Where Does the Anti-NATO Sentiment Come From?


Flag_of_NATO.svg_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.

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  1. Sabrdance Member


    Sabrdance: Americans would not stand for the type of control Sir Humphrey exercised over Minister Hacker

    we wouldn’t?

    No.  Some random undersecretary telling the President what to do?  Not here.  Or the legislature?  “Constituent Service” is a major thing our legislators do, which consists of calling up the bureaucracy and telling them what to do.  Nothing like that happens in Parliament so far as I understand.

    Compare the US Senate rules on this, to Canada’s.  Canadian MPs can make inquiries and raise awareness.  Senators can express judgments and call for reconsideration (in English, threaten there their budgets).

    We have problems with the bureaucracy, but those stem from our legislators having conflicting priorities and therefore giving the agencies a great deal of latitude.  In Europe, the bureaucracies make the law and ask the legislators to ratify it (by design -and under the supervision of the cabinet, but American legislators routinely tell the agencies and the President where to shove their legislative proposals).

    • #61
  2. genferei Member

    At last, Ricochet’s antipathy to Putin explained:

    Rupert Murdoch’s Ex-Wife Wendi Deng Is Dating Vladimir Putin

    (Yes, it’s that day again.)

    • #62
  3. Manny Coolidge

    genferei:At last, Ricochet’s antipathy to Putin explained:

    Rupert Murdoch’s Ex-Wife Wendi Deng Is Dating Vladimir Putin

    (Yes, it’s that day again.)

    LOL, truth is stranger than fiction.  A fiction writer coming up with that scenario would have been  laughed out of the office.

    • #63
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Claire, thank you so much for this enlightening post! I didn’t know about the three-pointed purpose of NATO, and it does put it in a different light. I don’t know how small the militaries actually are in Europe, but I get the impression they are very small. I wonder if expecting them to step up to the plate more than they have is reasonable. If nothing else, rather than building up their militaries, are they funding NATO in some way, not just buying or building armament? It just seems that they’d be more likely to feel they have a hand in the game.

    • #64
  5. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Member
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    Susan Quinn: I don’t know how small the militaries actually are in Europe, but I get the impression they are very small.

    Well, even this isn’t right. Obviously, the smaller countries such as Serbia and Latvia have smaller militaries. And there are many ways to measure military strength: men under arms? Skill at using those arms? Coastline? Attack aircraft? Defense budget? Nuclear weapons? But here’s Global Firepower’s world rankings of the top ten without nuclear taken account:

    0.1663 – United States of America (North America)


    0.1865 – Russia (Asia)


    0.2318 – China (Asia)


    0.2698 – India (Asia)


    0.2747 – United Kingdom (Europe)


    0.3069 – France (Europe)


    0.3098 – South Korea (Asia)


    0.3507 – Germany (Europe)


    0.3841 – Japan (Asia)


    0.4339 – Turkey (Asia; Middle East)

    If you add together the four NATO powers that aren’t the US — the UK, France, Germany, and Turkey — you get a military larger than the United States.’ And two of those countries (the UK and France) are independent nuclear states. Turkey hosts our nuclear weapons. (And our anti-missile systems, which we hope will work when Iran becomes a nuclear power.) If you scroll down that list to see where the other NATO countries rank, you’ll definitely see that NATO together is a vastly more formidable military than the US on its own.

    And recently, our NATO allies have started spending again — significantly. Budgets were cut as part of the post-2008 austerity regimes, but the Secretary General recently announced that NATO welcomed the end of this trend. Obviously, I don’t think they’re spending again to make us feel good; I think the defense situation has scared the living daylights out of everyone in Europe. But given the level of the economic crisis, I think they’re ramping up as quickly as they can without it being a defense liability in itself: The political instability caused by the Eurozone crisis makes it very hard for governments to maneuver, given that they’re constantly worried about being outflanked from the pro-Putin right — if they make one false move in France, for example, they could wind up with Marine Le Pen in power, whose idea of a solution to the Russian and economic challenge is to form an alliance with Russia and create French jobs by selling French aircraft carriers to Putin.

    So, no, I don’t think it’s true that our allies don’t pay their way, although I do think they were very hard-hit by the financial crisis, and I do think they can and will do more. But I don’t see how any advantage accrues to us from dissolving the alliance: It would mean we lose more than half of our collective firepower and all the arrangements we’ve made for coordinating it if ever it’s needed, forward basing, and cooperation on essential operations like combatting piracy, human trafficking, and so forth. It is just not in our interest. And when many Americans start lobbying for a policy that would make them weaker, militarily, compared to Russia, I find it quite amazing — and can’t help but wonder if they’re being gently encouraged by a concerted Russian disinformation campaign. Why else would the idea of unilateral disarmament sound so good to people?

    I wonder if expecting them to step up to the plate more than they have is reasonable. If nothing else, rather than building up their militaries, are they funding NATO in some way, not just buying or building armament? It just seems that they’d be more likely to feel they have a hand in the game

    • #65
  6. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Member
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    A few final thoughts. If you think the US would be better off without NATO, what would you replace it with? Bilateral treaties with all the member states? Is this an efficient way to coordinate on urgent national security issues such as terrorism? (Note how much it’s harmed Europe to have lousy internal coordination on intelligence-sharing: That led directly to the attack in Belgium.) What about cyber-attacks: Is it more efficient to have bilateral coordination with our allies? No arrangement? No allies? How much would we have to ramp up our own military spending to compensate for the loss of what our allies do? Or do you think we should no longer be a sea power and protect Atlantic trade routes at all?

