"It is in our national interest to ensure NATO succeeds."
General Bantz J. Craddock, USA, Commander, United States
European Command, March, 2008
With Barack Obama having already visited Europe twice as
President, with a third visit scheduled for July, his positioning
of the transatlantic alliance in his Administration's overall
foreign policy is ripe for reflection. An effective strategy for
maximizing America's national security and reinforcing the
indivisibility of transatlantic security should emphasize NATO's
role in U.S.--European relations. The NATO First Act, H.R. 2797,
introduced by Reps. Michael Turner (R--OH) and Jim Marshall (D--GA)
contains several elements that would achieve that aim.
Adopting policies that bolster NATO will strengthen U.S.
leadership and contribute to more effective multilateralism. As an
intergovernmental alliance, NATO also allows the United States to
enhance its bilateral relationships with individual allies, which
must be a central tenet of America's European policy.
The NATO-first concept stands in marked contrast to the
Europe-first policy as advocated in 2001 by the recently appointed
U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder. Daalder's policy would
essentially create a back door for America's withdrawal from the
European continent in figurative, and possibly, real terms.
Neither the EU nor any single European nation is capable of
stepping into the breach this withdrawal would create, leaving a
dangerous power vacuum with unpredictable outcomes.
Mutually Reinforcing Alliances
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the expansion of NATO and
the European Union to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe,
it was widely assumed that Europe was largely whole, free, and at
peace. However, Europe is not a sea of tranquility and faces
geopolitical and asymmetric challenges, including a resurgent
Russia, missile proliferation, and Islamist extremism.
It is therefore important that, in order to confront these
challenges, the United States and Europe have bilateral and
multilateral relationships that complement one another. A
NATO-first policy must make clear that NATO is America's primary
multilateral alliance in Europe but not its only alliance. This
already happens in practice: As an intergovernmental values-based
alliance, NATO has offered America additional security options
rather than demand exclusivity. For example, the Anglo--American
Special Relationship continues to operate successfully in non-NATO
theatres of war, such as Iraq.
Unlike a Europe-first agenda, which will involve the
supranationalization and centralization of power within the EU
bureaucracy, a NATO-first policy will reinforce and complement
America's enduring bilateral alliances across Europe. In this
sense, the NATO First Act should be seen as a "NATO reinforcing
In spring 2001, Ambassador Daalder counseled that NATO and
Russia should come second to a "Europe first" agenda, namely the
creation of a strong, united Europe with its own military and
political identity. The Obama Administration's inclination toward a
deeply integrated and enlarged European Union that is capable of
supplanting NATO ignores the democratic will of the peoples of
Europe as well as the limitations of EU power. The low turnout in
the European elections and consistent rejection of integrationist
treaties such as the Lisbon Treaty in referenda demonstrate the
European project's serious lack of legitimacy and credibility. In
institutional, political, and military terms, the EU is not capable
of supplanting NATO and is unlikely to ever be in a position to do
If NATO's primacy in European security affairs is lost, so is
the security bargain and indivisibility of U.S.--European security.
Therefore, in seeking strong European partners to bear a greater
share of the global security burden, Washington must put the NATO
alliance before its relationship with the EU. It must also find a
working relationship with the European Union that delivers better
complementarity. At present, the EU is less a military power in the
making than a counterweight in the making. A NATO-first policy
should avoid the current transatlantic plunge into a shotgun
wedding between NATO and the European Union--a union that would
give Brussels free reign to Europeanize NATO while building an
EU-only military identity. Specifically, a NATO-first policy must
set forth the following principles for clarifying the NATO--EU
- NATO's primacy in the transatlantic security alliance is
- The EU should be a civilian complement to NATO rather than a
separate military identity;
- There should be no duplication of NATO assets, including any
separate EU operational planning and command capabilities;
- NATO must maintain at least one Supreme Command in the United
- NATO must reserve all resources exclusively for NATO missions;
- The assets and resources for exclusively ESDP missions must be
provided in addition to--not instead of--the members' contributions
Today's strategic threat environment includes the proliferation
of ballistic missiles and nuclear technologies among rogue regimes
such as North Korea and Iran. This requires the deployment of
missile defenses capable of protecting all NATO allies. An extended
deterrence policy based on the Cold War policy of "mutually assured
destruction" is no longer sufficient to protect America and her
President George W. Bush significantly advanced a range of U.S.
missile defense programs and took bold steps to extend that defense
umbrella to NATO allies. Specifically, he concluded the "third
site" agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to deploy
elements of the U.S. ground-based missile defense system on their
territories. A NATO first policy with regards to missile defense
will be realized only if it reinforces mutual and indivisible
security. This European buy-in contributes to the multi-layered
security relationships that are now needed in the modern threat
environment and significantly bolsters transatlantic security and
U.S. nonproliferation efforts.
