VETO NATO? The Future of NATO

Tuesday, January 12, 1999

In the past decade we have witnessed the end of the cold war and the demise of the Soviet Union. Should NATO be the next to go? Peter Duignan, Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, and Melvyn Krauss, William L. Clayton Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution ask what are NATO's new missions, and what justifies America's continued involvement in them?

Recorded on Tuesday, January 12, 1999

ROBINSON Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. Our show today, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. This spring NATO will celebrate one of those big birthdays that ends in a zero, turning 50. It will do so in a world and in particular in a Western Europe, cake number one, that is safe and prosperous. Very different from the world into which NATO was born. Back then in 1949, the Soviet Union, cake number two, posed a threat with tanks and troops massed throughout Eastern Europe while the Western European democracies, still recovering from WWII lacked the resources to defend themselves. Enter the United States. Contributing money and manpower, the United States, cake number three, offset the Soviet threat, joining the Western European democracies in a military alliance that became NATO. The result, 50 years of peace in Europe. Which brings us back to today when the Soviet Union no longer even exists raising the question, what is NATO for anymore? With us today, two guests- Mel Krauss, a fellow at the Hoover Institution believes NATO serves no real purpose except that of letting the Western Europeans charge American taxpayers for Western European defense. Our second guest, Peter Duignan, also a fellow at the Hoover Institution, disagrees, and as you'll see disagrees heatedly. He contends that NATO remains essential to the defense of Europe and to serving American interests. The question on our show today comes down to this- as it turns 50, does NATO still serve any American interest or are the Europeans just trying to have their cake and eat it too?


The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance was formed half a century ago as a direct response to the Soviet threat. Today, the Soviet Union no longer even exists. Peter, shouldn't NATO simply disband?

DUIGNAN No. No it should not disband, it should enlarge. NATO was not formed just to stop the Russian threat. NATO had three reasons for being. It was first to keep the Germans down and that was the first reason, the primary reason. Second reason was to keep the Russians out. And the third reason was to keep the U.S. engaged in Europe because twice the fratricidal Europeans had drawn us into bloody wars.

ROBINSON Should NATO just disband?

KRAUSS I think that NATO should disband. NATO reminds me of the old Piron Delaut play, "Six Characters in Search of an Author". Well this is 12 countries or so in search of a purpose. I think that the purpose of NATO is there clearly is no purpose. The Soviet Union is disbanded and I don't think that Germany has to be kept down.

ROBINSON OK, so let me ask you this- cast your mind back. It's 1949 the year in which NATO was founded, Germany still wreckage after the second World War, powerful communist parties in in Italy and France. The Soviet Union has two troops and tanks massed throughout Eastern Europe, and the Soviets are even making a play, putting pressure on Western Europe's southern flank by funding insurgence in Greece. What I'm asking you is was NATO ever any good?

KRAUSS Oh yes I think that NATO had a purpose. I think that there was a problem of making the rest of Europe feel secure vis-a-vis Germany and also vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. So I think that NATO...

ROBINSON So it was good in 1949.

KRAUSS Certainly good in ‘49. It seems to be good in about the early sixties. Well and the reason is [ROBINSON What happened?] well what happened was that basically Europe recovered economically, our troops were no longer needed in Europe and....

ROBINSON On account of the Europeans were strong enough and rich enough to fuel armies of their own..

KRAUSS Exactly. Exactly.

ROBINSON So why shouldn't the Europeans beginning in the 1960s once they recovered, take care of their own interests themselves?

DUIGNAN Well they did if you look at the statistics. They had 95% of the troops, they had 90% of the tanks, they had 87% of the artillery, and they had 70% of the navy. I don't know where you get the point that they weren't pulling their weight. They had an enormous force and they had, the Germans had an enormous army, a 500,000 facing, you forget, Germany with one million Russian troops there and in the sixties the Russians hadn't gone away, they had gotten co-equal in terms of nuclear arms. They had 4 million troops we had 2 million. They had vastly more tanks and artillery, they were still a threat.

ROBINSON The Europeans were pulling their own weight.

KRAUSS I think that the evidence shows that the Europeans were spending something on this defense but not nearly what they should've. The question of burden sharing in the Atlantic Alliance and NATO has been a hot topic. If you listen to Peter you would think that burden sharing is not an issue. But burden sharing is a tremendous issue..[DUIGNAN Burden sharing was important...] Well this is the question, burden sharing is the that they are bearing a very small burden of the total, very small proportion of the total burden of defending the West.

DUIGNAN But why were they doing that?

