Monday, October 27, 2008

What has NATO ever done for us?

To the point: it's time for the US to disengage from NATO. NATO was founded to form a bulwark against Soviet invasion of western Europe in 1949. As the charter's Article 5 states,
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them ... will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith ... such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
So just what does this mean today? Pretty much nothing. Strictly interpreted, Article 5's provisions are not tripped by an attack on United States' interests outside North America. One must wonder whether an attack by someone against Guam, a non-North American, American territory, would trigger Article 5, but the question is actually moot since there is no imaginable threat to mount such an attack.

NATO's newly-delivered, $1.5-billion headquarters building, 
housing a hugely expensive staff who have no real work to do for
an organization that has no purpose any more.
So: Who is there to attack either North America or Europe? There are really only two threats reasonably imaginable - Russia and Islamist terrorists. Let's consider them seriatim:

1. Russia. The original threat for which NATO was founded, there's no chance that Russia either would or could invade western Europe now or in the far foreseeable future.

Certainly Russia's invasion of Georgia shows that Russia's militarism is alive and well, but the prospect of Russia invading western Europe is simple nitwittery. Russia, oil flush though it is, is not rich enough, militarily powerful enough, nor populous enough to extend a campaign that far or that long. Western Europe in aggregate is still more powerful (on its own soil, defending its home territories) than Russia militarily and is rich enough to outlast Russia in such a war. But the real bottom line is that Russia needs Europe peaceful and prosperous rather than wrecked and impoverished.

But what of the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania? Certainly Russia could invade them, and they are NATO members. They are also defensible by NATO to some minimal level because their sea approaches are a short trip from Germany's and Poland's northern ports.

I am trying to remember the good reasons that the Baltics were admitted into NATO, but memory fails me except to remember that there were no good reasons. (Review NATO's own assessment and see whether it's held up.) At the time, even Russia was being talked about as a potential NATO member of some kind, political membership if not part of the military alliance. See here, for example. It was then presumed membership would have a tamping effect on Russian militarism which would help ensure peace in our time. Russia has in fact been a "partner country" with NATO since 1997. (Some “partner.” As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that worked out for us?”)

Ukraine? Not a NATO member, and Russia could easily march in. But Ukraine is hardly defensible by NATO. From the west, NATO forces would have a very long ground journey, across NATO-member Poland, then another 300 miles just to reach Ukraine's capital, Kiev. The logistics problem would be immense, especially for ammunition and spare parts.

Ukraine’s sea approach, from the Black Sea, has a natural choke point at the Bosporus straits. The sea approach to the Bosporus has its own choke points, the Dardanelles strait which empties into the Sea of Mamara, between the Aegean Sea and the Bosporus straits. Fortunately, Turkey is a NATO member whose forces have been focused for decades on keeping the sea lanes open. Of course, Russia has worked the opposite problems for decades, too. So there would almost certainly be a battle royal there between NATO and Russian air and naval forces.

Finally, Ukraine is a big country, almost 800 miles east to west, 233,000 square miles, and NATO's manpower commitment would have to be correspondingly large, probably too large for NATO's existing forces, even under mobilization, since substantial forces would need to be retained in Poland and points west to deter Russian moves in that direction.

As well, western Europe's standing forces are too few to offer substantial, long-lasting reinforcements to deployed units. Many of their regular brigades are permanently staffed by regulars at a fraction of full strength, with the rest (usually one-third or even more) of the troops being reservists whose readiness level is substantially lower. If you use your reserves to man up your regular battalions, who exactly is manning the reserves? In all, since the dissolution of the USSR, Europe's defense planning has been focused on economy rather than war readiness.

Don't count on NATO's new NATO Response Force (NRF), which consists of only 20,000 troops of all arms. It includes, 
... a multinational land brigade of around 5,000 troops and air, maritime and SOF components. Leading elements are ready to move within two to three days.

An earlier description of the NRF said that it had "an air component capable of 200 combat sorties a day." A brigade-size ground force of 5,000 troops is barely speed bump size defending Ukraine or the Baltics. And 200 combat sorties per day would be exhausted before noon in mid-intensity operations.

Sarah Palin said in her Gibson interview that the US should push to admit both Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. I have two words: In. Sane. The idea that the United States should (or can) go to war to eject Russian forces therefrom is foolish in the extreme. A return of Russian occupation of Ukraine or the Baltic countries would be dreadful for the people of those countries. But it's hard to see what US national-security interest would make warring with Russia worth it. NATO's relations with Ukraine, very extensive since 1991, are almost exclusively political-commercial rather than military, or even political-military. Even the NATO Handbook admits tacitly that its goal is development of a market economy and human rights in Ukraine, rather than strengthening of NATO as a military alliance.

