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June 10, 2011

How NATO is Like A Boyfriend/Girlfriend That Won't Commit
Posted by Michael Cohen

Images So you ever know those couples where one of the two really wants to get married, settle down and have kids and the other one just refuses to commit and is evasive about the future of the relationship . . . I think this is a good descriptor of the US-NATO alliance today.

Allow me to explain. Yesterday in Brussels, Bob Gates gave a rather incendiary set of remarks that basically attacked NATO allies for not holding up their end of the military bargain in the alliance.

In the past, I’ve worried openly about NATO turning into a two-tiered alliance between members who specialize in ‘soft’ humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and talking tasks and those conducting the ‘hard’ combat missions -- between those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership, be they security guarantees or headquarters billets, but don’t want to share the risks and the costs,” the secretary said.

This is no longer a hypothetical worry. We are there today. And it is unacceptable.

According to Gates, our NATO allies are not willing to increase defense spending for their militaries, are not willing to commit their troops to long-term military conflicts like Afghanistan and Libya and are putting a significant burden for these fights on the United States. 

The thing is he's right. But then again we've known for years that Europe's commitment to defense spending and to foreign wars was shaky at best. We've known that they perceive their national interests and global commitments in less fulsome terms than the United States does. Indeed, Gates actually said this yesterday, "I am the latest in a string of U.S. defense secretaries who have urged allies privately and publicly, often with exasperation, to meet agreed-upon NATO benchmarks for defense spending."

So here's my question - why don't we take a hint? Instead of browbeating Europeans into doing something they don't want to do, why not fold their obvious reluctance to be a better ally into US national security decision-making? 

For example, if we know that non-US NATO countries have demonstrated little stomach for the fight in Afghanistan, that they are itching to drawdown their foreign military commitments and they lack the resources and capabilities to be an effective US war-fighting partner . . . why then did we launch a war in Libya based on an assumption of steadfast and committed NATO support?

It can't be a huge surprise to Gates or any US leader that NATO commitment to the war there was constricted? So why are we blaming them for not coming through (no matter how legitimate a critique it might be) and not blaming ourselves for assuming that this commitment actually existed? We had a similar scenario in 2009 when the initial McChrystal review assumed a level of NATO support for the mission in Afghanistan that likely didn't exist? 

So to come back to my analogy, NATO, like a commitment-phobic mate. They've gotten used to the relationship and they're not really interested in taking the next step no matter how much their significant other tries to get them to do it. They want the alliance to exist on their narrow terms.

I would humbly note that US policymakers, no matter how fair their criticism of NATO allies might be, should probably accept the fact that NATO countries are uncertain and wavering allies for long-term military commitments. And instead of publicly attacking those countries for not doing what we want them to do . . . take for granted that US cajoling isn't going to change this and respond accordingly. It might actually lead to the conclusion that NATO, as the cornerstone of our global security alliances has, perhaps, outlived its usefulness or is being asked to do evolve in ways (like fight non-European wars) that it isn't capable of doing.

So our choice is either break-up or accept the status quo; but the assumption that NATO is going to change . . . it simply isn't going to happen.


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NATO should have been disbanded after the Cold War since its main threat, the Soviet Union, collapsed in 1991. American policy makers kept NATO around and expanded it as a trophy for "winning," the Cold War, even though the organization serves no strategic purpose.

NATO should have been disbanded after the Cold War since its main threat, the Soviet Union, collapsed in 1991.,that the will.

NATO should have been disbanded after the Cold War since its main threat, the Soviet Union, collapsed in 1991.,that the will.

This was a useful post and I think it is rather easy to see from the other comments as well that this post is well written and useful.

It is indeed wonderful to read your article. I appreciate your style.

Confucius said: "If the Superior Man is not 'heavy,' then he will not inspire awe in others. If he is not learned, then he will not be on firm ground. He takes loyalty and good faith to be of primary importance, and has no friends who are not of equal (moral) caliber. When he makes a mistake, he doesn't hesitate to correct it."

i am curious about NATO!

Put on it, you will tread a splendid tomorrow!

This is a very good post. The parable here is very appropriate. As an English learner, this article is a little difficult for me to understand.

The number of Canadian Forces' fatalities resulting from Canadian military activities in Afghanistan is the largest for any single Canadian military mission since the Korean War between 1950 and 1953. A total of 156 Canadian Forces personnel have been killed in the war since 2002. I do believe that Canadians have shouldered their responsibilities to NATO and the missions in Afghanistan and Libya. How is 9 years of fighting wavering?..I cannot speak to other NATO countries involvement but I think we have done our part regardless of what I think of the war itself.

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