KRAUSS Well because we were willing to let them get away with it.

DUIGNAN You forget we had a worldwide policy of containment. We had armies in Japan in Korea. We had a Japanese-U.S. treaty, we had the NATO alliance for the Western European strategy...we had worldwide commitments. The Europeans had no interest in Japan or the Pacific. They were bearing a reasonable share of their expenses...we were concerned with containment- we had SETO, we had NATO, we had ASEAN, we had the U. S.-Japanese....

ROBINSON OK So he is saying A, the Europeans were pulling their weight in Europe, B...

DUIGNAN He's right there was some free riding, that's a very famous chapter in his book. There was some free riding but my contentions are that the U.S. had containment..

ROBINSON They were pulling enough of their weight [DUIGNAN Yes] And B, we had troops that NATO served our interests.

DUIGNAN Exactly.

ROBINSON Containment was our policy, we wanted to preserve Western Europe free from Soviet influence. So...our interests...

KRAUSS We have to be clear...Containment was a legitimate goal of U.S. foreign policy. I was never against containment the question is: who is going to do the containing? We did too much containing, they did too much free know it's the old joke...

ROBINSON So Western Europe has been getting a free ride on Uncle Sam's back. According to Mel this has had some unintended consequences.


ROBINSON You argue that NATO in one way or another contributed to the rise of the welfare state in Western European countries...How come?

KRAUSS There's no doubt..The reason for that is that because they didn't have to spend on their own defense we spent on ...Our defense spenders defended them, so to speak. So when they grew and they had economic growth they could take the growth dividend and apply it to their welfare state. So one of the major implications, major implications of NATO that the national security people never talk about by the way, is the growth of the European welfare state.

DUIGNAN He's perfectly right...

ROBINSON We turned Europe into a socialist enterprise.

DUIGNAN Yes but NATO was not necessarily the primary cause. The Marshall Plan, the money given to the Marshall Plan, created nationalized industries, no budget control, created....

ROBINSON But the Marshall was what only a few years wasn't it?

DUIGNAN Four years, but the point is...

KRAUSS That's small potatoes compared to NATO in terms of expenditures.

DUIGNAN No problem there.. But the point is that the welfare state was in place before NATO was formed.

KRAUSS But it was small. I mean what happened is that they grew the welfare state because of our defense expenditures. It's our taxpayers have financed European welfare expenditures.

ROBINSON So wait a minute, the Soviet Union kept bailing out Fidel Castro in Cuba and it's the United States that was paying for the national health service in Britain.

KRAUSS You got it...

ROBINSON It's sort of what you're saying...

KRAUSS It's not only sort of what I'm saying, that's exactly what I'm saying.

ROBINSON OK, now look....[DUIGNAN No no no no] Go ahead, go ahead...

DUIGNAN The French spent 10% of their GNP, they spent more than we did on their national defense. The English had 8%...our soldiers were much more expensive the European soldiers were much less expensive. They had 90-95% of the troops in Europe. We had the air force, we had some of the tanks, but basically the Europeans were paying what we're now paying roughly in terms of GNP percentage.

KRAUSS Peter was right. These people are not people who spent nothing on their defense and nobody would argue that but the point is, if we weren't defending them against the Soviet threat if we had pulled our troops out as Dwight D. Eisenhower had advocated..[ROBINSON When did Eisenhower ever do that?] Dwight Eisenhower advocated that the U.S. pull its troops out of Europe in the early 50s when he said, and I have documentation it's in my book....he said that the U.S. troop should remain in Europe so long as Europe is economically weak. Then he went on, as soon as economic recovery sets take hold in Europe, get out, the U.S. This is what Eisenhower said, it has been confirmed by his grandson David Eisenhower.

DUIGNAN Yes but Eisenhower was wrong on so many things. [laughter...ROBINSON Go ahead] Don't laugh , this is serious. Eisenhower had no sense of geo-politics. We got to the Elbe River and he pulled back [ROBINSON Which is in the..explain that..] Right next to Poland.

ROBINSON Right..And he stopped the American advance leaving it to the Russians..