It may be argued that for the US to withdraw its NATO military membership would in fact invite Russian moves against Ukraine or the Baltics. I think Putin's government is more calculating than that. Putin, et. al., surely realize that moving against Ukraine would not evoke military counter-moves from NATO, whether Ukraine is a NATO member or not. The reason is very simple: NATO nations simply do not have the military forces, nor strategic "throw," to make the counter. Simply getting tactically significant forces to the right places in Ukraine, then supplying them, would be an enormous challenge that could well be insurmountable. Only recently have Canada and the UK begun to fly strategic-range airlift, C-17s manufactured by the US. Ironically Canada also leases strategic airlift capability from Ukraine, which has a fairly extensive collection of late Soviet-era Antonov heavy lifters designed for strategic airlift. Even so, the great majority of such flying would fall to the US Air Force.

In summary: Russia is no military threat to western Europe. And though its threat to the Baltics and Ukraine is more realizable, there is not much NATO can do about it in the event, anyway.

2. Islamist terrorists. Islamo-terrorists have already attacked both North America and Europe, it hardly bears pointing out. And what was NATO's response? Except for Canada and Britain, pretty much nothing. Even worse, near surrender: al Qaeda killed 191 Spanish train commuters in March 2004, demanded Spain's withdrawal of its forces from Iraq, and Spain rolled.

We'd also wish to ask just why Islamists would attack Europe in the first place (well, yes, they're terrorists) when if they just bide their time, most of western Europe will become substantially Muslim in just a few decades, and some nations majority Muslim (Holland may be majority Muslim by 2020).

What NATO has not done, even under Article 5, is actually fight al Qaeda or the Taliban (again, except for Britain and Canada). For example, Germany sent an entire special-forces detachment to Afghanistan. They literally never left their base camp for a whole year, then Germany brought them home. Except for Canada and Britain, this is typical of the NATO troops, paltry as they are, in Afghanistan. (NATO, qua NATO, had no involvement in Iraq.)

But let us imagine that al Qaeda mounts a truly devastating attack against a NATO capital city, killing thousands. Just how can NATO respond? It can't, certainly not for any response that would require self-lifting across strategic distances. The strategic transportation of NATO has always been oriented one way: US and Canadian forces flowing into Europe to defend it from the USSR, not forces flowing out of Europe to somewhere else in the world. NATO forces cannot go anywhere in the world in substantial force without the US Air Force or Navy carrying them.

Let us then ask the pointed question: Just how does continued NATO membership actually benefit that United States? I can think of only one way - forward stationing of US forces as a deployment point to locales farther east or toward the Middle East.

That's it. Is that worth the cost of national treasure and aggravation we have with the alliance, and which show no sign of abating?

There is another point that Mark Steyn touched on when discussing Sarah Palin's bright idea to bring Georgia into NATO. I can't find a link now, but Steyn pointed out that Georgia's birth rate has tanked more than practically any other country in the world. In fact, by 2050 there will be only 100,000 Georgian women of childbearing age, if current trends continue. So, he said, if Georgians won't have children to grow up to defend Georgia, why should Americans have children to grow up to defend Georgia? I can't think of any good reason.

And the same question can be asked of every other European NATO member, except perhaps Britain and France. The birth rates of Germany, Spain, Italy and every other NATO country except Turkey are below the stable replacement rate of 2.1 average births per woman, most far below. Italy’s rate is 1.23 births per woman , for example, meaning that Italy’s population could shrink by one-third by mid-century. (Turkey’s birth rate is about twice as high as Italy's.)

Again the question for NATO’s countries: if you will not have enough children to preserve your country, why should American women bear children to defend your country?

Europe is not just millions of square miles of terrain. Our affiliation with Europe, and the reason our military shed so much blood on Europe's soil, was not simply to defend dirt. It was to defend and preserve a cultural heritage the was the wellspring of human flourishing of the modern era. That the Europeans themselves sometimes seemed hellbent on killing one another in carload lots did not negate the fundamental virtues of the Western heritage of faith and reason. Update: Hans-Georg Maaßen served as Germany's top domestic intelligence chief from 2012 to 2018. He says:
“The Europeans will succumb to Islam. On the one hand, because they are unable to even see this conflict coming, and on the other, because they are incapable of resolving conflicts in a similar fashion,” he said, stating that “the end result will be the gradual destruction of our European cultures.”

Population replacement by design
Maaßen said that European politicians are actively allowing mass immigration because, according to him, “our politicians want a different population. The political left follows the course of the anti-German ideology. The more heterogeneous a population, the less able it is to articulate itself and have a democratic say. The more politics accepts immigrants from other countries as they see fit and grants them citizenship, the more politics selects the people of the state and influences the election results. These migrants then vote differently than the locals.”

Maaßen said during the interview that countries like Germany and Austria have the tools necessary to stop immigration, but they are making a conscious choice not to.

Maaßen doubts that Germany’s politicians are planning to take any serious measures against illegal immigration despite the growing risks, especially from violent cultures.

