Defense of the West: NATO, the European Union and the Transatlantic Bargain
NATO now faces what could be the most profound threat in its history – a threat with roots inside the alliance and linked to challenges from outside. I hope that President Trump will reaffirm the values of "democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law" articulated in the North Atlantic Treaty and will disavow previous statements that the US commitment to collective defense is contingent on specific defense efforts by individual allies.
The recent US presidential campaign that brought to power businessman and political neophyte Donald Trump raised doubts about the president-elect's support for NATO and even for Western values. He has expressed appreciation for Russian President Vladimir Putin and for a style of leadership that many have considered verging on authoritarianism.
The bottom line question is whether illiberal political tendencies in America combined with similar tendencies spreading in Europe, interacting with the threats posed by Russian revisionism and Islamic State threats, are now producing a perfect storm that could blow away the transatlantic alliance that has provided the main defense of Western values and interests for the past seven decades.
My new book, referenced in the title of this article, follows previous editions by analyzing the development of the transatlantic alliance from its founding to the current day. The text was closed this past spring, but it was already clear that the alliance faced serious challenges from the interactions between external challenges to Western values and interests and illiberal political tendencies spreading through the alliance. The penultimate chapter of the book looks particularly at this interaction.
The book states the challenge in these terms: "In considering the future of transatlantic relations and "defense of the West," it is important to take into account both the external threats that NATO and the EU will face, as well as the internal challenges confronting Western nations – which will affect their ability to deal effectively with those external threats." The chapter concludes by observing: "Perhaps the future of the West comes down to a very fundamental choice: should the United States and its European partners acquiesce in Russia's geopolitical demands for a buffer zone between Putin's kleptocracy and the democratic west, or should they assert, with actions as well as words, the liberal values that they hoped would shape post-Cold War Europe?"
This chapter then goes on to include the other external threat posed by radical Jihadists: "What should the United States and its allies do about the threat posed by ISIL and other radical groups that are determined to attack the foundations of Western values and interests when there is little taste in Europe or the United States for participation in more Middle Eastern wars?"
The book's final chapter ties together the interpretative history of the alliance with the contemporary internal challenges and external threats. Its concluding observations, written well before the potential for a President Trump had appeared, brings the following net assessment, which leaves room for the reader to provide their own answer in the light of recent developments:
The [transatlantic] bargain will survive in part because the security of the member states cannot be ensured through national measures alone. It will survive because the member states will continue to recognize that imperfect cooperation serves their interests better than no cooperation at all. NATO will be adapted to meet new challenges. And the value foundation of the transatlantic bargain will persist, in spite of differences over specific issues and shifting patterns of member state interests.
It will survive in part because the bargain is not just represented by NATO's institutional ties…. [T]his bargain in the hearts and minds of the member states has become as close as one could imagine to being a "permanent alliance." The new threats mounted by radical Islamic terrorism and by Russian revisionism will likely test the alliance for many years to come. How effective it will be as the leading institution in defense of the West remains for future generations of North American and European leaders, officials, parliamentarians and publics to determine.
Publisher: Manchester University Press
North American distributor: Oxford University Press
NATO now faces what could be the most profound threat in its history – a threat with roots inside the alliance and linked to challenges from outside. My fondest wish is that the new administration will develop a more sophisticated perspective on NATO, burden-sharing and relations with Russia. I would hope that President Trump will reaffirm the values of "democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law" articulated in the North Atlantic Treaty and will disavow previous statements that the US commitment to collective defense (the treaty's Article 5) is contingent on specific defense efforts by individual allies. For decades, American public opinion has supported US leadership of NATO. I am certain that most Americans do not support the new administration condemning the alliance to a slow death.
Stanley R. Sloan is author most recently of Defense of the West: NATO, the European Union and the Transatlantic Bargain (Manchester University Press, 2016). He is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council of the United States and a Visiting Scholar at Middlebury College.