Mark Steyn On The Death Of Nato

What happens to a once great military alliance when the nations you’re partnered with cease to maintain serious militaries? Unfortunately, that is not a theoretical question for the United States. Mark Steyn elaborates…

“In the column I wrote on September 11, 2001, I mentioned en passant that among the day’s consequences would be the end of Nato – “a military alliance for countries that no longer in any recognisable sense have militaries”. I can’t remember why I mentioned Europe and Nato in that 9/11 column. It seems an odd thing to be thinking about as the towers were falling.

But it was clear, even then, that the day’s events would test the Atlantic relationship and equally clear that it would fail that test. Later that week, for the first time in its history, Nato invoked its famous Article Five – the one about how an attack on one member is an attack on all. But, even as the press release was rolling off the photocopier, most of the “allies” in this post-modern alliance were insisting that the declaration didn’t mean anything. “We are not at war,” said Belgium. Norway and Germany announced that there would be no deployment of their forces.

Remember last year’s much trumpeted Nato summit in Turkey? This was the one at which everyone was excited at how the “alliance” had agreed to expand its role in Afghanistan beyond Kabul to the country’s somewhat overly autonomous “autonomous regions”.

What this turned out to mean on closer examination was that, after the secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, put the squeeze on Nato’s 26 members, they reluctantly put up an extra 600 troops and three helicopters for Afghanistan. That averages out at 23.08 troops per country, plus almost a ninth of a helicopter apiece. As it transpired, the three Black Hawks all came from one country – Turkey – and they’ve already gone back. And Afghanistan is supposed to be the good war, the one Continental officials all claim to have supported, if mostly retrospectively and for the purposes of justifying their “principled moral opposition” to Iraq.

A few months before 9/11, I happened to find myself sitting next to an eminent older statesman. “What is Nato for?” he wondered. “Well, you should know,” I said. “You were secretary-general. You went into the office every day.” With hindsight, he was asking the right question. On the other hand, if Nato is useless to America, it looks like being a goldmine for the Chinese, to whom the Europeans are bent on selling their military technology. Jacques Chirac is pitching this outreach to the politburo in lofty terms, modifying Harold Macmillan and casting Europe as Athens to China’s Rome. I can’t see it working, but the very attempt presumes that the transatlantic relationship is now bereft of meaning.

Nato will not be around circa 2015 – which is why the Americans are talking it up right now. An organisation that represents the fading residual military will of mostly post-military nations is marginally less harmful than the EU, which is the embodiment of their pacifist delusions. But, either way, there’s not a lot to talk about. Try to imagine significant numbers of French, German or Belgian troops fighting alongside American forces anywhere the Yanks are likely to find themselves in the next decade or so: it’s not going to happen.

“Old Europe” didn’t start gearing down their miltaries when Bush came into office. It started happening after the Soviet Union broke up and continues to this day with the gap between American and European forces growing significantly wider each year. This cannot continue forever.

NATO is practically dead on its feet as it is and unless there are significant changes, the alliance will certainly wheeze its last breath, keel over in a ditch, and drift off into nothingness. It would be better to save NATO if we can, but the patient has to WANT TO LIVE, and there’s precious little ACTION (as opposed to empty talk) on the European side that indicates anyone would be terribly upset if the plug were pulled…

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