When he visits Strasbourg, France, this week to participate in festivities marking NATO's 60th anniversary, President Obama should deliver a valedictory address, announcing his intention to withdraw the United States from the alliance. The U.S. has done its job. It's time for Europe to assume full responsibility for its own security, freeing the U.S. to attend to more urgent priorities....
Present-day NATO is a shadow of what it once was. Calling it a successful alliance today is the equivalent of calling General Motors a successful car company -- it privileges nostalgia over self-awareness.
As with GM, so too with NATO: Fixing past mistakes will require painful changes. Continuing along the existing trajectory is not an option. If the alliance pursues any further eastward expansion (incorporating Ukraine into its ranks, as some in Washington have advocated), it will implode. If it persists in attempting to pacify Afghanistan (vainly trying to prod the Germans and other reluctant allies into deploying more troops with fewer strings attached), it will only further expose its internal weakness. NATO won't survive by compounding its own recent errors.
Salvation requires taking a different course. However counterintuitive, the best prospect for restoring NATO's sense of purpose and direction lies in having the U.S. announce its intention to exit the alliance.
Salvaging NATO requires reorienting the alliance back to its founding purpose: the defense of Europe. This remains a worthy mission. Although Vladimir Putin's Russia hardly compares with Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, and although current Russian military capabilities pale in comparison with those of the old Red Army, the fact is that Europe today does face a security threat to its east. Having been subjected (in its own eyes at least) to two decades of Western humiliation, authoritarian Russia is by no means committed to the status quo. Given the opportunity, the Kremlin could well give in to the temptation to do mischief. NATO's priority must be to ensure that no such opportunity presents itself, which means demonstrating an unquestioned capacity for self-defense.
The difference between 1949 and 2009 is that present-day Europe is more than capable of addressing today's threat, without American assistance or supervision. Collectively, the Europeans don't need U.S. troops or dollars, both of which are in short supply anyway and needed elsewhere. Yet as long as the United States sustains the pretense that Europe cannot manage its own affairs, the Europeans will endorse that proposition, letting Americans foot most of the bill. Only if Washington makes it clear that the era of free-riding has ended will Europe grow up.
This needs to be a critical lynchpin in a new American foreign policy strategy.
I have already argued that Japan needs to take responsibility for its own defense [other than the occasional North Korea missile, against whom is Japan defending, anyway?].
Even if the Obama administration is unwilling to admit we shouldn't be doubling down in Afghanistan, and is selling a 4% increase in Defense spending as a major cut (which, to be fair, it is in certain terms, but by no means is it as revolutionary as Obama or the SecDef claim), the revolutionary idea of requiring our allies to foot the bill for their own defense would be a great starting point for ending decades of American military adventurism.