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The Conservative Case for NATO

Thursday, April 1, 1999

On April 23, 1999, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Washington Treaty, the heads of state of the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will gather in Washington to celebrate the creation of the Atlantic Alliance. Undoubtedly, these leaders will commend themselves for having built the most successful military alliance in history. They will look back with satisfaction on NATO’s central role in the containment and defeat of Soviet imperialism and its crucial contribution to the defense, reformation and ultimate reunification of Germany. They can point to NATO’s unique role in keeping the peace between Greece and Turkey over decades, in establishing the Partnership for Peace program, and in the "Open Door" for new democracies. They might also observe that NATO has served to help stave off American flirtations with isolationism and has acted as a magnet that continues to pull emerging democracies toward the West. Finally, there will be justifiable celebration of the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary as NATO allies, a watershed event that can only be regarded as a major step towards the achievement of the West’s historic objective of a Europe whole and free.

Ironically, however, while the allies will have no difficulty finding past achievements to toast, they will doubtless find themselves discordant on the key question now facing NATO — the ambitious task of agreeing on a revised "strategic concept" for the alliance. Recently, the NATO members have bickered openly about the future mission of the alliance, and some have even gone so far as to wonder whether NATO deserves to live on.

Rarely in world history has such a successful military and political alliance been so lacking in self-confidence and so uncertain about political support among its constituent members. NATO’s identity crisis is particularly perplexing for those who are generally optimistic that what has worked in the past will work in the future and are accordingly reluctant to tear down institutions of proven value to make way for new world orders — that is, for those who take a conservative view of foreign policy. Why this debate? Why now?

The historical context

The problem of the "New NATO," as every writer on the subject reminds us, began with the disappearance of the Soviet threat in 1989. This wholesale change in the geopolitical landscape fundamentally altered the West’s security. In the United States, standing military forces and the defense industrial base were dramatically downsized. U.S. strategic forces were reoriented, and the National Laboratory system, which had been built to sustain the U.S. nuclear deterrent, was cut back and assigned other missions. Multilateral institutions, too, such as the U.N. and the IMF, have become objects of significant criticism. They also have been forced to face reform and overhaul.

The construction of a "New NATO" is therefore but one of the many transformations of previously reliable Euro-Atlantic institutions since 1989. Nor is change of this sort without precedent in the context of military strategy. The history of American foreign policy in the inter-war periods of the 20th century offers guidance on how to adapt our alliances to new strategic circumstances. To understand where the alliance is going as it redefines itself, it is useful to look at its historical antecedents.

From 1919 to 1939, the United States made decisions to withdraw from "European entanglements," to limit our participation in multi-lateral alliances, and, if not to rely upon, at least to benefit from a vague association of collective security. Americans have tended to draw from the negative experience of the 1930s an appropriate prejudice against isolationism and three general lessons, which should today inform our vision of the future of NATO. First, the withdrawal of the United States from Europe is a geostrategic mistake of the first order. Second, alliances and ad hoc coalitions of the liked-minded and the willing, within the constraints imposed by American exceptionalism, are on balance prudent. Third, collective security mechanisms, however well intended, have proven to be insufficient in themselves to the challenge of protecting the United States from threats to our interests and values; collective security can be a valuable supplement to, but never a substitute for, American vigilance.

Lessons learned from the second inter-war period, separating the end of World War II from the advent of the Cold War, tell us that the political process can recast existing alliances to meet new security requirements. In the famous "15 weeks" in 1949, Truman and Acheson reshaped Roosevelt’s wartime alliance to serve the new purposes of containing the expansion of Soviet power and, in the process, of consolidating the victory of the Atlantic Alliance at the political level.

The foreign policy architects of NATO finished their work on the design of the new alliance in the spring of 1949. But the foundation of NATO was not really solidified until the beginning of the first Eisenhower administration in 1953. It was during this period that the U.S. forged the necessary political resolve to support the alliance. The Great Debate of 1950 between the Truman administration and its congressional critics settled the critical question of maintaining U.S. troops in Europe.