DUIGNAN No he pulled them back! We were there! Which meant that the Russians could create a communist gate in E. Germany. No Elbe River, no communist state. He wouldn't take Vienna, he wouldn't take we lost control of Central Europe. So the notion of the industrial, military complex is just naive. Let's look at- why did NATO form? The Russians attacked and took Prague again, imposed a communist regime. East Germany was armed to the teeth. The Korean War...[KRAUSS Ike was in favor of NATO] I know but I'm saying that he wanted to pull out. [KRAUSS After they became able to pay their own way] The Soviet army was bigger and bigger in the 60s, it got nuclear equality, it had more weapons than we did. And so Eisenhower saying that we should pull out, if we had pulled out, what you rightly condemn is the possibility of finlandizing Europe, that would have happened.[ROBINSON Explain that term] Finlandizing- sitting next to Russia, the Finns had to do what the Russians said. They had to elect a communist Prime Minister, for example, for many many years. But the point is you must remember why we went back into Europe. We took 12 ½ million people, troops, and disarmed them, brought them back to the United State in 1946. Then the Wiser heads- Atcheson, Kennan, Truman, others said no no no, World War I and World War II were caused by the lack of American presence [KRAUSS Eisenhower was with them...]Let me finish the point! The Europeans are fratricidal, they're still enemies, we won't impose the draconian peace, we will make them cooperate, the Marshall plan made them cooperate, and we will be there to prevent this thing happening again. We're tired of losing our young men and spending billions of dollars, the extra cost to make NATO work is a small insurance policy.

ROBINSON You both agree that it was good in 1949 but we get to the 1960s Duignan says it's still vital and you say that....

DUIGNAN The Soviet threat is still there! It gets worse...

KRAUSS Eisenhower may have made mistakes just like anybody else makes mistakes [ROBINSON He beat Hitler but he needs help against Duignan...] Exactly the fact of the matter is he was right on this- Eisenhower was a visionary, He understood that if we stayed there forever, if we kept our troops there forever , they were needed in the 40s after the war, nobody is arguing that point, he understood that the Europeans would become lazy, they become pacifistic, they would substitute U.S. military might for their own and they would just....

ROBINSON Let's return to conditions in Europe today and the question of whether NATO still has a vital role to play.


ROBINSON Peter you have named as reasons that the wise heads sent us back in under the guise of NATO. You said that the Europeans were fratricidal and still enemies. Here we are in 1999 the European Union launched its own currency- not fratricidal, not still enemies, moving toward economic integration and political integration. The Russians, you talked about Eastern Germany being armed to the teeth, Eastern Germany no longer exists as an entity nor does even the Soviet Union itself. What I want to know is, with the Europeans getting along so well and the Soviet Union out of existence, what is NATO for today?

DUIGNAN To keep the U.S. involved as the balance of power, as still a deterrent against Soviet and other enemies, local ethnic quarrels in Hungary...

ROBINSON OK let's take it one at a time..To keep the American involved- my question would be why do we need to be involved any longer?

DUIGNAN Because [ROBINSON Are the French and German ready to go to war tomorrow if we pull out? What is it that you fear exactly?] The Russians are in Moldavia, the 14th army is in Moldavia, Moldavia is a former state of Romania! You think that the Russians are just going to sit there and not attempt to move against...the Baltic states are still a threat, the Russians still have nationalists, communists..

ROBINSON So his argument is that Russia is still a threat, still a very direct threat to the Baltic states, and to Romania.

KRAUSS First of all, I think Peter exaggerates the threat that the Russians are right now. But even if Peter is correct, the Russian threat is the European locales and the Europeans my god are rich enough and able enough to defend themselves. What are we doing there? The same arguments apply- we must understand the basic nature of NATO today. The basic nature of NATO today is a mechanism to Americanize European conflicts. In other words, when the Europeans are insecure they want to Americanize it, they want to get us involved. Indeed they want us to get us involved and my good friend Peter is helping them, because they want us to provide our men, to provide our resources, they want us to pay the cost.

ROBINSON His basic point Peter- the Europeans are rich now. Why can't they face down the Russian on their own. Germany for goodness sake is one of the most powerful...

KRAUSS European concerns- Romania...what was those places you mentioned? Romania, Moldavia [DUIGNAN and Hungary...] That's closer to France and Germany and England and Holland than it is to the United States.

DUIGNAN But tell me now the European Union has no armed forces. It has no security wing, it has no foreign policy wing. They are 12 independent states. They couldn't agree to go into Bosnia, it was NATO.

KRAUSS Peter is right that the EU, the European Union has no military component. Number one is we should encourage them to develop one, that's number one. Number two is that Peter underestimates the role economic prosperity has in national security, is that...the easiest target for the threat is a weak economy, a poor country. We want to help these countries get rich and the way we help these countries get rich is we want countries like Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, we want them inside the European Union, we don't want them inside NATO. We want to encourage economic prosperity in Europe, we want these countries of Eastern Europe to be inside the European Union which is a major diplomatic effort.

