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NATO at Fifty: An Unhappy Successful Marriage: Security Means Knowing What to Expect

NATO was always intended to be both more and less than a military alliance. The original idea was the brainchild of Britain's foreign secretary, Ernest Bevin. In January 1948, confronted by a Western Europe still in ruins and a Soviet Union triumphantly consolidating its conquests, Bevin suggested to Washington that it would be possible to stem the further encroachment of the Soviet tide only "by organizing and consolidating the ethical and spiritual forces of Western civilization." Peace and safety, he maintained,

could only be preserved by the mobilization of such moral and material force as would create confidence and energy on the one side and inspire respect and caution on the other. The alternative was to acquiesce in continued Russian infiltration and watch the piecemeal collapse of one Western bastion after another.

Cynics may allege that this downplaying of material and emphasis upon ethical force was deliberately tailored to the susceptibilities of isolationist members of Congress, but at that time the threat from the Soviet Union was not perceived primarily in military terms. The real danger seemed to lie in the moral and material exhaustion of a Western Europe that, in spite of Marshall Plan aid, still looked like a pushover for communist infiltration and propaganda. A purely military alliance did not seem the appropriate answer, but what did?

States are cold monsters that mate for convenience and self-protection, not love, and this became very clear during the negotiations for the creation of the alliance that dragged on throughout 1948. The State Department, both conscious of a Congress still hostile to any further "entangling alliances" and anxious not to accept the division of Germany and Europe as final, was at first prepared to act as no more than a benevolent godfather to a West European alliance. The French, on the other hand, remembering the desertion by their former allies in the aftermath of World War I, were demanding immediate military aid, to protect them as much against a German revival as against any Soviet threat. Canada, whose peoples were as reluctant as their neighbors to the south to become involved in any more foreign quarrels, constantly emphasized the economic and social purposes of the NATO treaty. Given the reluctance both of Canada and of the United States to enter into any specific military obligations, the final text might have lacked any military core at all if the Soviets had not helped matters along, first by mounting the communist coup in Prague in February 1948 and then by imposing the Berlin blockade in June. The impact of these events on public opinion on both sides of the Atlantic was enough to ensure the inclusion in the final text of the treaty of the famous Article 5, whereby the signatories agreed "that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America [should] be considered an attack against them all; and [that each member of the alliance would] assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith . . . such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain international security."

Imprecise though it was, this clause provided the reassurance the Europeans wanted; but in Washington and Ottawa it was Article 2 that had the greater resonance, whereby the signatories pledged themselves to "contribute towards the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening their free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded, and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being. They [undertook to] seek to eliminate conflict in their international economic policies and [to] encourage economic collaboration between any and all of them." With this bland assurance of mutual goodwill, matters might have rested but for the outbreak of the Korean War a year later in 1950, an event that was seen in Washington as the first shot in an overt Soviet bid for global expansion.

At once the aspirations expressed in Article 2 were eclipsed by the demands of Article 5 -- the mobilization of military forces, and the creation of a military infrastructure, to make possible a credible defense of Western Europe against an adversary that already enjoyed a crushing superiority in conventional weaponry and was already showing an alarming capacity to compete in the nuclear field.

This involved the re-creation of the wartime "Grand Alliance," this time without the Soviet Union. The British were delighted. Although the expenditure involved was to wreck their barely convalescent economy, they found themselves back where they felt they belonged: if not quite the equals of the United States, then their adjutants and mentors; certainly in a different class from the continental neighbors they had either conquered or liberated. The French had more mixed feelings. Although they welcomed the immediate influx of military aid from the United States, they resented the reassertion of a de facto Anglo-American hegemony, and -- like their Benelux and Scandinavian partners -- strongly objected to the price the Americans now exacted for their protection: the integration into the alliance of a West Germany without whose territory, resources, and manpower Europe would be indefensible, but whose occupation of French soil was still fresh in their memories. The price they in their turn exacted -- American support for their attempt to reconquer Indochina -- was to prove in the long run disastrous. As for the Germans, although the lure of American protection and the rewards that went with it was irresistible, there was understandable support for the attempt by Kurt Schumacher and the Social Democrats to find a nonaligned solution that would preserve the unity of their country and preserve them from a nuclear war being fought over their own territory. A popular cartoon at the time showed Germany as a battered little boy in a nursery where his older companions were happily re-equipping themselves with toy guns and swords, plaintively asking, "Bitte, darf ich diesmal nicht mitspielen?" ("Please, do you mind if I don't play this time?").

