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The Unrepentant Traditionalist
April 28, 2009

Whither NATO?
by Frank Creel

There would probably not exist something we call “conservatism” if God had not created so many pack rats. Who today would be talking of venerable institutions (marriage, family, nation, constitution, the Super Bowl) were it not for our attachment to the old and the familiar? Even progressives cannot bear to toss out the delusion of human perfectibility.

NATO turned 60 on April 4. If strategic minds are still mulling its future in 2069, it will be due only to this ingrained conservative inclination. The organization is already a relic.

Worldwide military spending has increased by almost half in the past 10 years, reaching, in adjusted dollars, Cold War levels at the end of 2007. The United States by itself accounts for more than half of the world’s military spending, with other NATO members ratcheting that figure up to 70 percent. NATO’s membership has grown to 28 countries, 11 of them carved out of the former Soviet empire. The recent return of France to the treaty’s military command, while retaining its independent force de frappe, was purely symbolic.

Much the same can be said of NATO’s history. Although NATOphiles will credit the organization’s deterrent effect for the fact that no wars broke out among Cold War contestants, a more compelling explanation can be found in the mere existence of nuclear weapons.

Apart from Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 (much to the chagrin of fellow NATO member Greece) and the in-search-of-a-mission undertakings in Kosovo and Afghanistan, NATO has been an extended tea party, annoyingly boring to its chroniclers. Its principal achievements have been marginal and political.

It helped create, for instance, the Warsaw Pact, which the Soviet Union — miffed that its application for NATO membership was rebuffed in 1954 — strong-armed its East European “allies” into joining in 1955. It gave de Gaulle a pretext for restoring French pride by expelling the alliance. It facilitated the reunification of the Germanys with the promise (according to Mikhail Gorbachev) that NATO, in exchange for Soviet complaisance, would not extend itself beyond Germany’s borders.

NATO’s chief effect was to induce the transformation of Europe’s armies into Potemkin fighting machines. Who needs expensive military establishments when the American umbrella shades the continent? Worse, those feminized, hollowed-out armies are now held up as role models for ours in the future.

I was a cog for a year in what was arguably the finest military force in human history, the army deployed to Vietnam, supported by unparalleled air and naval resources. I learned that year that political realities always trump military fantasies. It will be useful, therefore, to reflect on present political and economic realities before we decide what to do with NATO.

These are the realities:

1. European “powers” do not have the ability to defend themselves if hostilities break out. It will be our blood and our treasure at stake. This reality will be at once truer and costlier if we find ourselves treaty-bound to defend states like Croatia, Latvia, or Georgia (which was probably trying to draw us into a NATO-like arrangement last summer with its pitiable pas de deux with the Russians).

2. The Russians have interests to which they are committed. No Russian leader can stay in power without trying to protect those interests. Russians have historic interests in the Balkans, and they are very much irritated by developments in Kosovo and Serbia. They certainly do not appreciate being surrounded, contrary to the assurance they thought they had at the time of German reunification, by NATO’s expansion.

3. Most important, military power without underlying economic strength is unsustainable. The Cold War ended because the Soviets came face-to-face with this reality. Our first priority has to be to put our economic house back in order. An essential part of this task, in turn, is to gain control over our military spending, which entails a radical scaling back of the missions we assign our professional military.

NATO should have been laid to rest in 1991 when the Warsaw Pact was disbanded. Diplomatically, our efforts should now be directed toward globalization of the Monroe Doctrine, extending to others the privileges we assumed for ourselves in 1823 and letting the Europeans, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, and other emerging “powers” tend to the peace of their own neighborhoods without outside interference.

The Wilson-Bush dream of a democratic march through history was just that — a dream. As even Bush in his heart of hearts must now acknowledge, there is only one world to deal with. The real one.

Dreams, else, turn into nightmares, cakewalks become quagmires, empires end in ashes. We would be fools thus to make a reality of Al-Qaeda’s dream.

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The Unrepentant Traditionalist is copyright (c) 2009 by Frank Creel and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.

Frank Creel, Ph.D., has been a columnist for the Potomac News, Woodbridge, Virginia. His op-ed articles have been published in the Northern Virginia Journal, the Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, and the New York City Tribune. In 1992, his A Trilogy of Sonnets was published pseudonymously by Christendom Press.

See a complete biographical sketch.

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