DUIGNAN We all agree, but the problem that Mel doesn't seem to understand is that the European Union is a very complicated organization with a parliament, with a Supreme Court, with an Executive branch. [KRAUSS I understand, I wrote books...] No no you don't , in 1992 they passed a law, EC92 which required 300 laws to be imposed throughout the European Union. None of these states in Central and Eastern Europe have the economic organization. They're not really democracies yet, they couldn't possibly meet the budget, they couldn't meet the taxing requirement, they couldn't meet any of the requirements to be in the EU. Nevertheless the European Union is doing this, they're now going through a whole set of drills which will bring in the NATO new states, the enlarged states, wait I'm not finished yet! Now, NATO also has the kind of economic purposes. If you look at the original NATO thing, it said to encourage democracy, to encourage economic free trade, to encourage common market...

KRAUSS It has no mechanisms to promote free trade, it has no mechanisms to do any of this. It's all lofty lofty thoughts.

DUIGNAN All the states in NATO had to meet certain requirements about democracy. The Spanish weren't allowed in to NATO until they got rid of...So it's the same thing...but NATO is a military alliance, it's relatively simple. The European Union is a complicated legal structure and cannot be introduced quickly.

ROBINSON I want to try the argument one other way which is the heck with the European Union, forget about the European Union. Europeans have 300 years as modern states of experience at handling alliances. William II??? Well the point is that Germany and France and Britain and Italy are more than strong enough to face down the Russians in Moldavia and without us in the background to draw on they might have to grow up and learn how to manage the problem themselves, that's the statement of the argument.

DUIGNAN Are you willing to risk war and bloodshed?

KRAUSS What kind of war? This is scare tactics, this is absolute nonsense- war and bloodshed!

DUIGNAN You think that if NATO had gone into Yugoslavia early before Croatia and Slovenia had broken out that there would be a war in Yugoslavia today? No.

ROBINSON Now wait a minute, it we're in NATO to prevent regional conflict, why shouldn't we send troops to every trouble spot in the world?


ROBINSON You have talked about conflict in Moldavia, conflict in Kosovo, you mentioned in a recent article conflict in Azerbaijan, these are all [DUIGNAN Armenia? Yes!] OK on and on you go..let me tell you about another continent- Africa. There are conflicts between Rwanda and Zaire...[DUIGNAN NATO doesn't go into those areas!] But why shouldn't we have troops stationed in Congo to put down...

DUIGNAN Because Mel rightly calls for unilateral globalism. We have no national interest in those places.

ROBINSON We have no national interest in congo?

DUIGNAN No, nothing, none. We only have national interest, according to Kennan and I believe him, in Western Europe, Japan and the Pacific, and near Latin America, forget Argentina. Mexico [ROBINSON We have no national interest in the Middle East?] No we shouldn't be giving a penny to the Israelis in terms of Mel's argument because it all goes to welfare! Welfare ! The most welfare ridden state in the democratic world.

KRAUSS Let's get this clear. I had said in my book on NATO that exact point, that economic aid to Israel is a mistake because it does finance the Israeli welfare state, there's no doubt about that. But there's a big difference, and Peter knows it, between economic aid and military aid and whether the U.S. has a legitimate foreign policy objectives and interests in the Middle East and I think to say we have no legitimate foreign policy interest in the Middle East is just nonsense!

DUIGNAN What is it? To protect Israel? and lose the oil?

ROBINSON OK enough on the Middle East, I'm only using other continents to get at the question of NATO. Let me turn your argument around then, are you willing then to say that's it Japan, go get your own army?

DUIGNAN He is! And Korea too!

KRAUSS I think that Japan....

ROBINSON Big rich powerful countries ought to stand up for themselves and get off the United States military...

KRAUSS Well I think we could cooperate, I think we should stop subsidizing defense establishments in other countries.

ROBINSON You don't think that rearming Japan would destabilize all of Asia?

KRAUSS I think it would cause readjustment, I wouldn't call that destabilizing. I think it's absolutely necessary, you have the major economic power they have to have a military dimension. Just like Germany has to be...

ROBINSON Even if we do pay more than our share for European security isn't that still cheaper for us than a world without NATO?


