In early June, defense ministers of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) agreed to revitalize the alliance by streamlining its command structure, creating a rapid-response force, and acquiring more airlift for operations outside Europe. Having just endured a near-death experience over Iraq, NATO needs retooling. But it may be too late. With all the other multilateral alliances of Cold War years (ANZUS, CENTO, SEATO, etc.) long gone, centrifugal forces have begun pulling NATO apart too:
1.Diminished threat. The year NATO was founded, 1949, Russia exploded its first atomic bomb and communists gained control of China. Soviet armies had occupied much of Europe, and Soviet agents were trying to subvert governments in France and Italy. NATO was forged of fear. Today the danger has waned, and so has NATO’s solidarity. The milder challenge posed by terrorists and rogue states won’t be enough to bring it back.
2.Shifting strategy. The twin pillars of Cold-War strategy were deterrence and containment. The strategy worked well in a diverse, consensus-based alliance, because it called for the West to react to Soviet moves rather than take the initiative. But the Bush Administration prefers a strategy of preempting nascent threats, which requires agility and daring — qualities traditionally in short supply in NATO. Forced to choose between timely unilateralism and ecumenical delay, it isn’t hard to see which path Bush will follow.
3.Divergent capabilities. Even if NATO was willing to act quickly, its European members lack the necessary tools. In the dozen years since Desert Storm, America has outspent the rest of the world combined in acquiring cutting-edge military capabilities. Europeans have spent far less, and thus lack the precision, mobility and connectivity of U.S. forces. The Europeans are good peacekeepers, but increasingly irrelevant as warfighters.
4.Demographic trends. The average European woman today gives birth to 1.4 children, far below the 2.1 needed to maintain population levels. The U.S. average is 2.0, which leads to population increases when immigration is added in. Not so in Europe. Spain’s population will decline from 40 million today to 31 million at mid-century. In 2050, 42% of Italians will be 60 or over. As populations age, fewer people are available for military service and welfare costs drain money from military budgets.
5.Different worldviews. Europeans work 25-30% fewer hours per year than Americans — the main reason for their lagging economic performance (according to Niall Ferguson of NYU). Only 10% attend church regularly, and in some countries a majority says it “doesn’t care” about God. 82% of Americans say God is “very important” to them. On issues ranging from the death penalty to Iraq, Europe and America are drifting apart. And according to a recent Pew survey, Western Europeans dislike America almost a much as the Islamic world does. Without common values, it’s hard to sustain a strong alliance.
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