“Europe is too thickly planted with kingdoms to be long at peace,” wrote Thomas Paine some two centuries ago. Since then, many things have changed but not America’s skepticism about Europe. Speaking at the National Defense University some weeks ago, Secretary Gates expressed his fear that “demilitarization of Europe—where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks going with it—has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st.” In short, Europe is planted with too many pacifist democracies to be long enough at war. What does all this mean for the future of NATO?
Andrew Bacevich, a respected and fiercely independent analyst of American foreign policy and WorldAffairsDaily blogger, gives his answer in an intriguing piece titled “Let Europe Be Europe: Why the United States must withdraw from NATO” in the current issue of Foreign Policy. He argues that pacification of Europe’s liberal democracies is an irreversible process and that Washington’s hope to reignite the affinity for war among the people of Germany or Spain is misplaced. In his opinion, contrary to the claims of its leaders, NATO is ill-fitted for the role of global crisis manager; thus, Washington should scrap its ambitions for a global NATO—rather, it should push the EU to play a more central role in the defense of the European continent. EU can best assist the U.S. by taking care of its own security and not by joining the U.S. in global police missions.
I sympathize with Bacevich’s argument. For me, however, the central question is whether the EU can defend Europe.
In terms of capability: The answer is probably “yes.” Take Russia, for example. Russia is a formidable power, but it is not the Soviet Union. The combined military spending of the EU member states is 10 times higher than that of Moscow. British and French armed forces are far better equipped and far better trained than the Russians. Russia resembles more an angry man on crunches than a rising power. Still, a radical American withdrawal from Europe—contrary to Bacevich’s view— would have a de-stabilizing effect, as it can result in re-nationalization of the foreign and security policies of the EU member states. The sad reality today is that when it comes to Russia, Berlin and Paris prefer bilateral talks with Moscow, while Eastern Europe prefers to look to Washington, rather than Brussels. Secondly, you should not be Rumsfeld to believe that weakness is an invitation for aggression, so the U.S.’s withdrawal from Europe can change Russia’s strategic behavior on the continent and dramatically increase the risk of military confrontation in Europe’s periphery. The U.S.’s withdrawal will also increase the uncertainty in the EU-Turkey security dialogue. At the moment, Turkey is on its way to joining the EU, but her foreign policy is diverging from that of her European allies. The specter of multipolar Europe—with EU, Russia, and Turkey representing different interests—is more present than ever. Add to all this the countless logistical problems that the U.S.’s withdrawal will cause, and you will realize the dangerous side of Bacevich’s argument.
But, in my view, where Andrew Bacevich is totally right is that the U.S.’s relations with its European allies should shift back to Europe. Making Afghanistan the issue over which the future of NATO is going to be decided is a recipe for disaster.