This article I came across explores an interesting dynamic: no sooner has France declared an intent to rejoin the NATO military command after over 40 years on the outside, than some diplomats and observers seem to be signaling the possibility of Afghanistan being the death knell to NATO.
The article points out a few things: NATO was formed to defend Europe against Russia, in the absence of a continental power (Germany was going to be forcibly held down, and the French were …. well the French … demanding autonomy while no longer needing to keep up a massive military with the Americans on the ground). Now, Germany finally seems to have its act together, and seems to be taking the lead on the continent. Why need a US presence at all?
Second, the 9-11 attacks caused the invoking of Article 5 for the first time (often translated as “an attack on one is an attack on all”, thus Europe was forced to commit support to an American invasion of Afghanistan (the last nation to invade Afghanistan went bankrupt and dissolved into many parts). Given that this is not a European war, many in Europe are asking themselves what they are doing supporting George W. Bush’s other war.
I for one doubt that NATO will be ending anytime soon, if for nothing else:
1. The Cold War is over, but Russia is still there. Russia has been increasingly flexing its muscles on Europe’s borders. Even with a Germany unlikely to sink into dictatorship, and France back on its feet, you have to wonder how free from threat Europe really is. In the coming decades, as oil dries up, water becomes an issue, and (especially with the lack of oil), the ability to mass produce food becomes an issue, Russia may be tempted to take a crack at Europe (I mean, its either them or China, and Russia is not going to have a chance against China). The Europeans will want an American force in position and ready to go if needed.
2. Even if Russia only postures, the lack of an American presence on the continent will likely mean a need for European countries (read: European socialism) to start spending even more money on military spending. This is likely not what Europeans really want to do. If that doesn’t go over, a weakened Europe might tempt a more desperate future Russia into taking a risk.
In the end, Europe needs to remember that if they want their nice socialist nanny states, they will need them defended against a potential threat. With Africa to the south, Russia is the only problem in town. As long as Russia feels equally scared of going into Europe or China, things ill stay calm. America needs to stay.
On the flip side, Americans may need to be reminded that Europe may need saving one day … yes the same Europe were many protested American involvement in Afghanistan et. al, but also the same Europe where many didn’t. As often as Americans remind the French that the U.S. saved them twice in 100 years, the U.S. will need to be ready to stand by its commitment …. if and when the time comes.