But how was Europe to be defended, with or without nuclear weapons? At first the solution appeared simple: the Europeans, with substantial American stiffening and under overall American command, would provide a conventional "shield," while the nuclear "sword" of the U.S. Strategic Air Command struck devastating blows deep inside the Soviet Union. When it became clear that the European allies, even with the addition of the West Germans, would be quite incapable of meeting the force levels demanded of them if their economies were ever to recover, the emphasis shifted. "Conventional" defense was downgraded to the status of a "tripwire," a burglar alarm that would still trigger an instant and overwhelming nuclear response. This, it was hoped, would "deter" a Soviet attack. But would it? During the 1950s the Soviets not only caught up with the United States in the production of thermonuclear weapons but developed the capacity, albeit one hugely overestimated by the West, to deliver them across the Atlantic. Under these circumstances was the American "nuclear guarantee" still credible, and if not, what could be done to make it so? For the next 30 years strategic thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic racked their brains in search of an answer. They never really found one.

BONES OF CONTENTION

Throughout the 1950s this nuclear dilemma was increasingly complicated by political tensions. First, whatever doubts strategic analysts may have felt about the credibility of the American military guarantee, the peoples of Western Europe felt sufficiently secure to develop thriving economies, laying the foundations for an economic community that bade fair to rival that of the United States. To some Americans this seemed, as it still seems, to be a solution rather than a problem. For President Kennedy, in one of those ill-fated "Grand Designs" that geopolitical architects in Washington were to churn out over the next four decades, European unity should be encouraged so as to provide a "second pillar" of an "Atlantic Community."

But the Europeans proved uncooperative. The Germans under Chancellor Konrad Adenauer were helpful enough, so long as their allies pledged themselves to a reunification of Germany in which none of them believed and which most of them dreaded. The British, however, still kept their distance from their continental neighbors and insisted on preserving their nuclear autonomy. As for the French, their resentment at the Anglo-Americans was brought to boiling point by the Suez crisis in 1956 and by what they saw as betrayal by their allies over their attempts to retain control in Indochina and Algeria. Under President Charles de Gaulle they began to chart their own agenda: nuclear independence, an arm's-length relationship with the alliance, a "special relationship" with the Germans, and transformation of the European Economic Community into a close political consortium dominated by Paris. To make matters worse, as the Europeans became more prosperous so their defense industries began to revive and they no longer went shopping for arms in the United States. Grumbling tensions began over "burden-sharing" that would not go away.

Second, the death of Stalin in 1953, and the more amenable attitude of his successors, were to provide another source of division within the alliance. In the view of Washington the softer winds now blowing from Moscow were the result of the staunch attitude adopted by the West, which should not in consequence be relaxed: the Soviets had simply changed their tactics in a conflict that was global, continuing, and ineluctable. The Europeans saw things differently. There political forces on the left, which everywhere remained influential even where they did not actually hold power, were always inclined to give the Soviets the benefit of any doubt, even though the brutal suppression of the Hungarian uprising in 1956 shattered the unity of all European communist parties. Domestic pressure for "detente" became a permanent feature of the European scene. This was particularly true in West Germany, where demands grew for an accommodation with the Soviet Union that would make possible the re-establishment of human contacts with fellow Germans -- in many cases close relations -- behind the Iron Curtain. But even such right-wing governments as those of Harold Macmillan in Britain and de Gaulle in France tended to take a traditional view of the Soviet Union, seeing it not as a permanent and implacable foe but as a great power with which they had had their difficulties in the past but with which they had been allied in two great wars; one that had interests that should be respected, but with which an accommodation was both desirable and possible. It was an attitude that Washington found very difficult to assimilate until Henry Kissinger himself adopted it a decade or so later. Increasingly, European governments had to explain to their electorates that defense, with all its associated expenditure, existed primarily to serve the purposes of detente. After a decade of increasing acrimony this was made official policy for the alliance by the Harmel Report of 1967.

