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Where Does the Anti-NATO Sentiment Come From?
Rather than flapping my arms and screeching “Useful idiot!” at the television screen, I thought I’d try to explain (to the best of my knowledge) what NATO does, why, and where — I suspect — some of Trump’s anti-NATO sentiment must be coming from.
This brief history of NATO does a good job of explaining how NATO came into existence. The first paragraph is key:
It is often said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. This is only partially true. In fact, the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration.
I’m thinking that NATO’s been around so long that many Americans have forgotten that Europe’s the way it is now by design. By American design. We’re now entering an age when most of the generation that would remember this directly is dead. Perhaps that’s why ideas that would have been shouted down instantly by our grandparents — from communism to isolationism — are getting a hearing again now:
The aftermath of World War II saw much of Europe devastated in a way that is now difficult to envision.
I think that’s true. I think most people do now think of Europe as a bunch of pretty cities, and don’t immediately think of this:
Approximately 36.5 million Europeans had died in the conflict, 19 million of them civilians. Refugee camps and rationing dominated daily life. In some areas, infant mortality rates were one in four. Millions of orphans wandered the burnt-out shells of former metropolises. In the German city of Hamburg alone, half a million people were homeless.
The enormity of the destruction transferred the responsibility for preserving Western civilization to the United States. This was our strategy for rebuiliding it:
Aid provided through the US-funded Marshall Plan and other means fostered a degree of economic stabilisation. European states still needed confidence in their security, however, before they would begin talking and trading with each other. Military cooperation, and the security it would bring, would have to develop in parallel with economic and political progress.
With this in mind, several Western European democracies came together to implement various projects for greater military cooperation and collective defence, including the creation of the Western Union in 1948, later to become the Western European Union in 1954. In the end, it was determined that only a truly transatlantic security agreement could deter Soviet aggression while simultaneously preventing the revival of European militarism and laying the groundwork for political integration.
Americans who resent Europeans for being reluctant to militarize and for placing so much importance on political integration should remember that this is the world we created. We insisted upon this. Europe had no choice. It’s very strange for Americans suddenly to view the United States’ greatest military and foreign policy achievement as a failure. It was the United States’ plan for Europe to focus on economic growth rather than maintaining large conventional armies:
During this time, NATO adopted the strategic doctrine of “Massive Retaliation” – if the Soviet Union attacked, NATO would respond with nuclear weapons. The intended effect of this doctrine was to deter either side from risk-taking since any attack, however small, could have led to a full nuclear exchange. Simultaneously, “Massive Retaliation” allowed Alliance members to focus their energies on economic growth rather than on maintaining large conventional armies.
Some Americans now seem sympathetic to the argument that since the fall of the Berlin Wall, NATO has been obsolete. But NATO’s function was never solely to deter the Soviet Union, and a great deal of strategic thought — and historic memory — led American policymakers to think it should continue to be the basis for Europe’s postwar security architecture:
The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 seemed to proclaim a new era of open markets, democracy and peace, and Allies reacted with incredulous joy as emboldened demonstrators overthrew Eastern European Communist governments. But there were also frightening uncertainties. Would a united Germany be neutral? What would become of nuclear weapons in former Soviet republics? Would nationalism once again curse European politics? For NATO, the question was existential: was there any further need for the Atlantic Alliance?
NATO endured because while the Soviet Union was no more, the Alliance’s two other original if unspoken mandates still held: to deter the rise of militant nationalism and to provide the foundation of collective security that would encourage democratization and political integration in Europe
The Soviet Union is no more, but the other imperatives remain. What’s more, we’re still stuck with a very aggressive Russia — one that views the West as its enemy, whether or not the feeling is mutual.
I think, or hope, that most conservatives know that the Soviet Union backed Western movements such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Putin’s Russia, unfortunately, targets American conservatives in a similar way. For example:
Knowing that evidence would implicate Russia in the shoot-down of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 plane, the Russian disinformation apparatus went into action early in the crisis, putting out the story that the plane was travelling almost the same route that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s jet had travelled before. In short, the accusation was that Ukraine downed the plane, thinking Putin was on it. Hence, it was an assassination attempt.