As it happened, the first military challenge to NATO did not directly involve the alliance. Instead, an ad hoc coalition headed by the United States mounted a defense of South Korea. Even though the United States had interests in Asia far greater than those of our NATO allies, in Korea, the Cold War threat was validated and with it NATO. Leaders rallied public and congressional support for the resources NATO would require on a different continent. In short, what may come to be called the first NATO alliance did not reach its geopolitical maturity until after the United States had both weathered a bruising but consensus-forming debate between the executive branch and Congress and proved it could fight with its strategic concept at long range without losing European allies.

It is useful to examine NATO’s current identity crisis with one foot in 1931 and with the other in 1951. We are adapting NATO at a time in history when the threats to American national security are distant and, when seen in isolation, seemingly historically insignificant. But when viewed across the entire horizon, today’s threats could prove troubling and warn of far more serious dangers to come. We are also adapting NATO at a time when the domestic constituency for this engagement is far from secure. We cannot point to a recent case where, in concert with our European allies, we have mounted a demonstrably successful military defense of our values and interests. The path from Mogadishu to Pristina to Baghdad has led from defeat to equivocation to incipient divisions with our continental European allies. The problematic performance of the U.N., OSCE, and other ad hoc coalitions has affected the dynamics of the recent debate on the expansion of NATO and endows the coming debate on its mission and purpose with heightened significance.

The first NATO debate: expansion

In April 30, 1998, the U.S. Senate voted to ratify the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary as NATO allies, bringing 60 million people in Central Europe into the core Euro-Atlantic security structure in the first major adaptation of NATO in the post-Cold War period. The Senate vote brought to a conclusive end what had been over five years of continuous debate on the size and constituency of the NATO alliance.

There was a remarkable lack of volatility in Senate debate and voting patterns on NATO, particularly from 1996 to the ratification vote in 1998. This fact alone demonstrates that the debate on the first post-Cold War expansion of the Atlantic Alliance did not become the millennial referendum on America’s engagement with Europe that expansion opponents had hoped it would be and for which expansion advocates had prepared. Instead, the first debate was much narrower, centered on such issues as which European countries share the values of the Atlantic Alliance and, to a lesser extent, on what is meant by "Europe" — as in "a Europe, whole and free." Clearly, the debate did establish that the United States would remain in Europe and that NATO would continue to exist and begin to change to reflect new strategic circumstances. The debate also resolved another basic issue: that concern about Russia’s future would not override NATO’s future alteration or U.S. security interests in Central Europe. The result in strategic terms was an incremental adaptation of the constituency of alliance membership, not a radical expansion, as critics alleged.

The semantics of the debate itself tended to be largely retrospective. A discussion of values pervaded the content of the debate, but a dissection of the grand strategy of the West was absent from center stage. Even the campaign slogan of expansion proponents — "NATO is the military expression of a community of shared values" — was retrospective, once again an indication that an argument over the rationale for NATO’s continued existence was not a centerpiece of these debates. Even modest technical issues related to strategy, such as the cost of expansion and what were later called "minimum military requirements," were peripheral. To understand why this was so, and how this debate came to influence the larger one on NATO’s new strategic concept, requires a brief review of the two major arguments against NATO expansion.

The liberal opposition

When George Will wrote that there is no meaningful argument outside of conservative thought, he might have had the liberal-left opposition to NATO expansion in mind. This opposition held (in apparent contradiction) that (a) NATO is unnecessary because profound structural change has occurred in the affairs of nations, and (b) NATO’s adaptation will antagonize the Russians and may precipitate nuclear war, which is the only legitimate concern of U.S. policy. To such critics, NATO had become unnecessary either because perpetual peace has broken out in Europe, or because one misstep with an unstable Russia could lead to Armageddon. In the event, neither of these contradictory rationales proved correct. Given the aggression of Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia, the proposition of perpetual European peace appears dubious, and with the signing of the NATO-Russia Founding Act in March 1997, the case for intractable Russian opposition to NATO expansion collapses.

The larger liberal-left case against NATO turns out to rest on a weighty assumption, namely, that it is possible to determine with certainty the future of relations between states based on an examination of global economic forces or through a greater sensitivity to the anthropomorphic motives of great powers. This claim to certain knowledge of the future is hubristic, especially as conservatives see it. We cannot know what the future will hold. It is therefore wiser and more prudent to proceed cautiously in affairs that may affect our national security. Hence, the incremental adaptation of NATO.

