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Is NATO Threatened by Diverging Priorities of its Members?

Robert Kagan's thesis "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus" was not based on transatlantic disagreements in the Bush era, but described developments that became already evident during the Clinton administration. The trend continues during the Obama presidency, even though Obama is often described as very "European."

Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle insists on the removal of America's last remaining nuclear weapons from German territory. At the Munich Security Conference, he called them "a relic of the Cold War. They no longer serve a military purpose." According to Spiegel (in German) he also co-authored with his Norwegian, Dutch, Belgian and Luxembourg counterparts a letter to NATO's Secretary General suggesting that NATO needs to discuss how to come closer to creating a world free of nuclear weapons.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, stressed at the NATO Strategic Concept Seminar on Monday that the Alliance needs to "invest in deterrence, nuclear deterrence as well as missile defense" and expressed her concern about the current debate in Europe.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has long described European defense budgets and contributions to NATO as inadequate, without much repercussions in Europe, let alone significant change in policy. On Tuesday his criticism got more intense:

Right now, the alliance faces very serious, long-term, systemic problems. The NATO budgetary crisis is a case in point and a symptom of deeper problems with the way NATO perceives threats, formulates requirements, and prioritizes and allocates resources. (.)
The demilitarization of Europe - where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it - has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st. Not only can real or perceived weakness be a temptation to miscalculation and aggression, but, on a more basic level, the resulting funding and capability shortfalls make it difficult to operate and fight together to confront shared threats. For many years, for example, we have been aware that NATO needs more cargo aircraft and more helicopters of all types - and yet we still don't have these capabilities. And their absence is directly impacting operations in Afghanistan. Similarly, NATO requires more aerial refueling tankers and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms for immediate use on the battlefield.
NATO's budget limitations do not just reflect a political, but also a "larger cultural trend" in Europe, says Secretary Gates. Professor Andrew J. Bacevich of Boston University agrees with this assessment, but draws a different conclusion. While Gates urges Europe once again to do more for the US led NATO, Bacevich argues in the upcoming issue of Foreign Policy: "Let Europe Be Europe -- Why the United States must withdraw from NATO"
By the dawn of this century, Europeans had long since lost their stomach for battle. The change was not simply political. It was profoundly cultural. The cradle of Western civilization -- and incubator of ambitions that drenched the contemporary age in blood -- had become thoroughly debellicized. (.)
This pacification of Europe is quite likely to prove irreversible. Yet even if reigniting an affinity for war among the people of, say, Germany and France were possible, why would any sane person even try? Why not allow Europeans to busy themselves with their never-ending European unification project? It keeps them out of mischief. (.) So why not have the citizens of France and Germany guarantee the territorial integrity of Poland and Lithuania, instead of fruitlessly demanding that Europeans take on responsibilities on the other side of the world that they can't and won't?
What do you make of these statements?
  • Is NATO threatened by diverging priorities of its members? Is the Alliance drifting apart?
  • Are even more Americans moving to Mars and Europeans to Venus? Are Europeans thoroughly and irreversibly gone pacifist and unaware of the threats to their security? Or are Americans overreacting and putting too much faith in military solutions?
  • Has President Obama already given up on Europe, when he declined the invitation to the EU-US summit? Have transatlantic meetings degenerated to nice photo ops for European leaders and no longer serve as constructive meetings to decide on co-operations.
  • Should the United States withdraw from NATO, so that Europeans learn to take care of their own security?

Questions like this have been a recurring theme for the transatlantic partnership for decades. NATO was described as being in crisis even every now and then during the Cold War, and yet the most successful military alliance continues to be more active than ever around the world. Still it is worthwhile to reexamine transatlantic priorities in light of recent developments.

I appreciate your input here and on Atlantic Community - The Open Think Tank on Global Issues, where I published this text first.

(Emphasis in the quotations added. Picture source: U.S. Department of State)


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Pat Patterson on :

The only part of this argument that seems to have some reality is the demand that the US remove its nuclear weapons from Germany. But even that doesn't make sense because there is no demand to remove the vehicles that can deliver those war heads. In other words we can ship the actual warheads to Britain or even the remorsefule Icelanders and then rearm the missiles if the situation demands it. And, a big and, even with the utter reliance that nuclear powers place on MIRVs, there are thousands fewer nuclear warheads now and which was accomplished bilaterally between the US and Russia without NATO's official involvement and without the EU and Germany. Britain and France were thus freed to tag along because they wanted to reduce the expenses yet still be considered nuclear powers.

Kevin Sampson on :

We have nuclear-capable missiles in Europe? I thought they were all gravity bombs.

Pat Patterson on :

Most of the cruise missiles that are still there have tactical nuclear capability. Though I doubt if anyone near when one explodes would notice the difference between tactical and strategic.

Kevin Sampson on :

Uhh, are you sure about this? The remaining ALCM's are all at Minot with their BUFF's. The Navy never puts to sea without some TLAM's on board, but they can only be launched from shipboard, and are certainly not based in Germany.

Pat Patterson on :

My understanding is that RAF Lakenheath still has cruise missile capability via the advanced Tomahawk which can carry a nuclear warhead. Plus the USN sub base in Scotland have boats capable of both cruise and ICBM launch. And it should be noted that even though warheads have been withdrawn via treaty none of the bases will ever confirm that all the weapons have been removed.

Joerg Wolf on :

Why you talking about nuclear "capable" misssile? There are nukes in Germany. US Nukes not Secure in Europe [url][/url]

Pat Patterson on :

I thought I was clear in saying that even if those war heads are removed from Germany there are still nukes in Europe held by the US and not to speak of the French and British. But it seems strictly for internal consumption to demand their removal when its only a matter or miles and that the geographic situation of Germany has not changed a white since 1989.

Kevin Sampson on :

The Tomahawk (BGM-109) is only used by the Navy. If there are any at Lakenheath, they’re not ours. The Air Launched Cruise Missile (AGM-86) have all been returned to Minot AFB where their B-52 motherships are based. I'm sure there are boomers and attack subs in Scotland all the time, but are they actually based there or just on a port call?

Pat Patterson on :

I was incorrect as the only two USN bases left that have nuclear capability are in Greece and Italy not Scotland. Kevin is right about Lakenheath as it houses British cruise missiles not American. But the missile subs still have there normal complement of missiles.

Kevin Sampson on :

'Is NATO threatened by diverging priorities of its members? Is the Alliance drifting apart?' Yes and yes, and not a moment too soon. 'Has President Obama already given up on Europe, when he declined the invitation to the EU-US summit?' God, I hope so. 'Should the United States withdraw from NATO, so that Europeans learn to take care of their own security?' Absolutely, YES!

Joerg Wolf on :

I would appreciate it, if you would add your thoughts over at Atlantic Community as well: [url][/url]

Joerg Wolf on :

This is is an excellent comment: [url][/url]

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