When is a first strike not a first strike?
When it's Anticipatory Retaliation.

April 20, 2004

Of Alliances - NATO and the EU

Bravo Romeo Delta

Right now NATO is up to 26 members. This is a result of the absolutely critical addition of the Baltic states as well as Romania and Bulgaria. The addition of these five military powerhouses will, naturally, provide a great deal of benefits.

Given the spectacular power projection capabilities of Bulgaria, combined with the overwhelmingly powerful and tightly linked air forces of the Baltic states and the impressive heavy armored divisions fielded by Romania, it's clearly in the American interest to expand NATO.

Or something...

At any rate, what the hell is the benefit in expanding NATO into greater overextension and irrelevance?

Well, first, let's look at the problems of an expanded alliance. Romania gets into it with Moldova over potatoes or organ transplants or whatever the hell, then the whole Article 5 question comes up - do we go to war or not?

If we go to war, then we're fighting bloody Moldova, of all places. Conversely, if we don't then the entire validity of the organization is called sharply into question.

Alliances (formal treaty-oriented ones, not ad hoc coalitions) have two classes of problems: abandonment and entrapment. Abandonment occurs when putative allies bail on you or fail to come to your aid in the event of an attack. Engagement is the opposite problem and arises from a situation in which an ally goes off and gets themselves into some sort of stupid war and drags folks right off the deep end and involves them in a conflict which provides little value. Although the NATO requirement that Article 5 declarations can only be made unanimously makes abandonment more likely than entrapment as the alliance increases in size.

Now NATO has invoked Article 5 exactly once - after 9/11. Which resulted in ... wait for it... an amount of military assistance that could conceivably fit in a smallish baking dish. No, seriously, what it did do was provide political cover for drop-kicking the Taliban through the goalposts of life.

Which brings up an interesting notion: alliances trade off political cover for military utility. As in Kosovo, getting the approval of the 19 members of NATO at the time to bomb a target was an unholy pain in the butt that definitely cramped our style.

So why add this dead weight to NATO? The five new member states aren't going to provide a hill of beans of extra political cover. They aren't going to add anything militarily, so again, why bother?

Well, as far as it goes, most of the new applicants have sought NATO membership as an entree to EU membership. One might ask why we want to expand the EU, particularly as it will give France and Germany more influence over a greater swath of Europe.

There are 60 million Poles who are none too fond of the Germans and don't particularly like the French either. Not to mention a whole lot of other folks in Eastern and Central Europe who have no great love for the Germans either.

So, if we assume that NATO membership greases the skids for EU membership, then rapid expansion of NATO encourages a too-quick expansion of the EU. In addition to providing a counterweight to the Franco-German block in the EU (aka Old Europe), rapid expansion also puts other strains on the EU such as the debates about agricultural protectionism, debt management and the like.

So in addition to amplifying the problems of a sclerotic bureaucracy, it also increases the likelihood that Old Europe will have to invite New Europe into their lair and give them some voice. Think of it as a mirror image of Zapatero endorsing Kerry.

So, it could be argued that increasing NATO membership rapidly is ultimately a way to undermine the Axis of Weasels. Or it could just be that the Bush administration has been overwhelmed by a fit of Wilsonian idealism.

Launched by Bravo Romeo Delta at April 20, 2004 06:02 PM

Retaliatiory Launches

At best NATO is becoming a peacekeeping force that is a bit more focussed than the UN. Worth having for that purpose, and for that purpose more members are better -- assuming they can be trained and equipped to some common standard suitable for that limited mission.

Posted by: rkb at April 20, 2004 07:48 PM

Oddly enough, the UN makes for a better peacekeeping force than NATO most of the time for two reasons:

1) They can rent mounds of ground pounders in the form of Pakisatnis, et al. Outside of the US, France and Britain, there's not a whole lot of military capability in NATO - at tops Germany could project another 2,000 guys out of country.

2) This requirement that there be unanimous decision to do anything, including take a dump, cripples peacemaking operations, and makes NATO roughly as ineffective as the UN in peacekeeping.

In any case, peacekeeping itself is a strange and peculiar enterprise.

Posted by: Bravo Romeo Delta at April 20, 2004 07:56 PM

Forget the Moldavia vs. Romania question. That only comes into play if Moldavia attacks Romania...which they're NOT going to do as long as Romania is part of NATO. If Romania feels studly and goes after Moldavia, they'll have to do it on their own...NATO doesn't have to get involved if one of its members is the aggressors.

That's why it wasn't an Article 5 violation when NATO wasn't involved in Iraq 2.0 last year.

So why do it? From a European standpoint the benefit ain't in military power...obviously the military capacity being added is miniscule...its to ensure that a revitalized Russia can never again re-establish itself as the dominant power in Eastern Europe. The goal is that down the line, when Russia's feeling tough again, they can't pick up where they left off and start the whole "Divided Europe" thing again.

From an American point of view, the reason to expand NATO is fairly obvious. We have a loud and powerful voice at NATO HQ. We don't even have a seat at the table at the EU. So its certainly, from a power politics standpoint, better for us if we keep NATO as inclusive and powerful as possible...because that way we can influence Europe's military in a way that wouldn't be possible if NATO is dropped in favor of "The Grand Army of the European Union" or whatever the hell they're going to call it.

Stymie the Russians and boost the influnce of America...ain't that what NATO's always been about?

Posted by: CVE at April 20, 2004 08:28 PM

There is the traditional "keep the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russians out" school of thought. Additionally, there's also been a large measure of perpetuating European dependency on American military prowess. But all in all, I still do wonder if it's not a spectacularly hard-nosed bit of realpolitik aimed at preventing the EU from becoming an effective counterbalance to American power by loosening the stranglehold of the Paris-Berlin axis, by cramming the EU full of people who use a lot of diacriticals and circumflexes in their written language.

Posted by: Bravo Romeo Delta at April 20, 2004 09:46 PM

I don't see the EU becoming "an effective counterbalance to American power" any time soon. Militarily, they don't want to invest in the forces and capabilities needed, even as a group. Politically, they're still fractured enough to lessen the impact of their voice, and economically they're still clinging to the socialist model. That right there might be the next US/EU cold war: their socialist-style nanny state vs. our more free-market capitalistic ways. We've been kicking their butt for a long time, but they're still powerful and dangerous and attractive to many because of the "free lunch" factor.

Posted by: Ted at April 22, 2004 12:25 AM


I agree with you on your essential points. I think that there is a real chance that the US might be using NATO to exacerbate both those factors - the lack of European political cohesion and their absolute military ineptitude.

Posted by: Bravo Romeo Delta at April 22, 2004 03:47 PM

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