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The Zombie Policy of NATO Expansion

Rod Dreher commented on Trump’s interview with Tucker Carlson and the question of U.S. commitments to defend NATO allies:

What’s wrong with the question? I mean, look, I think Trump’s performance in Helsinki was awful too — here’s George F. Will, breathing straight fire — but I can’t see why it is so obviously wrong for Tucker Carlson to ask that question.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the question Carlson asked, but a better question for Trump would be: “Why did you support Montenegro’s accession to NATO if you don’t think the U.S. should defend them?” Montenegro joined the alliance last year while Trump was president, and the U.S. could have opposed their membership. That didn’t happen. Instead, the alliance brought in another dependent that won’t be able to contribute much to the security of the other members. As I said last week, if Trump were really opposed to free-riding allies, he wouldn’t want NATO to keep adding new ones, but he didn’t stop Montenegro’s accession and he evidently made no objection when Macedonia was invited to join at the Brussels summit.

Adding Montenegro is relatively harmless by itself, since Montenegro faces no military threats from any of its neighbors (two of which are already in NATO). That just underscores how unnecessary and useless bringing them into the alliance is. I have no idea where Trump is getting this stuff about “aggressive” Montenegrins. Expanding the alliance into the Baltics was a serious mistake, and further expansion into the former USSR would be inviting disaster. AddingMontenegroto thealliancewaspointless as far as allied security is concerned. NATO membership should be granted based on what the new members can offer the alliance, and not as a reward for its political reforms or because it resolved a dispute with a neighbor.

Each round of NATO expansion happens with no real debate, and then when the potential costs and risks of adding new members becomes apparent later on it is too late to undo the ill-considered expansion without undermining the entire structure of the alliance. Atlanticists dismiss concerns about expansion before it happens, and then when the predicted problems crop up they say, “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now.” Adding Montenegro and Macedonia to the alliance isn’t likely to plunge us into a war anytime soon, but it isn’t going to make the alliance any stronger or more secure. The question that ought to be asked before any new member is brought in is simple: “does this make the U.S. and its allies more secure?” If the answer is no, or if adding a new member makes the alliance less secure, that state shouldn’t be added. According to that standard, Montenegro shouldn’t have been brought in, Macedonia shouldn’t have been invited, and Georgia and Ukraine shouldn’t even be considered.

In the absence of a real debate about any of this, the zombie policy of NATO expansion keeps stumbling onward.

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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