American foreign policy has been listless and often counterproductive since the end of the Cold War.
While President Trump found candidate Trump’s policies to be either be untenable or undesirable, his instincts are closer to the mark than many give him credit for.
This is not to say that treaty has been a failure or that the President should not take our position in Europe seriously. In fact quite the opposite. The president seems to naturally understand this as he has, if anything, strengthened the alliance. NATO remains a critical part of American grand strategy but only if it ceases the fruitless policy of expansion.
…peace is not permanent and aggressive power politics are inevitable.
It’s important to come back to some basics of foreign policy and national security. Any conservative view of international relations, rooted in classical conservative premises, must come to some grim conclusions: peace is not permanent and aggressive power politics are inevitable.
The United States has scarcely had the option to completely disengage with the world, a strategy that was disavowed from the founding. Instead American strategy aimed towards ensuring the Eurasian balance of power. To allow a single state to dominate the landmass would be to invite aggression in our own hemisphere one day.
Since the end of the Second World War, there have been only two powers that pose such a threat down the line: Russia and China. Maintaining a civil but strong stance towards China remains our biggest foreign policy challenge today. However, due to NATO’s successes, the Russian relationship can be approached with confidence, not fear.
NATO’s goal from the beginning accomplished this power balancing act in spades. Famously, it kept the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russians out.
Europe, wracked by no less than thirty conventional wars from 1800 to 1945, has been at relative peace for seventy years.
By tying Western Europe to the Anglo-American alliance, keeping Germany in the NATO orbit, and by imposing a massive cost on any potential Russian adventurism, it created huge disincentives for any Great Power conflict. It would be a historic mistake, akin to Fukuyama’s “end of history,” to assume that since the Cold War ended, that the strategic incentives to aggression disappeared. Thankfully, in the last few years commitment to NATO has increased, while the Russian military finds it difficult to keep up.
However, reckless expansion would undo all of this notable achievement.
There is simply no military, financial, or strategic reason to add vulnerable and weak states to NATO only to signal the worst intentions to Russia.
Overcommitment threatens NATO in two specific ways.
First, it pledges NATO support to states that remain difficult to defend. As always, logistics determines military success.
Our alliance’s expansion into the Baltics means that, while overall NATO possesses an immense quantitative military edge, Russia can deploy more resources locally to NATO’s weak spots in a more timely manner. In other words, thanks to adding Baltic states like Latvia, Russia can now get there “first with the most.”
Secondly, in return for adding irrelevant militaries like the Montenegrin armed forces, NATO risks needlessly inflaming Russian opinion.
While it is true that states inevitably seek to project power unless otherwise discouraged, it is also true that, if encircled and threatened enough, they will feel that they have no choice. What looks like a defensive addition to Washington may look like setting up the coup de grâce to Moscow. There is simply no military, financial, or strategic reason to add vulnerable and weak states to NATO only to signal the worst intentions to Russia.
NATO fortified both American homeland security and European peace for the better part of a century. This is more than considerable. However, the endless drive to enlargement jeopardizes the alliance by making it harder to defend while simultaneously provoking potential adversaries.
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