There is one international organization that has contributed more than all the others combined to creating the current international system and ensuring the relative peace, stability and prosperity of the world. No, it is not the United Nations. No, it is not the International Monetary Fund. It is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. The old saw was that NATO was designed to keep the Russians out (of Western Europe), the Germans down and the Americans in. To some extent this was true. But NATO did much more. It was NATO that allowed Europe to experience more than a half century of peace. The alliance also exercised a kind of gravitational effect, pulling the nations of Europe closer together, thereby encouraging the creation of the European Union.
When the Soviet Union collapsed there were many wise men who thought that this meant the end of the alliance. The search for a new rationale led one U.S. Senator to make the observation, “Either NATO goes out of area or goes out of business.” And NATO did, members deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan. By bringing in the once captive nations of Eastern Europe, NATO also exported security and stability to the new members, among other benefits helping some of them to prepare for membership in the European Union.
Now it is time to consider another shift in NATO strategy. As you can tell, I am a real believer in NATO not only from a historical perspective but for the future. So what I say next is based on my respect for the organization and my belief that it has not outlived its usefulness. The best thing that our NATO allies could do now to strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship, improve European and even global security and ensure a continued American commitment to Europe’s security is to need the United States less. I know this sounds contradictory; the trans-Atlantic relationship can be made stronger by reducing strategic dependence. But given the twin realities of an evolving international security environment and an increasingly difficult budgetary situation on both sides of the Atlantic, it is imperative that Europe do more to provide for its own security.
It is time for Europe to come home so America doesn’t. Despite its current economic travails, Europe is in an excellent position to do what is necessary to defend itself. It faces no serious conventional military threat on the continent itself. With the inclusion of the nations once behind the iron curtain in the alliance, NATO now has strategic depth. Libya demonstrates that NATO possesses many of the basic capabilities necessary in order to mount major military operations around the region.
What if Europe could defend itself? Obviously, security in the region would be improved. But equally important, in an uncertain world, there would be less demand for U.S. forces to support immediate European defense needs. This would mean that the United States would have greater latitude in repositioning forces to deal with current and potential threats in the Middle East and East Asia. Interoperability would be maintained as well as existing or planned networks such as the one to support the European Phased Adaptive Architecture for missile defense. In the event of a larger than expected threat, the U.S. would certainly honor its NATO commitment and deploy in the defense of Europe.
In order for this situation to be achieved, Europe must invest in the capabilities to adequately defend itself and the near-environs with little U.S. assistance. This is particularly important when it comes to critical enablers: aerial refueling tankers, lift, logistics, C4ISR systems and precision munitions. NATO could acquire what it needs without spending additional resources by reducing investments in legacy force structure. Pooling resources can allow NATO’s European members to reach critical mass in these enablers, assuming there is agreement on when and how they are to be used. It will not suffice to have a force that works in theory but which for political reasons cannot be deployed in adequate numbers or with national rules of engagement that allow it to be employed effectively. Are you listening in Berlin?
Some NATO members are focusing on investing in the kinds of capabilities needed to defend the continent. As the result of its Strategic Defense and Security Review as well as its experience in Libya, the United Kingdom is moving towards precisely the kind of military that can — along with its European allies — defend the region. It is focusing on capabilities such as nuclear attack submarines, large deck carriers, the F-35 and unmanned aerial ISR. It is also downsizing and modernizing the way it develops strategy and force requirements and radically redesigning its weapons acquisition system. France has made some moves in the direction. The others need to get moving in a similar direction.
In anticipation of the summit in Chicago next year, NATO is currently working on a set of Smart Defense initiatives intended to address many of the shortfalls experienced in Libya. These initiatives should start from the premise that the goal is for Europeans to defend Europe.
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