“Why aren’t migrants simply turned back at the borders?” asks Maaßen. He points to the latest “migration summit” in Germany, where he said he saw “showcase politics” or “dummy politics,” where the main points that were raised were more money for asylum seekers and faster asylum procedures. However, nobody asked the most crucial question: “Why are we letting these people into Germany and Europe in the first place?”
I think the United States should reassess whether the NATO alliance really is serving American interests. I don't think it is, and I don't think it will do better in years to come. Though we must stay politically engaged, I think we'd be better off withdrawing from the military alliance, and work toward building an Anglosphere military alliance in its stead.

Endnote: Yes, I titled the post having in mind Monty Pythons sketch from Life of Brian, in which some ancient Judeans ask, "What have the Romans ever done for us?" Unlike them, however, we have no important, affirmative answers to the question of my post.

Update, January 2022: "Fateful Collision: NATO’s Drive to the East Versus Russia’s Sphere of Influence" by James Kurth. An excellent explanation of how and we got to the mess we're in. 

Updates, March 2024: Despite this headline, this is not a partisan or political article, nor an endorsement of Trump: "Trump Is Right on NATO Spending - The former president’s inflammatory comments could have the positive effect of forcing European leaders to contribute more to their continent’s defense."

Author Matthew Kroenig, vice president and senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security and a professor in the Department of Government and the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University has some pointed observations, such as:
...  it is outrageous for countries to neglect their obligations in NATO and still demand the full benefits of membership. If one stopped paying monthly gym fees, one would expect access to be cut off; European defense should be treated with at least as much seriousness as Zumba.
If, God forbid, Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked NATO’s European members, why should American soldiers be expected to die to save European countries that shirked their responsibilities, weakened the alliance, and thereby tempted Russian aggression? 
See also this Foreign Policy article by Gil Barndollar, senior fellow at Defense Priorities and a senior research fellow at the Catholic University of America’s Center for the Study of Statesmanship, wherein he delineates the truly sorry state of NATO Euro members' militaries. 
By the mid-2000s, the German Bundeswehr was half its Cold War size, while the British Army was only able to provide a single brigade in Afghanistan. Germany and Britain were and are considered NATO heavyweights. The condition of smaller NATO armies was even more parlous.

The situation only worsened in the following two decades. The Bundeswehr is now down to barely 180,000 men and women while the British Army is the smallest it has been since the Napoleonic Wars. French forces, despite French President Emmanuel Macron’s bluster, are unable “to do anything on a large scale for any length of time,” according to a prominent analyst. The end of their campaign in Mali testifies to the limitations of French land power. A 2017 Rand Corporation study found that Britain, France, and Germany would each take several weeks to generate a single armored brigade each for combat in the Baltics, “with little spare capacity for any other contingencies.” ...

Though NATO is now rearming in terms of weapons, manpower remains the proverbial long pole in the tent. Aging populations, expansive social welfare states, and the limited appeal of professional military service leave European states struggling to man even small armies. Despite the manifest Russian threat, the European recruiting problem is only deepening. The Bundeswehr finished 2023 with 1,500 fewer troops than the previous year, despite loud commitments to rearming. The British Army has missed its recruiting targets for 14 years straight. Fiscal 2022 saw a staggering 30 percent drop in new recruits. Le Monde noted an “evaporation” of French military personnel in 2023, with a 6 percent increase in net outflows.  
Even high youth unemployment in many southern European countries does not appear to move the needle. Despite a jobless rate north of 20 percent for 15- to 24-year-olds, Italy struggles to meet an annual military recruiting goal of just 8,000 enlistees. In 2020, the average Italian soldier was 38 years old—at least a decade past the optimal age for a combat soldier.

There is scant prospect of any significant improvement in European military recruiting. Almost all European countries are getting older, and many face rapidly shrinking populations.
Or, as I have put it elsewhere, if Russia made war against a NATO state or three, Americans forces would not be sent to fight alongside Europeans. They would be fighting instead of Europeans. And that is not acceptable. 

Se also, "The Truth About European Defense Spending," which addresses among other things the claim that NATO members have been increasing their spending.
This is true, in that spending has increased from anemic to slightly less anemic. But for all of the bragging in European capitals, many still fail to spend at least 2% on defense; in 2023, only 11 actually hit the mark. More have claimed that they will soon hit 2%, but this promise is not worth the paper it is printed on, as it can simply be reversed the moment a new government comes into power or the spotlight turns away. Much of it is also built on extrapolation: Sweden received positive press for their defense increases, but reading past the headlines reveals that they will only hit 2% in 2028, provided defense funding steadily increases (which is, again, far from a sure thing). Much of this increased spending also is due to Ukraine aid. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was pleased to report Germany would spend over 2% on defense for the first time, but that benchmark will only be met because of one-time Ukraine aid increases, not to mention a shrunken German GDP.

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