Finally, divisions were growing between the allies over the geographical scope of the alliance. Ironically, in light of events in the 1990s, it was the United States that had been most insistent on limiting it to the territory of North America, Europe, and the Atlantic approaches. America had no intention of underwriting European colonial rule elsewhere in the world, and consented only with deep reluctance to include even "the Algerian departments of France" within the alliance's scope. But a decade later Washington was having second thoughts. The abandonment of European colonial rule throughout the world seemed to leave a vacuum of power into which the United States feared that the Soviet Union would feel itself free to expand, and Nikita Khrushchev's explicit support for "wars of national liberation" suggested that it intended to do so. Blocked in Europe, Soviet power appeared to be extending dangerously everywhere else. What, Washington demanded, did the Europeans intend to do about it?

The answer was, not very much. The British felt that they were discharging their obligations by doing their best to ensure a peaceful transition to independence within their own imperial possessions, especially Malaysia. The French, having painfully extricated themselves from Algeria, imposed an effective control over the rest of the Union Francaise, and felt that they had no reason to help out the Americans who had been so reluctant to assist them in their own hour of need. In any case, both British and French were skeptical of the capacity of the Soviet Union to affect the course of events in what was now called the "Third World" for good or ill, and feared that American attempts to counter it, whether in Latin America or Southeast Asia, were likely only to make matters worse. As for the Germans, they were mainly concerned lest the United States become distracted from the only issue that to them really mattered, the deterrence of Soviet aggression in Europe -- a view shared by all the smaller European powers. So when the United States became engaged in Vietnam it had to soldier on alone, and did not like it.

TRIAL BY CRISIS

Deterrence, detente, burden-sharing, and "out of area"; these four issues surfaced again and again throughout the troubled history of the alliance, and would not go away. Hardly a year was to pass in which one or more of them did not cause acrimony at meetings of the NATO Council -- sometimes, indeed, all four. But there were two periods when these simmering tensions seemed to reach boiling point: 1958-63, and again 20 years later, 1979-84.

In both cases the cause was the same: a sudden upsurge of doubt on the part of the United States as to whether its military deterrent posture was still credible. In 1958 this was set off by the realization that the Soviets possessed not only thermonuclear weapons, but a capacity to deliver them onto American soil. The flight of the manned satellite Sputnik in 1957 indicated indeed that Soviet space technology might be even more advanced than that of the United States, where fears of a "missile gap" grew almost to panic proportions. In 1958 Khrushchev exploited this in an attempt to heal his own chief source of vulnerability, the hemorrhage of East Germans fleeing from communist rule through Berlin; first by demanding the termination of four-power rights over the city, then in 1961 by consenting to the erection of the Berlin Wall. The peoples of Europe suddenly saw themselves confronted by the alternatives of a bloodless Soviet victory and a suicidal nuclear war, and a cry went up for nuclear disarmament and disengagement from the United States. The crisis came to a head over Cuba in 1962 and was weathered by a firm American leadership that did much to restore European confidence. The Americans themselves were reassured by the discovery that their original fears had been largely groundless, but they initiated, under Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, a major armament program to ensure that no such perceptions of vulnerability should arise again.