The poverty of the liberal-left criticism explains why the 1998 debate on NATO expansion did not attempt to settle the question of expansion’s limits, if any. Instead, it was confined narrowly to the accession of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, and the general question of an "Open Door" for subsequent candidates. The center of the American political spectrum doubted the liberal-left claim that the future of the international system (or even the fate of Russia) was foreseeable, and instead chose the cautious approach of an incremental adjustment to the security posture of the West.

An essentially conservative U.S. Senate decided for prudential reasons that America would be better off with Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary as allies than not. It also saw no reason that Slovenia, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, and even Slovakia might not become members of NATO, at least in principle. But for want of a larger strategic vision for NATO, the Senate chose to leave further expansion to some later date.

The second NATO debate: origins

If the liberal-left argument against NATO enlargement never amounted to much, the same cannot be said of the argument against expansion coming from the right. Indeed the current identity crisis of the alliance has its origins in the conservative critique.

Conservative doubts about the acceptance of new NATO members began to mature late in the Senate ratification debate. These doubts, however, were not focused on the question of expansion per se nor even on the qualifications of the candidate countries themselves. By and large, the issue of concern to conservative and predominantly Republican senators was: How can the continued military effectiveness of NATO be assured in the event of the inclusion of Central European democracies?

In fairness, prior to the formal ratification debate, some conservatives did question the rationale for NATO’s continued existence. This dissent, which owes its intellectual origins to such famous Republicans as Sen. William Borah, holds that the United States can best preserve its power by limiting its alliance commitments and by avoiding antagonizing America’s enemies. Like their liberal counterparts, whose argument theirs closely resembles, these conservative libertarians would have preferred to abolish NATO after the Cold War. Lacking the moxie to argue for dismantling NATO, they instead created arguments for the potentially achievable goal of blocking expansion. Because their arguments ill served this narrower objective, their views were not influential within the Senate.

The serious political debate on NATO’s future purpose began with the reservations expressed by Senate critics of expansion in late 1997 and early 1998. While each senator expressed his concerns somewhat differently, each was predominantly concerned that overzealous expansion or enervating missions would dilute NATO’s effectiveness. Sen. John Warner worried about the military weakness and readiness of the new allies and a further fractioning of alliance decision making. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was concerned that an exposure to ethnic conflicts might distract NATO from the core mission of collective self-defense spelled out in Article V. Sens. Bob Smith and Don Nickles were concerned that a larger NATO might amount to an under-resourced and therefore vulnerable NATO. Finally, both Sens. Jon Kyl and John Ashcroft looked beyond the dilution arguments over decision making and resources to the potential danger that NATO could lose itself in a proliferation of missions, such as poorly-defined peace-keeping operations, or promiscuous out-of-area expeditions.

In the ratification vote of April 1998, the Senate ended the first debate on the adaptation of NATO in favor of an immediate round of expansion and maintaining a viable option for subsequent rounds. In passing the Kyl Amendment, which outlined a view of a new strategic concept, and in tabling the Ashcroft Amendment, which would have effectively limited the scope of alliance missions, the Senate strongly suggested that it was deferring debate on NATO’s future — but that another debate was to come.

That second debate, on NATO’s purpose, is now under way. It takes up the fundamental question of whether there remains a sufficient mutuality of interest across the Atlantic to make the NATO alliance viable for a second fifty years.

To the Washington summit

Within weeks of the ratification vote, the Clinton administration recognized that the single, well-articulated debate on the accession of three Central European countries to NATO had split into four imprecisely framed issues, each of whose resolution affected the resolution of the others, all of which were potentially troublesome, and a failure on any of which might disrupt the Washington summit at the expense of the long-term prospects for the alliance.

The first two, arising out of the first debate on NATO enlargement, concerned military integration and the "Open Door." The summit would need to demonstrate that the first round of accession has been a success in terms of military effectiveness and integration and that NATO retains the political willingness to work with other aspirants along a road map toward eventual (but nevertheless comparatively near-term) accession. The "Open Door" problem, concerning a second round of NATO expansion — whether one would take place, and if so when and including whom — was at first widely thought likely to be the most contentious issue facing NATO at its fiftieth anniversary.

