The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which has been around since the end of WW2, was designed to deter the eruption of a third world war on the European continent. However, today, many people wonder whether this organization is still effective in fulfilling its original purpose. There are numerous critics that feel the NATO response towards Russian aggression in the 21st century has been too soft. With the end of the Cold War and the expansion of NATO membership, the Russian Federation has been more desperate than ever to halt NATO presence in neighboring states. Ever since the invasion of Georgia in 2008, the Russian Federation has made numerous attempts to exercise strength in their borderland territories with NATO. Whether it is cyberattacks against Estonia or the annexation of Crimea, the Russian Federation will not stop growing their influence in Eastern Europe. Since the United States is the core backbone towards NATO defenses, we are going to examine the American perspective of this issue. Therefore, in this article, we are going to review the current U.S. policymaker’s perspective on NATO and the possible future for NATO.
Since the 1990’s, the United States government has held a skeptical view towards EU cooperation in NATO. Whether the administration was a Republican, or Democrat majority, U.S. foreign policy has remained relatively the same. The main question in policymakers’ minds was if the EU is pulling their weight in NATO. There have been many disagreements over this view of commitment. One can see the lack of confidence in European commitment began within the Bush administration with officials such as former U.S. ambassador to the UN John Bolton or former U.S. secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Both of whom were critical of French and German commitment towards troops and assistance in the Iraq War. Even former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had this to say about our NATO allies, “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.” (Lamond 2021). However, skepticisms such as this have been debunked by the level of French contribution and other EU countries in high-risk security regions such as the Balkans and Africa, as well as counterpiracy operations. Even today, there are numerous ongoing missions that many NATO states take part in, which seems to be overlooked by U.S. officials. There have even been times where EU NATO member states have stepped in before the U.S. to intervene in conflicts such as Syria, Libya, etc. The EU has also established numerous defensive initiatives after 2016, such as PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation), and the European Defense Fund. The biggest moment for NATO’s European allies was the Crimean annexation of 2014, which brought attention to the vulnerabilities of Europe’s security. However, after the NATO summit in Wales that same year, all NATO members agreed to spend 2% of each state’s GDP on defense. Also, there has been greater commitment with rotational deployment units by Poland and the Baltic states. This year alone Lithuania achieved their 2% commitment on defense despite their recent border security issue with Belarus. In addition, Poland’s proposal to spend $2 billion to construct an American military base has also presented their commitment towards NATO. Therefore, for the U.S. to say that either western or eastern Europeans are pacifists, waiting for the U.S. to save the day, is insulting to all NATO member’s efforts.
There is also one other major critique that U.S. policymakers hold towards EU members of NATO. Many wonder how large NATO needs to be to deter Russian intervention in Europe. As it stands the situation does not seem promising for the Russians when you calculate the figures. Here is a breakdown of the strength between NATO and Russia, “Russia’s declining population and weak economy when contrasted with those of NATO states—roughly a $1.5 trillion GDP and less than 150 million people, versus a combined NATO total of $40 trillion with 900 million people…” (O’Hanlon 2017). Considering these statistics, many would wonder why the Russian defense industry is excelling , in order to compete with the U.S. That question explains U.S. policymakers’ frustration with EU member states. Unfortunately, EU members of NATO are spending too much money on research and development on equipment that mirrors the one in other member state’s arsenals. As quoted by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to NATO allies in 2011, “Strengthening European defense is therefore not just about spending but also about addressing the incessant fragmentation, duplication, and waste.” (Lamond 2021). As of last year, roughly 80% of defense acquisition and 90% of defense research/technology was spent on defense budgets separately among different EU member states. Therefore, the lack of collaboration has led to many redundancies and duplications to occur across all state’s defense industries. Many experts believe that if EU defense acquisition was collaborated amongst each other, then annual defense expenditures would be cut by roughly 30%. As possible a solution as that would be for EU members to collaborate, the U.S. defense industry would have other thoughts on this matter. The U.S. military industry is vast and makes up a sizable portion of the U.S. GDP. Therefore, to create improved and innovative European competitors in the global market would impact the U.S. economy. There are also many U.S. policy makers who fear that the loss of American military dependency in Europe may lead to an end to NATO altogether. The perspective of these policymakers can be summarized by former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis,
Then-U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis blindsided his European counterparts at an early NATO summit by opposing the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiative, which sought to pool funding to support joint EU defense projects. But the U.S. defense industry, worried about potentially being shut out of the European defense market. (Lamond 2021)
If that is not convincing enough, Mattis had also proposed an alternative plan towards NATO’s readiness initiative. The plan consisted of the mobilization of 30 land battalions (600-1000 soldiers each), 30 fighter aircraft squadrons, and 30 warships, all these U.S. forces assembled for the purposes of European security. It appears former secretary Mattis had every intention of keeping a strong U.S. presence on the European continent.
It seems as if there are as many opinions on the future of NATO as people asked about this matter. Whether one is talking to American government officials, American military officials, or European officials, everyone has a different priority. American government officials today want to focus on the growing hegemony of China in the Asian pacific theatre. American military officials want to protect the thriving U.S. defense industry from foreign competitors. European officials are only committed towards cooperating whenever Russia encroaches further on the European continent. Otherwise, you encounter the East-West divide in the EU. Therefore, it is hard to say where NATO’s future lies. However, if Europeans want a solution to their Russian problem, former US Army Group commander Lt. Gen Ben Hodges put it best, “The best deterrence that the alliance has is cohesion…That is the No. 1 thing that deters the Russian Federation from making a terrible miscalculation…then we have done the diplomatic work necessary with all of our allies, not just the ones on the eastern front.” (Judson 2019).
by PAC intern Robert Bankowski
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Blocher, John. “Unexpected Competition: A US Strategy to Keep Its Central and Eastern European Allies as Allies in an Era of Great-Power Competition.” Atlantic Council, Atlantic Council, 22 Nov. 2020, www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/report/unexpected-competition/.
Bokša, Michal, and Monika Bokšová. “European Defense Integration and the U.S. Dilemma.” THE INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS REVIEW, THE INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS REVIEW, 31 Dec. 2019, www.iar-gwu.org/blog/2019/12/31/european-defense-integration-and-the-u-s-dilemma.
Judson, Jen. “Do the Baltics Need More US Military Support to Deter Russia?” Defense News, Defense News, 16 July 2019, www.defensenews.com/land/2019/07/15/do-the-baltics-need-more-us-military-support-to-deter-russia/.
Lamond, James, et al. “The Case for EU Defense.” Center for American Progress, 1 June 2021, 7:45PM, www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2021/06/01/500099/case-eu-defense/.
O’Hanlon, Michael E. “Beyond NATO: A New Security Architecture for Eastern Europe.” Brookings, Brookings, 28 Nov. 2017, www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/07/28/beyond-nato-a-new-security-architecture-for-eastern-europe/.
Woody, Christopher. “NATO Has Put Forces in Eastern Europe to Counter Russia – Here’s Where Its Battle Groups Are Located.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 12 June 2018, 1:47PM, www.businessinsider.com/nato-multinational-battle-groups-in-eastern-europe-to-counter-russia-2018-6.