The NATO First Act furthers these positive trends by
specifically making funds available for the deployment of the third
site. American and European interests would be enhanced by
specifically emphasizing two additional points:
- The proposed European locations for the long-range missile
defense system reinforce NATO by strengthening the bilateral
security of select European allies, particularly the Czech Republic
and Poland; and
- The proposed European locations for the long-range missile
defense system reinforce NATO by bolstering the global non
The NATO alliance has previously endorsed two resolutions that
supported the third site deployments and called to explore linking
the third site with current and future NATO missile defense
systems. A NATO-first agenda should take these
installations forward, building toward a multi-layered,
alliance-wide missile defense system.
A NATO-first agenda should seek to re-energize NATO's Open Door
Policy and to continue the alliance's enlargement. The NATO First
Act puts political and financial support behind NATO's Open Door
Policy by authorizing funding for the provision of equipment,
supplies, and training for Partnership for Peace nations.
Including a provision to fund training activities as well as
capacity building is especially important, since NATO aspirants
need to enhance their command-and-control abilities as well as
build capacity. A NATO-first policy should specifically allow for
the provision of any C4ISTAR components (Command, Control,
Communications, Computers, Information/Intelligence, Surveillance,
Targeting Acquisition and Reconnaissance).
By directing funding toward aspirant members such as Georgia,
Macedonia, and Ukraine, as well as existing members, the NATO First
Act would contribute to America's long-standing bipartisan policy
of promoting the democratization and integration of former Soviet
satellite countries into the Euro-Atlantic community. This funding
also contributes to U.S. national security objectives by:
- Increasing the number of partners and their capacity and
abilities to partner with NATO on alliance missions such as Kosovo
and Afghanistan, and
- Building interpersonal relationships between the militaries and
commanders of partner countries.
U.S. leadership has been required at every stage of NATO
enlargement in the past, and that requirement remains today.
Combining much-needed resources with a pro-enlargement agenda is
essential to advancing this policy goal and reaffirms America's
commitment to consolidating the West's post-Cold War gains and
upholding the founding principles of NATO.
The ultimate goal of a NATO-first policy should be to reinforce
the indivisibility of transatlantic security and reaffirm America's
political and military commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty's
Article V mutual defense clause. Article V is a security bond
for NATO members to promote stability and deter aggressors. The
NATO First Act's support for the NATO Special Operations
Coordination Center contributes toward these aims by increasing
funds for improved coordination and information sharing between
allies' special operations forces.
America's force structure and its nuclear forces in Europe must
also be commensurate with its treaty obligations. In testimony
before the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee,
then-Commander of U.S. European Command General Craddock stated
that America's forward deployed troops and installations are
"visible manifestations of U.S. commitment and enable us to apply
influence, assure access when and where needed, and preserve a
leadership role in NATO."
It is therefore understandable that Congress wants to maintain
troops and bases in Europe. However, the NATO First Act should be
responsive as opposed to pre-emptive. Rather than pursuing a
legislative agenda that challenges the constitutional mandate of
the Commander-in-Chief, Congress should insert a one year's
notification requirement for any base closure, troop withdrawals,
or changes to U.S. forward-deployed nuclear forces. Congress will
then be able to use its constitutionally mandated purse power to
either refuse or reinsert funding into the annual appropriations
bill where necessary.
Finally, a NATO-first policy should ensure that reductions to
the strategic nuclear forces of the United States, pursuant to
current and future negotiations with Russia, are done in accordance
with the need to maintain the extended nuclear deterrence policy
toward Europe. A critical element of this extended deterrence
policy is addressing the present imbalance between the U.S. and
Russia in non-strategic nuclear weapons. Therefore, any treaty on
reductions in strategic nuclear forces below the levels established
by the Moscow Treaty should be contingent on full Russian
compliance with the politically binding declarations of the
Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of 1991 and 1992.
Maintaining the Primacy of NATO
In his testimony, General Craddock stated that American
leadership within NATO should be a priority in U.S.--European
relations. Maintaining the primacy of NATO and
better equipping the alliance to confront current and future
security challenges will achieve this goal and enhance
transatlantic security. In fashioning a NATO-first agenda, the U.S.
Congress and the Obama Administration should reject "Europe first"
and instead take concrete steps--such as enlargement and missile
defense cooperation--to advance a successful transatlantic security
Sally McNamara is
a Senior Policy Analyst in European Affairs at The Heritage
Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom. She would like
to thank Nicholas Connor, intern at the Margaret Thatcher Center
for Freedom, for his assistance in preparing this paper. She would
also like to thank Baker Spring, F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in
National Security Policy in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies, for his invaluable advice and
Bucharest Summit Declaration, issued by the heads of state and
government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic
Council in Bucharest on April 3, 2008, at www.nato.int/docu/pr/2008/p08-049e.html
(June 15, 2009);Press release, "Final Communiqué of the
Meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the Level of Foreign
Ministers," NATO, December 3, 2008, at http://www.nato.int/docu/pr/2008/p08-153e.html
(June 10, 2009).
testimony, General Craddock repeatedly outlined the value of
enhancing command-and-control abilities and its value in building
interpersonal military relationships. See Craddock, statement
before the Armed Services Committee.
Craddock, statement before the Armed Services Committee, p. 13.