This has not proved to be the case. Instead, the difficult issues in the workup to the summit have been a product of the nascent second debate on NATO. This time, the debate does go to fundamental issues: proof of comity at the core of the Atlantic Alliance between the United States, England, Germany, and France; and agreement on NATO’s strategic concept in which that common purpose is specifically expressed. Disturbingly, the muffled debate on the purposes of NATO, which had been touched on and ignored, now seems to be emerging sotto voce as a contrapuntal theme in every issue to be addressed at the NATO summit: Are Europe and the United States drifting apart?

The extremely touchy elements of this debate include such issues as burden-sharing, that is, the relative weight of the costs of NATO borne by the United States and its allies; what alliance members think of Russia, the successor state to our common Cold War enemy; the circumstances under which U.S. troops will deploy outside the area of NATO; and the question of leadership within the alliance.

At the Sintra ministerial and again at the Madrid summit, the Europeans, particularly the French, objected to what some viewed as American high-handedness in limiting NATO accession candidates (which followed hard on the heels of America’s appropriately brusque dismissal of the French claim to NATO’s AFSOUTH Command as the price for returning to NATO’s military structure.) By the fall of 1998, European complaints had matured into a broad case against "American hegemony." During the Kosovo crisis of October 1998, the French loudly questioned whether NATO had the legal right to conduct operations in the absence of specific U.N. authorization. The new coalition government in Germany found fault with the nuclear policy of the alliance and, presumably, with the strategic nuclear policy of the United States. And no European ally, with the notable exception of Britain, showed the slightest interest in joining the United States in pressing military action against Saddam Hussein in Operation Desert Fox.

Some prophets of NATO decline saw the broad skepticism among the European allies that greeted Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s presentation of the rationale for NATO’s new strategic concept in December 1998 at the NATO ministerial meeting as evidence of "deep structural forces" dividing the interests of the United States and Europe. The structural argument advanced by such NATO "declinists" as Stephen Walt, writing in the National Interest, has three major tenets: (1) the absence of the Soviet threat and the improbability of an alternative hegemonic threat have deprived NATO of the cohesion that held it together in the past; (2) U.S. economic and security interests are shifting inexorably away from Europe and towards Asia; and (3) generational change is causing the cultural values of the civilizations of Europe and America to diverge.

This argument suffers from a number of serious flaws. For example, it ignores the strategic reasons America is in NATO in the first place; and it fails to explain why these Euro-Atlantic bickerings are occurring at this point in time and not, say, when there are more security challenges in Asia. But it does amount to a conservative case against NATO, and that, in turn, is the most serious argument that has been offered to date against the alliance. It calls for a response: the conservative case for NATO.

For a ‘New NATO’

There are five broad planks in the conservative case for preserving an American-led NATO and adapting its capabilities to the specific circumstances of the early 21st century.

NATO is at the center of all U.S. military strategies. Critics have read far too much into the current absence of a serious rival to U.S. interests on the world stage. This happy circumstance will surely change. If, for example, a threat were to emerge from a resurgent Russia (and given the events of the past six months in Russia, that is at least conceivable), there would not be time in which to reconstitute a NATO-like alliance on the front line.

In the event of concerted aggression by militant Islamic states, perhaps in possession of weapons of mass destruction, NATO will protect our flank and secure our supply lines. And, finally, if the security interests of the West are drawn to the containment of Chinese expansion, NATO will guard the strategic rear of the alliance and make the forward deployment of U.S. forces possible. In all cases, NATO is the common denominator in the grand strategy of the West. The imperative of consolidating the center is axiomatic in military strategy, and NATO stands at the center of our alliance structure.

If the centrality of NATO were not enough, there is also the appeal of the plasticity of the alliance, particularly our ability to refocus its strategic concept. Conservatives, especially, who have a proud tradition as realists, must conclude that the new threats to transatlantic security come from out-of-area, and that NATO can be adapted to counter these threats to our interests.

NATO reflects the American way of war. Politically untidy though they may be, our arrangements with Europe reflect a national consensus on the part of Americans that we intend to prosecute our objectives in war not unilaterally but in coalition with our allies. Having made this decision, mechanisms like NATO become a fact of life. In order to fight effectively as a coalition, an alliance has to plan and train together as well as exchange views on the concept of joint operations. Without the mechanisms of coordination developed within NATO, the success of ad hoc coalitions, like Desert Storm, would be doubtful.

