
Last time I checked, the de facto capital of the EU is in Brussels, Belgium, and some of its institutions are in Luxembourg. Of the seven EU institutions, only one of them (the ECB) is German.

#23 Comment By Josep On March 1, 2018 @ 3:28 pm

@ Room 237
How exactly is Russia a threat? What has Russia done between the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the (actually bloodless) annexation of Crimea in 2014? What is it doing now?

#24 Comment By VikingLS On March 1, 2018 @ 11:18 pm

“As always, the bottom line is “let Putin win in Ukraine”. ”

Well to be blunt, so what?

Ukraine is a country that refuses to take responsibility for its debts, its corruption, and its history. It has a troubling infatuation with the Nazis, it’s got the exact same culture of casual corruption that the Russians do, and they invariably blame all of their problems on Russians, Poles, and/or Jews. In fact right now its quite common for them to blame “those Jews in Moscow” for their current problems.

They’re also unreliable, We stand a very good chance of bleeding blood and treasure over Ukraine and then seeing them cuddle up to whoever Putin’s successor is when they’ve exhausted the charity of the USA and the EU.

In the meantime we’ll have the pleasure of seeing reports from aid agencies and the military that the Ukrainians are stealing us blind repressed, well basically by people just like you, because “Russia is bad!!!!”.

Now you can falsely accuse me of begin a Russian troll if you want. I’m not. I’m an American citizen with over 20 years of experience with Russians and Ukrainians. We should NEVER have picked a side in this fight.

#25 Comment By VikingLS On March 1, 2018 @ 11:26 pm

I would have almost the same response if the situation with the Russians and the Ukrainians were reversed. This should not be our war, and the current stakes are VASTLY overblown.

#26 Comment By Clifford Story On March 2, 2018 @ 3:38 pm

Best thing I’ve read on NATO: “NATO exists to manage the problems caused by its existence.”

#27 Comment By Bill H On March 2, 2018 @ 6:01 pm

Y’all forgot to give Putin his byline

#28 Comment By Indrid Cold On March 4, 2018 @ 9:11 pm

NATO is like the Triple Entente. That was UK, France and Russia. All three went bankrupt and went into deep hock to Wall Street banks. The Anglo French never recovered from that, and the Versailles indemnity Germany was supposed to pay was a method of transferring French war debt to Germany, so they wouldn’t lose ALL their bullion reserves.
If NATO goes to war, the main partners will go bankrupt just as fast. If you think great power war was expensive in 1914, wait till you see th bill for munition replenishment in 2020