    Should we cooperate with the NATO countries on matters such as securing nuclear materials to prevent nuclear terrorism, nuclear proliferation, biological weapons, chemical weapons, radiological weapons, defense research? Laser weapons, electronic warfare and space technology? Or compete with them? If we’re going to cooperate, why not use the structure we’ve used since the end of the Second World War, particularly since it was a success and is widely accepted as legitimate? Why reinvent the wheel and build new alliances from scratch? If we’re going to compete with them, how does this save us money or make us safer?

    Which parts of the NATO command seem to you unnecessary given the threats emerging from the Middle East and Russia? Would you try to renegotiate these military relationships, or would you say, “We don’t need these structures at all?” If the latter, why do you think there’s nothing happening in these parts of the world that could possibly affect the United States? Are you sure?

    If your goal is to convince our allies to increase their spending, what do you think the best negotiating strategy would be: to persuade them that the alliance is reliable and thus worth the investment, or to persuade them that the United States is one election away from hoisting the white flag and telling them, “You’re on your own?” What kind of leader is more likely to give our allies the courage to stand up to these threats — one who makes it clear the US isn’t going anywhere and sees the North Atlantic as a core security interest, or one who publicly says our allies are worthless freeloaders?

    • #66
  7. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Member
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    genferei: I think you underestimate the penetration the Soviets had.

    I don’t. We know from Venona that at its height, it was pretty much as bad as McCarthy said. But I don’t remember any candidate with a serious shot at the White House making it clear that he gets his news from Pravda. I don’t think Trump is getting all of his views from Moscow, but he’s clearly getting a lot of it from sources that are sympathetic to the Kremlin.

    The combination of a half-century of Kremlin propaganda directed at the American left followed by the new style of propaganda that’s directed at both the left and the right has had a cumulative and totally demoralizing effect. Add to that the (real) threats coming out of China and the Middle East, a public that growingly no longer believes that some things are objectively true and some aren’t, and that growingly doesn’t believe the West is worth defending. I’d say we’re in a worse position than we were during the Cold War, overall.

    I’m doing the only thing I can think to do: Pointing out that the Kremlin has an agenda, it isn’t ours, and that our news is saturated with Kremlin-sourced nonsense. Making more people aware of this is the only way to counter it. But a climate of hysteria and paranoia is not ideal, either. Ideally, we’d have citizens who understand that this is how the Kremlin operates and that it’s very good at doing this. It wouldn’t hurt if the president pointed this out. There will always be sympathisers and apologists for hostile regimes, but it’s a big problem when this is a mainstream view.

    • #67
  8. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Member
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    Douglas: I don’t know why you guys are that concerned about NATO anyway, as the Europe you know will be dead soon. Probably in 50-60 years or so, when West Eurostan demands the alliance defend the honor of the Prophet Mohammed against those apes and pigs in Israel, and the Emir of Deutschestan starts eyeing Christian lands in Poland with hungry eyes.

    This is exactly what Russia’s trying to persuade you. The Europe we know won’t be dead soon. Spend a bit of time reading Sputnik and RT, and you can see where this idea comes from. (And please remember: These are not reliable news sites. These are the propaganda organs of a state that considers us its enemy.)

    There are certainly reasons to be concerned about the radicalization of Europe’s Muslim minority, but the idea that Europe is on the verge of becoming part of the Caliphate is ridiculous.

    • #68
  9. Claire Berlinski, Ed. Member
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.

    Front Seat Cat:

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:

    genferei: 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.

    Why? His credentials are pretty impressive –

    He’s a Russian stooge. I know that phrase sounds quaint and anachronistic, but that’s exactly what he is. Read what he’s been writing: He has, for example, argued seriously that American objections to Russia invading a European country are best explained by America’s pathological racism and history of slavery:

    U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has stated, “I’d grown up fearing the lynch mobs of the Ku Klux Klan; as an adult I was starting to wonder if I’d been afraid of the wrong white people all along – where I was being pursued not by bigots in white robes, but by left-wing zealots draped in flowing sanctimony.” From U.S. policies toward Russia to Iran to China, sanctimonious expressions of moral superiority stand at the root of many problems seen worldwide today.

    He’s been mobbed up with Gazprom for years. This is someone who could never get a low-level security clearance, and is almost certainly a serial violator of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — and probably close to everyone targeted by the Magnitsky Act. The idea that he’s advising a candidate who’s running for president about our policy toward Russia is so incredible that if I wrote a novel about it, people would say the plot was too ridiculous to be believed.

    But he is.

    • #69
  10. Aelreth Member

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:Snip

    That analysis does not explain that the UK is unable to seize a decisive victory against Argentine forces like they were in Thatcher’s day.

    Sadly the  second-strongest of NATO can’t even defeat a power that had one of her warships Repo’d, without breaking a sweat, it’s not an equal partnership. When you take the negative language that comes from the culture (media, schools) in Europe into account,  it’s an abusive relationship.

    The EU has a higher population and a larger economy than the US, they should have equal or better military capabilities. Anything less is an unequal partnership.

    • #70
  11. Douglas Inactive

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.:There are certainly reasons to be concerned about the radicalization of Europe’s Muslim minority, but the idea that Europe is on the verge of becoming part of the Caliphate is ridiculous.

    Claire, I can read a statistics chart. I can see birthrate trends. Mark Steyn is right. The future belongs to those that show up. Islam is showing up in Europe. Europeans west of the old Warsaw Pact borders are not. If your native people are not breeding at a replacement rate, and foreigners are both breeding AND bringing in more of their own people, after awhile, it’s inevitable that they own the place.

    • #71
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: A few final thoughts. If you think the US would be better off without NATO, what would you replace it with?

    Just to be clear–I don’t support getting rid of NATO. I assume you included this information for others who do want to be rid of them.

    • #72
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