"NATO offers the United States the useful stamp of multilateral legitimacy without really imposing too many limits on America's foreign policy," says Dutch political scientist Peter van Ham. In consequence, recent NATO missions have been "devoid of the unity and coherence that the old NATO had" and US, German and Dutch units pursue different strategies in Afghanistan, adds Paul Hockenos, who quotes van Ham in A new Transatlantic Partnership: Rethinking US-Europe Relations.
Hockenos is a US analyst and editor of the German Council on Foreign Relations' journal Internationale Politik Global Edition. He concludes on NATO:
It is questionable whether this new NATO is still a transatlantic institution worthy of the label. Despite its multilateral structure, NATO has become a clearing house for US-led "coalitions of the willing," which alliance members-and non-members-can join on a case-by-case basis. For all intents and purposes, it is a group of like-minded democracies that Washington can call upon á la carte. The Europeans bear none of the roles and responsibilities of even junior partners as they did in the past, but rather serve as occasional helpers, as was the case in the invasion and pacification of Afghanistan. The more nations there are in the alliance, the larger the possible constellation for these pick-up coalitions. This is one reason the Americans above all push for NATO's expansion.
Well, the United States has global interests and ambitions and would like NATO to pursue those interests. The Europeans have much more limited interests and ambitions and are therefore unwilling to give the necessary resources to NATO. The situation that Hockenos and van Ham describe is the result from this mismatch of interests and ambitions. It is not due to some sinister US plan. And Hockenos "partnership of equals" is not the solution, since it won't materialize due to the different capabilities, interests and ambitions.
Since the United States does not get much military support from most European countries, the "useful stamp of multilateral legitimacy" is the biggest benefit for Washington. Although this "stamp" does not have the kind of legal legitimacy that only UN Security Council resolution can provide, it is big enough for each and every US administration to continue to invest plenty of resources into NATO. Never mind how many conservative US bloggers and pundits complain about NATO. These criticism are as old as NATO is.