Since the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, the trans-Atlantic community of free nations has formed the bedrock of world security. Almost sixty five years later, NATO is and will remain the irreplaceable vehicle by which the nation states that comprise the alliance will remain protected from external aggression, best able to cope with a new pandemic of threats that seek to infect them from within, and their citizens best assured a future lived in peace.
Today, some would have us believe the usefulness of the collective security alliance is tenuous, that talk of shared values is antiquated, that NATO is unnecessary to ensure peace; its unique role can be duplicated in Brussels or Berlin. We also hear that American power is in inevitable decline; the U.S. should retreat into itself, or at least enjoy a permanent vacation in the Pacific. Leave Europe and the surrounding theaters to the omnipotence of the EU bureaucracy or to tear themselves apart, it doesn't matter because the proverbial monster lurking in the shadows is long dead, never to return. People who espouse a future without a robust U.S.-led NATO are wrong, for they forget the lessons of the past, underestimate the dangers of the present, and overestimate the capabilities of other institutions to ensure security in the future. Let us never delude ourselves into believing that rising world actors, individuals or nation-states, can be counted on to play by the same rules or cherish the same values as we do. A future absent a strong NATO is a nightmare we need not live.
A robust NATO requires change on both sides of the Atlantic. There is no NATO without the energetic leadership of a vigorous, engaged United States. There is nothing inevitable about declining American military and diplomatic power abroad, nothing that resigns the U.S. to a stagnant economy and weak, hapless leadership at home. To project power abroad, the U.S. must tackle problems at home, not least of which are massive entitlement programs that have led to a vortex of debt. Diplomatically, the U.S. must stand firmly with friends and boldly against aggressors. When neither friend nor foe believes in your resolve, you are in a very dangerous place. America must lead by example, not by apologizing for supposed past wrongs and cutting defense, but by being a beacon of strength and resolve for the future.
In Europe, NATO members need to tackle many of the same economic challenges as the U.S. Consistently paltry defense spending has led most member nations to have little in the way of actual defense capabilities. A partnership that becomes too one-sided risks collapsing under the weight of its own inequality. As importantly, Europeans must recommit themselves to the belief that NATO provides the best forum for assuring peace and freedom. Attempts to duplicate NATO's capabilities under the guise of the EU are destined to fail, but corrode the trans-Atlantic alliance by signaling that a strong NATO is no longer necessary.
Moving forward, NATO must refocus on its raison d'étre, collective security of the member states. Like a barrier protecting an island of freedom against a raging sea, NATO safeguards liberty for millions who live under its protective umbrella. One break in the wall and the entire island will flood. Cracks are showing, but they are not necessarily fatal, for the foundation of the wall is strong. As General Eisenhower once noted, "we are going to stick together because we believe in freedom. We believe that man was not born to be a regimented slave, as merely a trained mule. He is in himself the master of his own destiny…. Above all, we stand for that kind of civilization that makes no appeal to force in order to carry forward the precepts, the great principles of such a civilization. We resort to force only to defend what is our own - we want peace, nothing more. But we are certainly not going to put peace above freedom." Let us remember what was true of NATO then remains true of NATO now.
- Daniel Kochis is a Research Assistant with the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC, USA.
Originally appeared on Atlantic-Community.org