The Europeans remained deeply unsettled by the experience. Both the British and the French were reinforced in their determination to retain their own nuclear reinsurance systems. Fears that the Germans might wish to follow their example led the United States to propose the construction of a Multilateral Nuclear Force -- a project that merely evoked universal mockery and was deservedly rejected. In fact the Germans were far more seriously concerned by McNamara's attempt to create a more credible deterrent posture with his doctrine of "flexible response." On whose territory, asked the Germans with good reason, did the Americans intend to be flexible? In general the crisis left both sides badly bruised. The Europeans resented the patronizing didacticism of McNamara's brilliant young strategic analysts, while the Americans were exasperated by the constant European demands for reassurance from their protectors without doing anything to make that reassurance realistic. Kissinger was to voice American frustrations but again to reawaken European fears when in 1979, under very similar strategic circumstances, he told a conference celebrating NATO's 30th anniversary that "our European allies should not keep asking us to multiply strategic assurances that we cannot possibly mean, or if we did mean, we should not want to execute because if we execute, we risk the destruction of civilization."

The tensions within the alliance relaxed somewhat over the next 15 years. The United States entered into arms control negotiations that did something to draw the sting of the European left. Washington's attention was diverted to "out of area" problems, first Vietnam, then the Middle East, in the resolution of which Kissinger tended to treat the Soviet Union almost as a colleague rather than an adversary. But these distractions created their own difficulties. Bilateral negotiations over arms control were complicated by the fears and interests of the European allies, who voiced alternately complaints about the talks' lack of progress and fears that the superpowers were reaching agreements that ignored Europeans' own security interests. Over Vietnam, as we have seen, the Americans intensely resented the lack of European support, while the Europeans observed with alarm the apparent degradation of U.S. forces in Europe and the growing demands in Congress for yet further American troop withdrawals.

As for the Middle East and the crisis that arose there in 1973 over the Yom Kippur War, Americans with their pro-Israeli sympathies and Europeans dependent on Arab-controlled oil found themselves virtually on opposing sides. Doing nothing to help were the facts that in Britain, for the first time since the war, a government was in power, under Edward Heath, that rated good relations with its European neighbors more highly than the "special relationship" with the United States; that in Germany a Social Democratic government had come into office pursuing an independent Ostpolitik; and that the French remained predictably unhelpful under de Gaulle's designated successor, President Georges Pompidou. Kissinger's ill-judged and patronizing attempt to soothe European susceptibilities by declaring 1973 to be the "Year of Europe" only made matters worse.

After that relations improved, though ill-tempered arguments about burden-sharing and support costs grumbled on at lower levels of the alliance bureaucracy. In 1974 an emollient "Atlantic Declaration" was issued reassuring the allies that they were all on the same side. In Britain a Labour government had been returned to power whose mismanagement of the national economy made it more dependent than ever on American goodwill. More pragmatic administrations came into power in France under Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Francois Mitterrand. As for the Germans, their Ostpolitik initiative, at first viewed in Washington with extreme mistrust, had resulted in the settlement of central European frontiers over which wars had been fought for generations, and had ripened into the Helsinki conferences that were gradually to transform relations between Eastern and Western Europe, if not with the Soviet Union itself. By the end of the decade the European weather at last seemed set fair -- which made the onset of the crisis years, 1979-84, all the more traumatic.

This new period of tension was precipitated, like the first, by a crisis in American self-confidence. The steady buildup of the Soviet military arsenal throughout the 1970s, including the modernization of nuclear weapons targeted on Western Europe, had caused concern on both sides of the Atlantic, and members of the alliance agreed to increase their defense expenditures to deal with it. In American eyes this buildup appeared all the more sinister in light of increasingly bold Soviet interventions in southern and eastern Africa, the dreadful humiliations suffered by the United States in the course of the Iranian Revolution, and worst of all, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The apparent lack of interest by their European allies in these developments enraged the Americans, as did the insouciance with which the Europeans continued to exploit the opening trade opportunities with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The incoming Reagan administration treated its allies with a brusqueness bordering on brutality that infuriated their governments, and adopted toward the Soviets a posture of rhetorical hostility that alarmed their peoples.

