Remarks to the Heritage Foundation Conference on Global Alliances
Thank you for inviting me to participate in this timely discussion of the role that alliances will play in America’s future security posture.
The notes the foundation sent me for the meeting posed three questions in the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom:
Where does America move from here with regard to its allies?
— What lies ahead for NATO and the transatlantic alliance?
— What are the implications of recent developments for alliances with countries in Asia and the Middle East?
I’m going to try to answer all three questions in a dozen minutes, devoting most of my time to explaining why NATO is likely to play a diminished role in future U.S. defense plans.
As you know, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has recently endured a near-death experience over what to do about Iraq.
It survived, but the prognosis is not good.
The patient seems to be suffering from severe cognitive dissonance, if not multiple-personality disorder.That shouldn’t come as any surprise, because all the other multilateral alliances of Cold-War days — from ANZUS to CENTO to SEATO to the Warsaw Pact — have long since slipped into senility and death.
Why would we expect NATO to be any different?
Nonetheless, the official position in most western capitals is that NATO has a future.
Its ranks are being increased — some would say invigorated — by the addition of new members from Eastern Europe.
And earlier this month, member-states agreed to a number of steps designed to make the alliance more relevant, such as streamlining its command structure and establishing a rapid-response force.
But these measures aren’t likely to mean much over the long run, because powerful centrifugal forces are at work, inexorably pulling the alliance apart.
Let me briefly describe the five most important factors driving decline.
First of all, the fear of Soviet aggression that originally forged and sustained NATO is long gone.
It is hard today to even recall, much less recapture, the sense of crisis that surrounded NATO’s creation.
In 1949, the year the alliance was founded, Russia exploded its first atomic bomb and communists secured control of the Chinese mainland.
Soviet agents had recently subverted the government of Czechoslovakia, and were maneuvering to do the same in France and Italy.
Vast Russian armies occupied much of Europe.
And only months after NATO came into being, North Korea invaded the South.
In such circumstances, it wasn’t hard to foster a feeling of solidarity and discipline among western democracies.
There is no similar danger today.
Terrorist threats are far more diffuse, and the military dangers posed by rogue states are relatively mild compared to the communist menace of Cold-War years.
So the sense of urgency and shared purpose once so widespread in the West has largely disappeared.
This is not unlike the experience of many countries in post-colonial Africa, which found it difficult to sustain a shared identity once the common oppressor had departed.
Second, as the threat has changed so has America’s strategy for dealing with it.
Throughout the Cold War, western strategy rested on twin pillars of deterrence and containment.
Those doctrines were well-suited to a diverse, consensus-based alliance because they were essentially passive — they called for America and its allies to react to Soviet moves rather than seize the initiative.
Occasionally a Fred Ikle or Ronald Reagan would point out the contradictions of deterrence, but Europeans viewed vulnerability as unavoidable and therefore resisted “destabilizing” changes.
After 9-11, though, the Bush Administration reduced the role of deterrence and containment in U.S. strategy, preferring to preempt emerging threats.
As President Bush put it at West Point’s 200th commencement …
“If we wait for threats to materialize, we will have waited too long … In the world we have entered, the only path to safety is the path of action — and this nation will act.”
That’s a sensible strategy for dealing with unpredictable enemies, but one that NATO is ill-prepared to implement.
Preemption requires agility and daring, qualities traditionally in short supply within the Atlantic alliance.
The alliance’s cautious, consensus-based culture forces the Bush Administration to choose between unilateral but timely action and ecumenical delay.
Not surprisingly, the administration is inclined to favor unilateral action — which reduces the role of NATO in national strategy.
Third, even if the European members of NATO were unified in their resolve to address emerging threats, they would lack the means to do so.
In the dozen years since Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. military has been transformed by new technology.
Despite the Clinton Administration’s best efforts to reap a “peace dividend,” the U.S. still managed to outspend the rest of the world combined in acquiring cutting-edge military technology over the last decade.
The European members of NATO, on the other hand, largely stopped investing in new capabilities.
Not only did they devote a much smaller share of national wealth to defense, but more of their military spending went to consumption items like pay and benefits rather than procurement.
To make matters worse, their balkanized procurement practices squandered much of the money they did spend on new systems.
As a result, the military forces of European allies are now a generation or more behind America’s in the capabilities they can field.
They lack precision and stealth and mobility and connectivity that U.S. forces have come to take for granted — so much so that it is dangerous for them to operate in close proximity to U.S. combat forces.
A senior Air Force officer described to me how ill-equipped his European counterparts seemed in the Balkan air war.
“We let them play for a while,” he said, “and then we decided we better get those kids off the highway.”
This is the reason that coalition warfare is largely missing from Bush Administration military plans after bulking large in Clinton plans — because the Europeans can’t keep up.
We welcome whatever role they are willing to assume in peacekeeping, but when it comes to warfighting, they seem increasingly irrelevant.
Fourth, due to demographic trends, European countries will have increasing trouble meeting their security commitments in the future.
According to the World Health Organization, the average number of children born to a European woman today is 1.4, a third below what is required to maintain population levels without immigration.
That means European populations are aging, shrinking the pool of people available for military service and greatly increasing the burden of social-welfare programs.
This trend is most pronounced in Russia, where national population may shrink by 30-40% at mid-century.
But the trend is also apparent in countries that do not suffer Russia’s rampant social decay.
For example, WHO projects that Spain’s population will decline from 40 million today to 31 million in 2050 if current fertility rates persist.
Italy will suffer a similar fate, with 42% of the population 60 years or older in 2050.
Obviously, this is not the demographic profile we would hope to see among the members of our most important alliance.
U.S. fertility rates are only slightly below replacement value — about two
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