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The Problem with NATO

Max Boot’s argument for the importance of NATO unwittingly draws attention to one of the biggest problems with the alliance over the last two decades:

In the first place, NATO provides a forum outside the UN that can legitimate American-led military interventions [bold mine-DL]. Even when the UN isn’t willing to go along, as in Kosovo, NATO can step forward and provide the kind of multinational support that is increasingly required for effective military action in the modern age. Put another way, the existence of NATO signals to the U.S. public and to the broader world community that the U.S. is not simply a rogue power; it is still the leader of the Free World, and it typically fights either with the concurrence of the Atlantic Alliance or, when that isn’t possible, with the support of at least a substantial number of its members (as was the case in the Iraq War).

The U.S. has certainly used NATO to provide political cover when waging illegal and unnecessary wars, but that doesn’t make those wars any more legitimate. This practice is neither desirable for the U.S. nor healthy for the alliance itself. Insofar as NATO makes it easier for the U.S. to start wars it doesn’t have to fight, the alliance has imposed unwelcome burdens on all of its members. If European governments think that they have to support U.S. foreign wars to prove their value as NATO allies (as many central and eastern European allies did in Iraq), that puts many members of the alliance in the awful position of backing an illegal or unwise war that has nothing to do with their security or risking their relationship with Washington. When the U.S. violates international law under the auspices of NATO, as it did in Kosovo, it is making the entire alliance complicit in that violation. That doesn’t make the U.S. look better in the eyes of other nations. It just makes our allies look worse.

NATO has functioned for the last fifteen years mainly as a vehicle for enabling the U.S. to start wars or pulling European allies into supporting U.S. wars outside Europe, which means it has spent the better part of the last two decades abandoning its original mission as a defensive alliance.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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