Obviously, there is concern about the inevitable compromises that keep coalition partners in the fold and that may impinge to some degree on U.S. sovereignty. But conservatives should recognize that these modest measures are necessary in the conduct of foreign affairs. Moreover, conservatives, in particular, should tend to favor coalition mechanisms because they limit the potential overseas ambitions of governments — even our own — and they provide the means to share the financial burdens of defense with our European allies.

NATO remains "the military expression of a community of shared values." It is often said that NATO is more than just a military alliance; it has served as the political foundation on which Europe has been rebuilt over the past 50 years. NATO played and still plays a decisive role in consolidating the victory of the West in the Cold War. It is also the only institution that appears capable of countering the crimes against humanity being committed in the Balkans.

It is not unreasonable to foresee that NATO as a political vehicle will continue to broaden the Euro-Atlantic community to include democracies as distant as Estonia or Finland in Northern Europe and Romania and Bulgaria in Southeast Europe. Over time, non-NATO allies of the United States in our hemisphere, such as Argentina and Chile, may seek a closer political relationship with NATO. In the future, and in the context of new missions, NATO might also institutionalize coordination with Israel, which maintains an historical relationship with the United States and has recently concluded a strategic arrangement with Turkey, NATO’s easternmost member. It would not be unreasonable to suggest that a reformed alliance focused on a new set of missions might welcome a more formal relationship with a country that shares our values and could contribute materially to the security and strategic depth of the Euro-Atlantic region. Regardless of how NATO’s political role is manifested in the next decade, conservatives will tend to support institutions of invested values dedicated to their protection. It should not come as a surprise to conservatives that Judeo-Christian values over the past millennium and democratic ideals over the past 350 years have required protection by force of arms. For the past 50 years, NATO has provided that protection with a very light hand.

NATO’s mission in Europe is unfinished. Even if one concedes that America’s interests will eventually diverge from those of our European allies, it is still far too soon for the United States to disengage from Europe. The most obvious reason for this is that the Europeans do not want us to leave in the foreseeable future.

We have seen a number of instances in which other institutions have been unable to cope with serious European problems. NATO’s effectiveness compares favorably to the performance of UNPROFOR at Sebrenica and throughout Bosnia. And with the failure of the October 1998 Kosovo agreement — which called for peace monitors from the OSCE — Europeans and Americans agreed that only a NATO mission could keep the peace. While critics have argued that U.S. vital interests are not at stake in Bosnia or Kosovo, the persistent pattern of political and military failure at the periphery of our power (by coalitions other than NATO) should produce renewed respect for NATO’s singular role in protecting the Atlantic democracies.

The European experiment for which NATO is the predicate is incomplete, and it would be foolish in the extreme to disassemble the security structure that has made modern Europe possible. A unified Germany is only seven years old and much remains to be decided about its direction, its purpose, and how it intends to manage its preponderant power in Europe. A European currency is a few months old, and the political affects of partial monetary union are as yet unknown. While 60 million souls in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are now formally NATO allies, the integration of these countries into NATO’s military structure and the achievement of full interoperability are at least a decade in the future. Moreover, there are another 50 million people in Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria who hope to come into Europe from the cold and who aspire to join the economic and security institutions of the Euro-Atlantic.

Finally, and most important, there is a war of aggression and genocide in the Balkans where NATO forces are engaged. To paraphrase Lady Thatcher, now is not the time to go wobbly on NATO.

If it is the end of NATO, it is the end of a lot more than NATO. Advocates of NATO expansion, and proponents of NATO in general, often ask critics to imagine the past fifty years without the alliance. Critics who argue that NATO is unnecessary must also maintain that U.S. security is defensible in the future without what has come to be regarded as the West’s insurance policy. A world without NATO would be a world with a radically changed political order — one about which we know little, and what we can imagine is troubling.

We can imagine that the United States would be without an immediate brake on Russian imperial recidivism. We would be unable to moderate and guide the rise of German power. We would lack incentives to keep Turkey engaged in Europe. The reinforcement and defense of Israel in extremis would be vastly more difficult. The boundary lines within which we now contain rogue states and pursue the containment of weapons of mass destruction would have to be abandoned and moved thousands of miles closer to the territory of the United States. The defense of the Gulf States would be problematic at best. And a credible Pacific security policy would be heavily burdened by the requirement to maintain major forces in an unsettled Atlantic region. At a minimum, the disestablishment of NATO would require military expenditures at near wartime levels.

