Defense of the West: NATO, the European Union and the Transatlantic Bargain

By Rynning, Sten | Joint Force Quarterly, July 2018 | Go to article overview

Defense of the West: NATO, the European Union and the Transatlantic Bargain


Rynning, Sten, Joint Force Quarterly


Defense of the West: NATO, the European Union and the Transatlantic Bargain

By Stanley R. Sloan

Manchester University Press, 2016

$34.95 400 pp.

ISBN: 978-1526105752

In this timely book, one of the most seasoned observers of Atlantic security affairs, Stanley Sloan, offers insights about the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). These insights are linked to a detailed examination of the Alliance's origins and development. Sloan pinpoints three key alliance drivers--national interests, common values, and political leadership--and offers a carefully circumscribed optimistic conclusion: common national interests and values are strong, but political leadership is volatile and in need of constructive and effective management.

Sloan's circumscribed optimism turns out to be quite justified. Shortly after the publication of the book, Great Britain decided to exit from the European Union and Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Trump had been initially hostile toward the Alliance, labeling it "obsolete," then declaring that it no longer was. He disappointed Allies at his visit to NATO headquarters on May 25, 2017, when he refused to explicitly back the Article 5 clause. Trump's speech reflected the inward looking and dark "American carnage" view of his inaugural speech, which is at odds with the reassurances of traditional U.S. policy and the speeches of Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Sloan is to the point when he writes that if the Allies want NATO, they can have it but they should consider putting some actions behind their words. Put differently, they can wreck the Alliance by not investing in it. There is probably sufficient commonality of values and interests to justify and prolong NATO as it currently exists, but new nationalist values are entering the arena, and the political leaders promoting these new values have no real appreciation for the Alliance, past or future. This goes not only for President Trump, but also the Brexit movement, which pretends to be pro-NATO but is openly disdainful of its European Allies.

The book offers a framework for appreciating this challenging situation. Like this reviewer and other observers, Sloan did not foresee that the disruptive power of nationalism would come from the United States and instead zooms in on European developments. Naturally, we should not discard the possibility that by holding back on his NATO commitment, President Trump was simply seeking better burdensharing. There is widespread agreement, also in Europe, that European defense budgets must increase to correct the trans-Atlantic bargain. However, by reducing NATO to a transactional money exchange--a type of U.S. welfare project for European Allies--and by being silent on collective geopolitical interests, President Trump is effectively jeopardizing the political foundation of the Alliance. Sloan's book is an ideal gateway to appreciate this challenge and its serious implications. …

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