By Doug Bandow at The National Interest
However, even if Washington’s NATO commitments did not bring far more dangers than benefits, they would be unjustified. Europe could, if it was so inclined, defend itself. Why, 70 years after the conclusion of World War II, 26 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and 22 years after creation of the European Union, are the Europeans still dependent on America?
Retired Gen. Robert Scales, commandant of the Army War College, recently complained that: “At 30,000, there are fewer American soldiers protecting Western Europe, a piece of the planet that produces 46 percent of global GDP, than there are cops in New York City.” But why can’t an area that accounts for almost half of the world’s production (an overstatement, but never mind) and has a larger population than America provide its own soldiers for defense? Why can’t an area of such economic prowess, which has around eight times the GDP and three times the population of its only possible antagonist, Russia, deploy an armed force capable of deterring any threats?
The reason the Europeans don’t do so is because they don’t want to and don’t have to. Some don’t believe that Moscow actually poses much of a threat. Others figure only the nations bordering Russia face any risk, and there’s little interest in “Old Europe” for confronting Moscow over “New Europe.” And almost everyone assumes America will take care of any problems.
Particularly striking is the lack of military effort from those supposedly threatened by the supposed new Hitler to the east. This year NATO-Europe came in at 1.5 percent of GDP, well short of the two percent objective. Only Estonia, Greece (mostly to confront Turkey), Poland (first time ever), and the United Kingdom made that level. Notably missing are France, Germany, and Italy (the continent’s other major powers), Latvia and Lithuania (squealing loudly about Russian threats), and Turkey (challenging Russia over parochial rather than alliance interests).
Over the years American officials have pleaded, cajoled, contended, and begged the Europeans to do more. Even during the Cold War such efforts failed to yield much fruit. They have even less chance of working in the future. Reported Jan Techau of Carnegie Europe: “the dependence of European NATO allies on the United States has further increased since the end of the Cold War, not decreased.” Indeed, he added, “while European membership in NATO has nearly doubled since 1990, defense spending by Europeans has gone down by 28 percent since then.”
First, the U.S. insists that it will never leave. So long as it frenetically “reassures” allies, trying to convince them that Americans are worthy to subsidize Europe, the latter will respond by not doing much. Second, Russia doesn’t threaten America or most of Europe. The latter have little incentive to spend more. Third, domestic economic concerns remain paramount throughout the continent. There are few votes to be gained from supporting greater military expenditures to meet a phantom threat because it would gladden hearts in Washington, Vilnius, and Kiev.
The United States should do in 2016 what it failed to do in 1990. It should announce that the world has changed since creation of a U.S.-dominated NATO. It is time to refashion the alliance for a world in which allies had prospered and enemies had disappeared. One possibility for the future would be a European-run NATO, with America perhaps as an associate member. Another alternative would be a continental defense run alongside the European Union. Maybe there’s something else.
But the time for subsidizing, coddling and reassuring the Europeans is over. American taxpayers deserve as much consideration as European ones. U.S. military forces shouldn’t be deployed to advance interests of greatest concern to other nations. Any future alliances forged by Washington should act as serious military pacts, not international social clubs.