ROBINSON Here's a scenario- NATO no longer exists, it's the present day but your wish was granted at midnight last night, NATO no longer exists. Fighting flares up between the Serbs and the Albanians. Russia, Serbia's traditional ally, moves in to support the Serbs, the Muslim world moves in to support the Albanians, fighting spills over to Croatia, Germany, Croatia's traditional ally, moves in and boom you got a conflagration and by the way, that is not implausible today and it's roughly similar to the chain of events that caused WWI and the point is if there was a war like that it would cost...the amount that NATO costs us is a pittance so the argument would be alright, so let the Europeans free ride basically it's still worth it to us on the grounds of our own interest in Europe.

KRAUSS OK the answer is, is that if we, if NATO did not exist, then we could pick and choose any conflicts that we wanted to get into any place in the world. I'm not arguing for an isolationism where we just take our troops and go home and we don't look at foreign...I'm an internationalist, I think that America's well being depends to some extent, and maybe even a large extent on events in the rest of the world. But the point is that we would then pick and choose which conflicts we wanted to get into- we would make a cost benefit analysis, what are the costs for doing this, what are the benefits, and act accordingly. I think in that way we could get out of a structural systematic under defense in Europe. In other words the starving of the defense budgets in Europe..

DUIGNAN Well let me answer that, because the Europeans are spending 3.2 % or so on defense [ROBINSON 3.2% of their?] GNP. The Europeans are bearing the cost, we wouldn't let them have nuclear weapons, the French and the...

ROBINSON It sounds to me as though you're arguing that they would've been better off without NATO, at least the United States wouldn't have been there making a victim of poor Europe...

DUIGNAN No no no...[ROBINSON Forcing them to give up their own plans..] fifty years of peace, fifty years of stability.

KRAUSS I'd like make a point. Peter's not the only NATO advocate who makes this point- 50 years of peace, and they say that we have 50 years of peace and that's due to NATO. And I think that's really short changing the United States..It's 50 years of peace due to the United States with the Europeans tagging along it's the United States that caused the peace, not NATO and I think that's outrageous...

DUIGNAN 95% of the troops, 90% of the artillery and air force, 70% of the navy, you're saying that that's the domestic account to balance the Russions? That's for European troops.

KRAUSS It was the United States that faced the Soviets down, not the Europeans. The Europeans can have all the arms they want, they didn't have the will to use them they are always trying to subsidize the Soviets in all kinds of ways and you know that- you used to write about it!

DUIGNAN But what happened? Detente worked. [ROBINSON Detente worked?] It most certainly did- Helsinki Accords, if the Soviets didn't attack.

ROBINSON The Soviets didn't attack I didn't know that was because of the Helsinki Accord, I thought that...

DUIGNAN Detente led to disarmament, we followed detente for a long time you know.

KRAUSS Brezhnev deployed those SS-20 missiles all over Europe...

DUIGNAN And what happened after Reagan built up the armed forces? Built up SDI and negotiated very starkly with the Soviets. It fell apart..Brezhnev Doctrine was given up under Reagan.

ROBINSON So it is the United States that faced down the Soviet Union?

DUIGNAN But with NATO's help NATO having all these troops..

ROBINSON Ok it's television, we have to get to the last point. We have to get to the last point. The time is 2009, 10 years from today, does NATO still exist? Now what you want, what you think will happen.

KRAUSS The answer is of course it will exist.

ROBINSON Fine. Peter?

DUIGNAN Of course it will exist and it should.

ROBINSON Fine. Today it has 16 members, 3 more Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary [DUIGNAN There in, they've joined] slated to join taking the total to 19.

KRAUSS Soon Russian will be in...I wonder how Peter will argue that one.

ROBINSON Why not? Would you expand NATO to include Russia?



DUIGNAN Well just look around the world. How does Russia do in the Security Council? How does Russia do in the foreign world? They attack our policy in the Middle East....

ROBINSON They're still bad guys..

DUIGNAN Yeah they're still bad guys, they have 25 million Russians in the ex-Russian Empire, they're still attacking Georgia. They've got an army in Georgia, Abkhadzian state. They formed Moldavia which threatens Romania...They're still bad guys. Plus NATO ? need for biological chemical warfare get the Europeans to share the responsibility to go out of NATO's area, to cover some of the...they did roughly in the the war...

KRAUSS The history is that they do very little . The history is they do little..

ROBINSON They want to encourage them to do more...

KRAUSS We want to encourage them to do more and we do that by getting them out of NATO, they'll do a lot more.

ROBINSON Mel Krauss, Peter Duignan, thank you very much!

Mel Krauss says abolish NATO altogether, Peter Duignan responds, but what would the Europeans do without us? One answer to that of course is, let them eat cake. I'm Peter Robinson, thanks for joining us.

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