This bizarre piece of disinformation surfaced on RT (Russia Today), the Moscow-funded English-language propaganda network known to critics as KGB-TV. It was linked to by the popular Drudge Report, used by many conservatives as their homepage, and then picked up by the Alex Jones’ Infowars.com site, a reliable outlet for pro-Russian propaganda.
Drudge posted the item, “RT: Putin’s plane might have been target,” apparently to suggest that there was honest confusion over whether the Russians had shot down the plane.
It’s worth reading that article in full. This article, too, provides ample documentation of this effort.
Russian information warfare is remarkably sophisticated. They’ve been doing this since the era of spetspropaganda, which was first taught as a subject at the Russian Military Institute of Foreign Languages in 1942. It was removed from the curriculum in 1990s — but reinstated in 2000. In recent years, the disinformation assault on the media in Europe and the US is just as intense as it was at the height of the Cold War. And it seems to me that it’s been nightmarishly successful: We now have many Americans who think pulling out of NATO would be a good idea. It’s an idea very much like unilateral nuclear disarmament.
It’s taken a long time, but NATO’s beginning to realize just how vulnerable the alliance is to Russian efforts to undermine it through information warfare:
WOJCIECH JAKÓBIK: Is Russia increasing its information warfare activity against NATO?
PETER B. DORAN: We are witnessing the emergence of something new. Information warfare is creating a new kind of battle space. It is an emerging front similar to cyberwarfare. The bad news is that Russia has very sophisticated disinformation techniques; and they are winning.
How can you measure that?
It is now common to see the tropes of Russian disinformation and propaganda in the public discourse of the Western analytical community. That weakens the quality of the policy debate in the expert community. Often, experts do not even realise that they might be channeling an idea that originated from a node of Russian disinformation. Those ideas crop up in the strangest places.
I fully agree with Doran. (They’re cropping up, for example, in the Republican frontrunner’s ideas about foreign policy.)
Does Russia want us to focus on terrorist attacks and the migration wave?
The Russian government is very cynical when it talks about fighting terrorism. When this occurs, Russian officials are reading from an old playbook from the post-September 11th era. Recall that Russia was a partner with the United States in the war on terror back in the early 2000s. But that was a different time. That was before Russia invaded its neighbors and illegally annexed the territory of another European country. Moscow wants the West to focus on terrorism so that it can distract from the fact that Russia has stolen part of Ukraine’s territory. The West should not be distracted, nor forget.
Indeed. Terrorist attacks and the migration wave are serious things. This year, for the first time, Russia declined to attend the nuclear security summit. Russia effectively declared that it is no longer willing to cooperate with international efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear terrorism.
The EU has at long last set up a counter-disinformation unit. Its efforts are pretty pathetic compared to what Russia’s been doing, but it’s still worth having a look. If you read the weekly disinformation review, you’ll have a better sense of which stories making it into the US media come directly from the Kremlin.
I find it pretty painful to see how many do. I don’t know what can be done about it, but I’d like to hear the candidates asked how they’d approach the problem.Published in Foreign Policy, General
I’m good with NATO……the UN can get bent. If trump promised to withdraw from the UN, throw them out of the country, and turn their building into a giant Chik-Fil- A I would have to rethink my #NeverTrump stand. :)
I didn’t read you whole post Claire. It’s too long for the amount of time I have at the moment. But the anti NATO sentiment comes from the perception, rightly or wrongly, and I think rightly, that we pay an unfair amount of the bill. We are in essence spending on the military way more than the other countries per GDP, and so in effect protecting them on our nickel. Now the perception may exaggerate the unfairness, but I would find it hard to believe that it is a fair distribution of cost.
By the way, nonetheless I don’t have an anti NATO sentiment. Our additional cost makes us the leader, and so drives the train.
That’s a really interesting point that we purposefully set things up for European demilitarization. Of course rebuilding economically after the war would have been aided greatly by assured mutual defense instead of military buildup.
I think there is something to the idea that we have expanded NATO too much.
Manny (above) is correct on 1 of the 3 reasons the American people are rethinking our NATO agreements.