Once again the fear of imminent nuclear war (felt as strongly this time in Moscow as anywhere else) created political turmoil in Europe. In spite of their other differences with Washington, European governments recognized the strategic necessity of accepting the installation of American missiles to counter the Soviet SS-20s aimed at their own territory, but they had huge difficulty in persuading their own peoples to do the same. Hardly had this crisis been resolved than a further problem was created by President Reagan's unilateral proclamation of a Strategic Defense Initiative that seemed likely to destroy all hope of serious arms control agreements, appeared to undermine the entire strategic doctrine on which the alliance was based, and made even America's friends fear a return to a doctrine of "Fortress America." To many in Europe, Reagan seemed a greater threat to peace than did the geriatric leadership of the Soviet Union, while it was widely believed in the United States that the Europeans had been cowed by Soviet strength into a servile condition of "Finlandization."

Then suddenly it all ended. Like Kennedy before him, President Reagan had mastered the crisis, not only by a massive arms buildup that restored self-confidence (while wrecking the economy) of the United States, but also by maintaining contact, in spite of all his rhetoric, with the Soviet leadership. In 1985 there emerged a leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, that he could do business with, and Reagan, to his eternal credit, seized the opportunity. Within six years the Cold War was at an end, Germany was reunited, the Warsaw Pact had dissolved, and Soviet troops were withdrawing to their own frontiers.

ITS FINEST HOUR

Historians will long debate whether the collapse of the Soviet Union owed more to the unremitting pressure of American arms buildups that forced it to spend itself into bankruptcy, or to the gentle but irresistible growth of popular expectations behind the Iron Curtain as the detente by which the Europeans set so much store gradually took effect; much as George Kennan had predicted it would a generation earlier. But what is beyond doubt is that the alliance never worked so effectively in conducting the Cold War as it did in bringing it to an end.

Had Gorbachev been less complaisant matters might have been different. As it was, the excellent rapport established between the American and Soviet leaderships was complemented by that between a German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who knew exactly what he wanted -- German unification -- and an American president who firmly supported him in spite of the doubts of his other alliance partners. The French under President Mitterrand were unwontedly cooperative: whatever their feelings about the Americans, they dared not antagonize a Germany whose friendship was essential in creating an effective European Union. The British under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were initially reluctant; but whatever their feelings about Germany, they did not dare do anything to upset the "special relationship" with the United States that had paid such excellent dividends in helping Britain recover the Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982. The treaty signed in Paris in November 1990 not only brought the Cold War to an end but established a new structure of international relations among scenes of international amity barely witnessed since the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

Now we celebrate the Golden Anniversary of a highly successful marriage. A successful marriage, be it noted: not a happy one. As with the arranged marriages of earlier centuries, it was entered into with a specific purpose. Such marriages had been intended to unite properties, appease enmities, and, above all, produce and bring up children. Whatever the spouses felt about each other, they stuck together to achieve these ends. The alliance had been created, in Lord Ismay's famous words, "to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and . . ." (to tactfully paraphrase his undiplomatic words) to solve the German problem. All this had happened. It had not been an easy ride. The Europeans had repeatedly found the Americans overbearing, self-righteous, and hysterically alarmist. The Americans often regarded the Europeans as a "soft" (a peculiarly American term of abuse), short-sighted, mean, and self-centered bunch of freeloaders. Familiarity made possible a modus vivendi, but bred no great affection. But the marriage worked, and the more problems it overcame, the stronger were the bonds that bound it together.

