For years under W, I understood the European desire to avoid American military adventures. We were openly contemptuous (‘Old Europe’) and simply ignored them (Iraq) when it was useful. I remember reading a paper by William Wohlforth once, where he noted how revolutionary it was that the Bush administration simply ignored the allies because the transaction costs of corralling them to do anything were higher than the benefits to be gained! And living here in SK, it is easy to see the benefits of those good alliances Obama and Biden want to restore. The ROKA is first class military, and if it weren’t for NK sitting right on top of it, I have the feeling it would be a more reliable allied military force than some of the European allied militaries.
So what is it with the European militaries and deployments anyway?
1. Sarkozy was supposed to bring France back to the game with the military reintegration. He certainly talks big, so where’s the beef? Sure, its nice that France is back in the military integration, but if they won’t go in the field, then what’s the point? It has one of the few power-projectable militaries in the alliance. And reintegration should not let NATO become ideological cover for French illusions of a semi-militarized loose Francophonie alliance [gang?] in Western Africa.
2. If reintegration is supposed to be the big story from the 60th anniversary this week, then the Europeans really are insular. None of the members in North America, Eastern Europe, or Turkey really gives a hoot about that. Nor do they much care for the greying symbolism of Franco-German enmity overcome. That’s nice, but at this point, continuing to celebrate it so really represents Western European navel-gazing and self-importance. If I were the new eastern members, I’d be pretty miffed at having to constantly genuflect at this relic, when the real action was on my doorstep. DeGaulle and Adenauer are almost 50 years past, the Wall has been gone 20 years now, and both Germany and France have aging, welfare-state-coddled populations hardly willing to engage in peacekeeping in the Balkans, much less attack each other. France and Germany are an old story now, one that is well-known and not that interesting anymore. Let’s get to what really matters – out-of-area operations, the Balkans, Russia, Afghanistan, the ME. Kagan really nails it when he notes how few NATO states actually meet their required defense spending minimums, and how parochial their publics are about hard power capabilities. I cringe at his assessment that Europeans are from ‘Venus,’ but Obama has removed the W excuse. If they don’t seriously burden-share sometime soon, the US can hardly be blamed for going around them.
3. At what point is the alliance just a sham if they can’t provide for a force that is even authorized under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty? That is crucial here. Iraq was our show, but after 9/11, NATO voted that an attack on a member had occurred. The Europeans are treaty-obligated to at least try to do something in Afghanistan.