European Tail, American Dog
State of the Union: The real purpose of NATO isn’t just to oppose hegemony in Europe, but to discourage independent thinking and nationalist impulses.
Aris Roussinos wrote an important column for the British website Unherd that explores how the European tail wags the American dog. “Far from the United States forcing European states into a stance of radical and self-defeating hostility to Russia, it is European states that have consistently pushed a reluctant Biden administration into delivering ever-more deadly and sophisticated weapons systems to Kyiv,” Roussinos writes.
The pattern of hawkish European states browbeating their cautious and reluctant overlord into greater escalation echoes the dynamic of the Libyan intervention, wherein which the bright-eyed and idealistic Cameron and Sarkozy pairing cajoled Obama into what he later termed the Libyan “sh*tshow” against his better judgment. If anything, NATO displays the European tail wagging the American dog: Instead of keeping Europe subordinate, weak but ambitious European states use the NATO alliance to advance their own foreign policy ends—ends that, in Libya, would prove disastrous as a European failing rather than an American one.
Roussinos is, of course, partly correct. Reactionaries, especially in America, are blindsided by two major handicaps: first, the inability to see that the institutions that they once considered the bulwark of a conservative order are actually now a radical and expansionist bureaucracy; and second, a blindness to the fact that both NATO and a nascent EU changed character, especially after the collapse of the USSR, with former communists cleverly changing jerseys and taking positions of power in both.
Peter Hitchens warned us about that in 2001: “The new Nato, inclusive and politically correct, was being used to sweep aside obstacles to the interests of the European Union. And the EU had metamorphosed from capitalist conspiracy to multinational, multicultural socialist state—a smiley-badge version of the USSR they missed so much.”
But there’s a greater theoretical assumption which is often left unsaid.
As I wrote in a short policy brief, for the Center of Renewing America,
There are several reasons why the Baltic states are playing a high-risk game of doubling down on their grand strategy. First, a small state in a large alliance often perceives that it risks no real dilution of influence within the alliance if the alliance gets larger. In fact, the larger the alliance, the bigger the constraint on the hegemon. Expanding an alliance would, in turn, consolidate the liberal-internationalist orthodoxy and multiply an imperial, self-sustaining and expanding bureaucracy, making it more difficult for a hegemon like the U.S. to act on its own interests as opposed to the interests of the group. The bigger the alliance and the worse Russo-American relations are, the better the deal for protectorate states. And with more states in the alliance, the greater the chance of the Russo-American friction growing.
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NATO is not just there to protect Europe or dissuade any hegemony in Europe. It is there to discourage any nationalist and isolationist impulses in the former great powers of Europe and especially in the United States. Understand that, and European small states’ support for NATO makes a lot more sense.
Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote that “marriage is the moral death of every proud soul, of all independence.” America’s marriage to Europe perhaps was reasonable after the end of the Second World War and especially after the collapse of the Soviets. But it thereafter altered the character of the republic by ignoring any caution about permanent and entangling alliances.
And, in the process, America lost her independence.