Enable German Rearmament to Kickstart NATO's Transformation
To transform NATO, rearm Germany. The Euro-Atlantic security community should welcome Germany's military growth, and help turn it into a wider process leading to a necessary and long overdue shift of security responsibilities away from the U.S. and towards major European powers.
This past May – for the first time since the end of the Cold War – Germany's defense minister announced her country's plans to raise troop numbers, citing growing security challenges, including Islamic terrorism and Russia's military assertiveness. This move can be an early sign of reversals of decades of defense spending cutbacks and stagnating military capabilities across Western Europe. The Euro-Atlantic security community should welcome this development and help turn it into a wider process leading to a necessary and long overdue shift of security responsibilities away from the U.S. and towards major European powers.
By the balance of power logic, NATO lost its raison d'etre in 1991, when the Soviet threat disappeared. This should have paved the way, if not for the dissolution of the Alliance, to elimination of major US involvement in the continent. But in the real world, the correction hasn't been automatic. For various reasons, the Alliance not only has persisted but even expanded. The failure of European states to proactively adapt to a new strategic environment and replace a US-led security regime has helped bring about two outcomes:
- The erosion of European defense capabilities as a result of "free riding" on US security.
- Constant tension with Russia as a result of the expansion of a US dominated Alliance.
Speaking in Brussels shortly after the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, then US defense Secretary Robert Gates was accurate in his diagnosis when he said, "The pacification of the continent has gone too far... De-militarization has gone from a blessing to a potential impediment to achieving real and lasting peace, as real or perceived weakness is always a temptation to miscalculation and aggression."
The collapse of Europe's power projection is especially staggering. In the Libyan campaign in 2011 – driven by France and the UK – the coalition experienced shortages of planes, weapons and ammo; they had to rely on the US to conduct air missions against a small country on the continent's borders! Such a status quo is becoming unsustainable for several reasons:
- Since announcing the "Asian Pivot" in 2009, Washington has finally begun shifting its military, economic and diplomatic resources towards Asia, with an eye on containing China's potential hegemony. It is true that Europe remains vital for US interests. However, because no state on the continent is powerful enough to aspire to regional hegemony, there is little strategic sense for direct US military involvement, where local powers have sufficient resources to provide for their own security.
- The Europeans must be prepared to act independently in regional crises that affect their security. Surely, the instability in Ukraine has a bigger impact on Europe than on the U.S. Moreover, Europe can't rely on Washington to fix things, even in regions such as the Middle East, where the US remains actively engaged. As manifested by the massive influx of refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, Europeans have a great stake in the stability of the Middle East.
- Russia's rearmament and military adventures in the periphery have created a frozen conflict on Europe's eastern frontiers. There is little hope that democracy will emerge in Russia, and the country's dormant aspirations to integrate into the Western European community are unlikely to materialize. Russia's economic troubles and its ever present sense of insecurity point to tense relations with Moscow for the foreseeable future.
Designed as a defensive Alliance facing a major common threat, NATO in its current state is poorly suited to confront the conditions outlined above. One solution to this situation is to promote rearmament of major European states. Germany stands as an ideal candidate to lead such efforts and to become a middle-sized "great power". Firstly, it is the most powerful economy in the region. Secondly, it is positioned at the heart of the continent with Eastern Europe and Russia to the East and Southern Europe and Turkey to the Southeast. Its location is ideal to project power throughout the continent and in the periphery.
Such initiative would require caveats, of course, concerning its scope and aims, and it should be studied for its implications on intra-European affairs and on NATO. Rearmament would be a hard sell to the skeptical public on the continent that produced two global wars. But there is no excuse for being oblivious to external realities, and history won't be forgiving.
Dmitri Titoff is an independent foreign affairs analyst.
This article has been submitted outside of the "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit" competition. However, it looks to answer the questions set out in category B "NATO's Biggest Mistake and Lesson Learned", so comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Learn more about this competition and how you can submit your own text or video in the categories C and D.
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