Magazine article Insight on the News

Alliance's Military Role Means Less Is More

Magazine article Insight on the News

Alliance's Military Role Means Less Is More

Article excerpt

Any discussion about whether NATO ought to expand should begin by delving into the purpose and mission of the alliance itself. After all, expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should serve to enhance the interests its members, furthering their common goals and strengthening their alliance. Unfortunately, the present debate surrounding the future of NATO only touches fundamentals of the alliance, why it exists and how it works.

It should be a debate couched in focused questions about its military missions and rooted in assumptions that demand closer scrutiny. Foremost among these assumptions is one holding that the principal purpose of any alliance in general, and NATO in particular, is its military function. Clausewitz wrote that war was not an end in itself but was an extension of the political by other means. Similarly, military alliances and defense policy are ultimately the extension of political policy and should be judged in that context. The debate about expanding NATO loses sight of this underlying political purpose, one that offers us some answers about the whether and how of potential alliance expansion. It may be argued that NATO is not ready for new members and doesn't need them. The issue is not the size of NATO, but quality.

To most of its critics, NATO represents little more than a Cold War relic, a dinosaur from the days of super-power confrontation and geostrategic struggle, which should be allowed to fade into extinction along with notions of "threats" to the United States and Europe. To many of its proponents, a Cold War-proven, reliable NATO offers the best hope of future Pan-European security through expansion to include some of its former adversaries. But to analyze NATO's merits, function and missions simply in terms of a defensive military alliance misses the point. In its life, NATO has endured, functioned and prevailed for positive and specific political reasons.

The political creation of NATO formed the first deliberate departure from traditional U.S. foreign policy toward Europe as well as from its long-standing policy of refraining from foreign entanglements. However, the eventual and costly entanglements of two world wars as well as a growing strategic threat from the Soviet Union drove the United States to engage itself in European affairs, deciding that they now were too important to the United States to leave them to the Europeans themselves. American postwar policy toward Europe was to promote peace and stability with a goal of preventing the outbreak of another European war and preserving the political independence and territorial integrity of its European partners.

To this end, the United States created a complex political engagement with Europe, championing European integration even before the Europeans did. America implemented the short-term Marshall Plan to rebuild the European economies and constructed a long-term NATO as the bulwark of Western democracy against a looming Soviet threat. Furthermore, it was through NATO that the United States could, and can, justly raise its voice in European affairs as the guarantor of a European peace, claiming for itself role as yet another European state." It is in this way, not simply as a military alliance, that NATO has become a necessary political institution for the United States.

It was the political coherence of NATO that formed the basis for its viability as an alliance and therefore its military utility and success as a credible deterrent to the Soviet Union. After all, the possession of military capabilities in and of itself does not offer a deterrent to a potential opponent. Instead, it is the willingness and ability to use those capabilities and the recognition among potential opponents of that willingness and ability that forms the basis of credibility and, ultimately, deterrence. One could argue that, in fact, political will is the foundation of deterrence. But deterrence also must be focused toward a specific purpose: to deter someone and some government from some activity. …

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