A conservative view — and I believe the correct view — is that the current international system in which NATO serves as cornerstone has been remarkably friendly to U.S. interests and has not imposed particularly onerous financial burdens on our economy. Overturning the conditions that brought about such a relatively felicitous state of affairs risks exposing the United States and our remaining allies to a much harsher international environment, one that may make far greater demands of American blood and treasure.

In the light of these strategic and prudential considerations and the comparatively light economic demands the alliance imposes, why does the burden of NATO chafe so on the French and other Europeans? Why would influential Americans, such as Sen. Hutchison, begin to toy with the idea of leaving European security to the Europeans while the United States responds to out-of-area missions unilaterally? It is unusual, to say the least, for great nations and long-time allies to pursue a path that is so clearly contrary to their long-term interests and that does away with an institution they have taken 50 years to construct.

The explanation lies in the exceptional alignment of political weakness among the major powers of the alliance. As the editors of the Economist observed recently, "It is a lonely conservative soul who peers around the horizon of European politics these days." Notwithstanding the presence of President Chirac, the Jospin government is further to the left than any French government in recent history. The election of a Red/Green coalition in Germany is without precedent. The addition of a post-Communist government in Italy moves the ratio of left-of-center governments to center or conservative governments in NATO to a remarkable 15-4. (Spain, Poland, Hungary and, arguably, the United States are what remain of the center-right leadership that 15 years ago included President Reagan, Prime Minister Thatcher, and Chancellor Kohl.) And never in 138 years has the United States been led by an impeached president who faced possible removal by the same legislative body charged with ratifying the actions of the president in foreign affairs. The conclusion is inescapable: This is a very dangerous time to attempt the wholesale restructuring of our security system.

"Monty Python’s Flying Circus" reminds us that no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. That is, history is not immune to accidents. The danger now is that the accidental, but temporary, weakness in the alliance and the disorienting effects of this weakness on public opinion may produce the conditions in which a truly grand mistake could be made. Contrary to the suggestions of the critics, it will not be the Europeans who decide that their interests lie elsewhere and withdraw from NATO. If anyone, it will be the Americans, who in response to what is little more than European posturing, might make the tragic mistake of disengaging from Europe. For better or worse, Europe cannot disengage from itself.

Coping with political weakness

As Lampedusa wrote of Italy, "If we want things to remain as they are, things will have to change." This is the challenge for NATO and for those who believe that the alliance should remain the cornerstone of stability in the vital Euro-Atlantic region and continue to be an appropriate expression of and vehicle for American leadership in world affairs.

If the experience of the 20th century is any guide to the problems of the next, one would expect that this generation of American leaders will find a less than perfect arrangement of burden-sharing with the Europeans and discover new terms of art to paper over our differences. We will probably agree to disagree on the role of the state, the source of legitimacy in international law, and the purpose of American power. Since Gen. Eisenhower found a way to placate Gen. de Gaulle in North Africa, each generation in Washington has found a way through the thicket of cultural and ideological differences with Europe. While the correlation between the economic and military power of Europe and America is always shifting, there is no overwhelming reason why Americans cannot come to an accommodation with the Europeans on the direction and management of our military coalition.

Similarly, the aspirations set in motion by the Treaty of Rome for an independent European foreign policy and autarkic military power have always in the past been arrested by the Europeans’ own finely honed sense of geopolitical realism. At the end of the day — and often only at the end of the day — even the most virulent French chauvinist tends to reach the pragmatic conclusion that without a permanent alliance with American power, Europe risks huge expense and courts possible destruction. All things being equal, the coming debate on the mission and purposes of the alliance should end where previous fundamental debates over the past 50 years have ended — imperfectly, but with a working agreement on our common purposes.

Still, one wonders why the United States precipitated a debate on our strategic concept and out-of-area missions at a time of maximum political weakness in Washington and political incoherence throughout Europe. In the light of an indifferent military performance in the Balkans, failures of political resolve there and elsewhere, and the enervation of military strength throughout the alliance, one wonders if NATO would not have been better served by following Napoleon’s counsel that military forces should learn their strategic direction by marching. One also wonders what the judgment of history will be if, in this period of political weakness and uncertainty, America lets the greatest military alliance ever assembled slip away.

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