Celebration of NATO's 70th birthday on April 4th reminds us that this alliance was America's first ever commitment to defend countries outside the Western Hemisphere. It was a dramatic break with the isolationist sentiments that dominated U.S. foreign policy for twenty years. The question now is whether the alliance and supporting European Union continue to be vital to America's role as a superpower in the emerging world environment.
NATO's future was raised after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the threat of war in Europe receded. Europe reduced its defense budgets to a point that it could not end a war in Bosnia without American troops. President Bill Clinton urged NATO's governments to reverse their defense cuts, but they did not oblige. It took the al-Qaeda attacks of 9-11 on New York and Washington to bring NATO into action in support of America's invasion of Afghanistan. European troops remain there along with ours.
In assessing whether NATO remains relevant and European unity is important to U.S. interests, positive and negative viewpoints should be examined.
On the negative side, some politicians and pundits, including Donald Trump, express deep frustration that our European and Canadian allies fail to live up to defense spending commitments they previous made. They agree, as Trump told NATO's leaders last summer, the allies are simply not pulling their weight when it comes to defending Europe. The criticism is similar to what was heard in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, but put more bluntly.
On Europe's economic and political unity, Trump's view differs from his predecessors. He disparages Europe's efforts to forge a political union that would compete with the United States in world affairs. He prefers to deal with individual countries, like France, Britain, and Germany on economic and political issues. Including trade disputes. Britain's decision (Brexit) to withdraw from the EU, praised by Trump, will hasten the demise of that organization if the British government cannot find an acceptable alternative.
On the positive side, NATO countries increased their funding of NATO defense in the past two years and agreed to station their troops in Poland and the Baltic States, as a warning to Russia following its invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. As a result, America increased its troop strength to Europe and funding of NATO defense, with Trump's approval. The future for NATO was summed up recently by the Economist: "How can the transatlantic alliance hold together as America becomes less focused on Europe and more immersed in Asia? That's a vital question." (Special Report on NATO, March 16, 2019)
In my view, NATO and the EU remain vital national interests of this country in the 21st century. And it appears that Donald Trump has reluctantly accepted that reality.
File last modified on Friday, 12-APR-2019 8:27 AM EST