The other 2 are:
I (like our president) at times bristle at what I think is the free-riding, fecklessness of our NATO allies. The converse where Germany or Poland are rapidly militarizing in response to Russian aggression would be far scarier.
What are the alliances like in the Pacific? I know we are big with Japan and the So. Koreans. But China and the manmade So. China sea islands is a classic case of a growing power spoiling to flex its muscles. Presumably proportional retaliation will be the order of the day if shooting erupts and it looks more and more likely that it will.
Mixed interests. Yes it is true that NATO was mostly our idea, and that it is in our interests to keep Europe un-militarized, and we’re willing to fork up a lot of sacrifice to accomplish that.
But it’s also in Europe’s interests. And they’re a little obtuse about it. Remember a couple years ago when Bono sniffed that Europe was more mature about war and foreign relations than America? As if the reason why Europe didn’t fight wars anymore was because they had had “grown up” somehow … Completely oblivious to the fact that the reason why Europe stopped having wars was because we were defending them. Americans hear that sort of comment and wonder if the Europeans appreciate the cost.
Free-riders! It’s that simple.
We did not insist that most nations fail to meet their obligations.
We did not insist that these ungrateful scoundrels backstab us at the drop of a hat which was their SOP in the 70’s and 80’s.
Are you arguing that this was inherent and thus our fault? That is, once we pledged to defend Germany, all the other European countries could free-ride. What was the alternative? Instant rearming of Germany (with nukes) and pitting them against the other Europeans?
I was stationed in Europe when NATO was a necessary military alliance against an actual existential threat and it seems to me that its necessity has passed. We were an alliance of sovereign nations then. The existential threat arguably no longer exists. The sovereign nations have been subsumed into and have been reduced to geographic administrative districts of a federal European bureaucracy- solipsistic France has been reduced to the European equivalent of Arkansas. Will the European Union have the collective will to act, if required, in their own interest? I don’t think we, The US, have the same strategic military interests that we did during the Cold War, and the economic-material burden of continued membership is unbearable. We can use those assets to greater effect elsewhere. Just my opinion.
Edit addendum: mine is not the anti-NATO sentiment of a “Trump supporter”. I hate Trump.
I think Manny is correct in #2 and add that the lack of resolve or interest in maintaining their national sovereignty with an open door policy toward the faux refugee crisis.
We’ve expended great treasure to secure and stabilize Europe. It is hard to continue to justify doing so when it appears Europe has no interesting in continuing to do so.
I’ve heard #1 before, but don’t think it has much basis in reality.
Although NATO was conceived Euro centric many member nations have deployed, and lost, forces in support of the war on terror and the precursor wars/operations in southwest Asia.
Claire, This is an excellent article. To answer your question ‘why there may be anti-NATO sentiment’, is because there aren’t stories like this in the main stream media or even alternative media. The public either has little time to read the truth (when they can find it), or wastes time on meaningless tabloid junk which makes up half of Drudge, and most web news.
If they knew what was at stake, they would take the time. Maybe NATO needs a new marketing team! It’s value needs redefined, as you said, for a post-WWII generation.
You should teach history – thank you – I am forwarding this story.
Why can’t we be more like Europe, says the left. ‘Cause we ain’t got a sugar daddy like them. We ARE the sugar daddy.
After reading through the comments, I think there is a dangerous assumption that the threats have subsided, and Europe is not really at risk – I think its the opposite, and part of the redefining of NATO should include the new face of Europe – the refugee challenges, economic challenges. This is exactly what Russia wants – a relaxed, don’t worry – you have bigger issues now than to worry about Putin – he’s just getting warmed up.
I think most Americans are so woefully misinformed that UN=NATO.
Also, the US to Europe is like the Magnificent Seven to the peasants. They’ve turned on us.
Third, our threat is no longer from outsiders with guns and bombs. It is now from inside our own camp from an academy and press that are far more deadly than any human wave of armed teenage boys.
