Secretary of Defense Gates, in a more-or-less final statement aimed at the European allies before he steps down, basically said that the end of NATO could be coming soon as the U.S. government gets sick and tired of European nations cherry picking what they do and do not choose to get involved with, even when their own national interests are at stake, especially when Europe is reducing its already minimal defense spending.
It has been the ongoing statement underlying foreign policy for years: the United States bailed out Europe in WWII (not an absolute truth, though arguments can be made), and throughout the Cold War, the United States stood like the lone warrior on the wall defending Western European democracies from the red menace (again, not completely true, but one wonders given what happened after WWII, what might have come to pass if not for a strong U.S. stance in Europe?)
The irony, for an anti-socialist nation like the U.S, is that their presence in Europe allowed Europe to take money from defense and spend it on the building up of the nanny states that exist to varying degrees today. Europe is somewhat resentful of having lived in the American shadow, though it is ironic: if the U.S. had pulled out of Europe completely after WWII, Western Europe would have almost certainly needed to divert vast sums of money for defense, and the modern socialist states would likely not have turned out as they had.
So, now we have a Europe that is unwilling to fight for practically anything no matter how right (Libya, Afghanistan) or wrong (Iraq). The U.S. has now put out a high level statement basically saying that they are sick and tired of footing the bill in terms of cash and lives lost. While the UK has jumped on board with the American statement, nations like Germany are hemming and hawing about it.
So what happens if NATO does go away?
Look for a new system that is basically NATO, sans the U.S. (a European collective defense organization). Look for that organization to be geared toward one purpose, at least at first: the repulsion of a Soviet invasion, which may or may not see increased likelihood in the next 25-50 years as resource depletion accelerates. The U.S, which has already begun removing military resources from Europe will see the problem of having lost strategic locations from which to act as jumping-off points, especially for activities in the Middle East.
But this leads to an even darker proposition: Europe’s overall economy is starting to darken, and may see even bigger problems looming between the choices of cutting off the nanny state money to their populace, or raising taxes even more, which undoubtedly will hurt the business/employment aspects of the continent … not to mention a need to increase defense spending with all of the American military gone, and more importantly America’s required presence if something bad happens.
What if something should come to pass that puts Europe and the U.S. at odds? Europe has nuclear weapons, but almost certainly no gumption to allow their use. Their militaries are well trained, but in many cases do not have any prolonged combat experience. The United States does not suffer from this, and has gained more and more experience in dealing with different enemies in different terrains.
While today this is nothing more than a tiff, what happens in the coming decades as resource depletion pushes the U.S. and Europe more and more into competition with each other, to the point where the militaries might be needed?
Would Europe turn to another big kid on the block to save them? Could we see a day when Russia is hired by the European community as their protector against the United States? How does China and North Korea react when a Russian military with European cash is suddenly on the border, instead of just the Russian military?
Strange things to contemplate, indeed?