Published November 15, 2018 in The Hill
President of France Emmanuel Macron recently suggested that Europe should build its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China and Russia. Although the reference to the U.S. was insulting, given well-known French ingratitude, it should not be surprising. It gives credence to those who believe that the liberation of France was the biggest mistake of World War II. There are enough U.S. military cemeteries around Europe to remind us of the costs of defending our European allies, which in the past notoriously ignored the danger and failed to preempt the impending catastrophes of two world wars.
Regardless of whether Macron is serious about it or is just engaging in political rhetoric, President Trump should welcome an idea whose time has come. In his first speech to members of NATO in February 2017, U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said, “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do.” This echoed the campaign statement of his boss, Donald Trump, that “Number one, it (NATO) was obsolete because it was designed many, many years ago.”
If history is not to repeat itself, we should recognize that, after keeping peace in Europe for 70 years, NATO has exhausted its usefulness and lost its purpose. It became an alliance with no mission and, in the process to remain relevant, became the destabilizing factor in Europe and a burden to the U.S.
There is an old Russian saying — “God made sheep to shear them” — and, as long as the U.S. remains in NATO, Europeans will shamelessly exploit the sheep. The absurdity is that while Europeans are enjoying a 35-hour work week, generous benefits and extended vacations, American workers have to put in 40 to 50 hours per week to support Europe’s defense.
The supporters of NATO on both sides of the political aisle keep arguing that “we need NATO now more than ever.” How is it that we need it more now than in April 1949, when it was created to deter Soviet expansionism?
At that time, Europe was in ruins, facing a formidable threat from the Red Army and, later, from the combined forces of the Warsaw Pact. Given strategic and political realities, the United States emerged as the principal guarantor of peace. The two military camps threatened to destroy the world in the standoff called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which lasted for 34 years.
Today, the strategic landscape is fundamentally different. Western Europe has become a massive economic power, with a population of 500 million and a combined GDP akin to the United States. NATO has increased its membership from 12 countries to 29, including seven former members of the Warsaw Pact.
Nevertheless, despite their economic strength and manpower, most of our NATO partners failed to meet the meager goal of 2 percent of GDP spent on military defense, while the U.S. spends 4.2 percent of GDP on defense. Having neglected their military capabilities, NATO members continue to rely on the United States to maintain their security.
At the opposite end is Russia, the alleged menace. The demise of the Soviet Union and subsequent disintegration of the Warsaw Pact completely altered the balance of power in Europe. Modern Russia is a fraction of what used to be the massive Warsaw Pact, with a population of 380 million, that exceeded NATO by more than two to one in military personnel and more than three to one in tanks and armored vehicles. At this writing, Russia is a country with a population below 150 million and a GDP less than 10 percent of the combined GDP of NATO members.
NATO has become an expensive anachronism and should be replaced with treaties that more accurately reflect today’s realities, not those of 70 years ago.
The good thing is that, after living under U.S. protection for 70 years, Europe has undertaken the historic journey from dependency to self-reliance, from poverty to prosperity. The kids have grown up, and it is time for the parent to let them go. There is no longer a military necessity, nor a moral imperative, for the U.S. to protect Europe from itself or its potential adversaries.
We should applaud Macron’s initiative, declare ”Mission Accomplished,” and facilitate our exit out of NATO. We will save billions of dollars to fix our health care and education systems, to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, or to do many other things that may improve our own quality of life.