Then we need new leadership here in the states with a clear vision and understanding that a safe and secure Europe is a safe and secure US, and work towards that in light of the new threats – we’re going backwards. (although I think O just installed military in Poland recently, after they have been begging us to act?) Eastern Europe is uncomfortable with Russia’s moves to say the least.
I mentioned perception above. I think that perception may also be effected by the fact that the USA does other military actions around the world outside of NATO, and so we in our minds blur costs for other military actions – like Iraq – with the cost of NATO.
It is the proverbial safety net that turned into a hammock. Euros need to get more dynamic again, instead of relying on the US while at the same time sniffing at us for not being worldly enough.
Wow. I had no idea.
Oh. I had no idea because they never told anyone.
So NATO was really all about ever closer political union in Europe. Except, of course, it wasn’t. (Not to mention the obvious contradictions between “democratization” and “political integration”.)
While I continue to think being on the other side of an issue from Pat Buchanan is the right place to be, this article is worth reading.
Always hold to that conviction.
It turns out there are many ostensibly on the right who don’t really want to see things like social security and medicare spending cut. When pressed for what they would do about the debt, they name things like foreign aid, welfare abuse, and NATO spending. All of which add up to almost nothing.
The Russian disinformation campaign is actually very sophisticated. comment sections on news websites are filled with apologists for Putin when an article critical of Putin is published.
Talking points from Russian media sources are repeated by commenters. The Catholic Herald UK was not immune. When articles appeared discussing Patriarch Kirill’s history as a KGB agent comments were quick to come and some were identical to comments made by Russian mainstream media apologists.
It’s insanity-producing. We’ve got an autocratic gangster state bristling with nuclear weapons and hatred for us and a level of penetration of which the Soviets could have only dreamt.
I think you underestimate the penetration the Soviets had.
Nevertheless, in the spirit of reduced arm-flapping, what can the right-thinking people of the West demand of their institutions to compete with this?
Carter Page should not be anyone’s foreign policy advisor, for one thing. The counter-disinformation unit should be scaled up in a big way.
First of all any discussion of NATO members increasing their contribution should take place behind closed doors. If Trump’s comments lead Germany, France, or England to believe that if Trump is elected president and that the US is going to abandon Europe then they will seek an accommodation with Putin. An accommodation that will put the Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states at risk.
The media in Russia have already endorsed Trump. I’m somewhat surprised that the US is not training Polish pilots to fly the A-10. Putin has made threats to the president of the Ukraine in a telephone call that the Ukrainian government recorded. I’ll paraphrase the threat, Putin said that he could take the Ukraine and Poland any time he chose to. When Putin believes that day has come I’m afraid that he will act. It is not what we believe that matters, it’s what Putin believes that matters.
Wasn’t NATO basically about controlling the options available to Europe – no more mad nationalism, no more mad militarism (hence political and economic integration as a tool to that end)?
Wrt how it’s perceived in the US – has it been sold as an alliance between equals (which implies that the burden should be equally shared because the benefits are equally enjoyed) rather than an instrument which maintains American supremacy (which implies a greater benefit to America, along with a greater responsibility for the burden)?
But could he keep them?
Kiev and Warsaw would be harder to hold than Grozny, and that proved costly enough.
Iran, China, or Russia?
Ok. We didn’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ no babies–but “birth” it we did. SO?
If we created ‘modern Europe, then we parents have now taken stock- as all good parents should-and realized “our baby is all growed up.”
Hey, Europe: it’s time to move out of your parent’s basement with its free room and board and laundry service: get a life–a life on your own. We’d love to come visit. And help with the kids. That is–if you ever commit and have some of your own rather than having your borders flooded with other people’s kids.
The defense gap is very much important. Other NATO countries are spending 1/5th what the US spends on defense per citizen; and they are long past the rebuilding period from after the Second World War.
Furthermore, we shouldn’t be shy to change just for the sake that it worked in a radically different past. There is a difference between being conservative, and being submissive to the tyranny of the status quo.
The ideal of NATO is sound, but it simply isn’t reaching that ideal. Having a joint military alliance to protect the common defense needs of the western world is a good plan, but if the United States is the only contributor to that alliance, there isn’t even a point to having that alliance at all, just lease other nation’s military bases.