IN PRAISE OF CONTINUING

Now that the object has been achieved, voices are being raised suggesting that the marriage should be dissolved and its partners left free to look elsewhere for their security. But another characteristic of arranged marriages was that they did not dissolve even after the children had grown up. For one thing, a household had been created that remained the family home. For another, the spouses had grown used to one another, and even if there was still little affection, they had learned to make allowances for each other's infirmities. For a third, they could think of no other arrangement that was equally convenient to both. Most important of all, a separation was likely to have serious repercussions for their extended families and the society that surrounded them.

So it is with NATO. It has built up a politico-military infrastructure that integrates the armed forces of much of Europe and provides the United States with a unique capacity to influence the policy of its allies and vice versa. It remains, astonishingly and perhaps absurdly, the only forum where the Europeans and the Americans can meet to discuss their politico-military problems and make provision for them; and if earlier hopes that these discussions might cover broader socioeconomic problems have so far borne little fruit, it is because so many other more appropriate institutions now exist to deal with them. Sheer inertia may keep the show on the road. But is that enough?

There is nothing wrong with inertia so long as it keeps the object moving in the right direction, and few would deny that continuing solidarity and cooperation between the United States and the nations of Europe remains an unexceptional goal. It might be argued that a military alliance is no longer the appropriate mechanism for persevering in that solidarity now that there is no longer a military threat, but it should be remembered that NATO was not just a military alliance in the first place. Today the threat that made its members emphasize their obligations under Article 5 at the expense of those under Article 2 no longer exists. So far as Article 2 is concerned, there is no reason why the membership of the alliance should not be indefinitely extended, and the more widely the better. Who could possibly object to "the further development of peaceful and friendly international relations by strengthening . . . free institutions, by bringing about a better understanding of the principles upon which these institutions are founded and by promoting conditions of stability and well-being"? If that were all that was involved the partners could extend their family indefinitely and rub along forever. Even the obligations undertaken under Article 5, to regard an armed attack against one or more of the members as an attack against them all, are not especially rigorous: all that the parties undertake to do to assist the parties so attacked is to take "such action as [they] deem necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain international peace and security." What action is deemed necessary is left to the discretion of each party, and armed force is seen only as a possible option.

EVOLVE, NOT DISSOLVE

All might thus be well if the alliance could revert to the limited arrangements and expectations of its early months. But as was discovered in 1950, a credible guarantee that "includes the use of armed force" involves making joint military arrangements, designating and if necessary deploying forces well in advance; not just making paper promises. That was the unforgettable lesson of the 1930s, and presumably that is what aspiring candidates for membership in the alliance now expect. Any guarantee to defend an ally today involves making the military arrangements necessary to implement it. Robert E. Hunter, U.S. ambassador to NATO during the 1990s, expressed the hope that the difference between a "partner for peace" and membership in the alliance might become "razor-thin"; but it can be made so only by destroying the military credibility of the alliance itself. A huge gulf remains between, on the one hand, expressing ideological sympathy with another state and providing it with political support and economic help, and, on the other, committing one's armed forces, and risking the lives of one's civilians -- and in the nuclear age the very survival of one's own society -- for its physical defense.

Disagreements over the desirability of NATO extension have not so much divided the alliance as run through every NATO member state. The decision to extend was forced through by the United States, yet opposition to this step has been more extensive and vociferous in the United States than anywhere else. It has come not only from those who see it as an extension of the battle lines and the mind-set of the Cold War, but from those most concerned with the effectiveness and integrity of NATO as a functioning military entity. It has come also from those concerned for the political effectiveness of the alliance. It has been hard enough to create and maintain consensus among the original 15 members of the alliance on any issue beyond defense against the immediate threat to their territorial independence, if indeed on that. The advent of a group of members from central and eastern Europe, with a quite distinct geopolitical outlook, could make the task virtually impossible. And that should be borne in mind by those who now argue that NATO can justify itself only by assisting the United States in policing or pre-empting regional disputes -- "out of area or out of business."

For of the four major subjects of discord among the allies -- nuclear deterrence, detente, out-of-area commitment, and burden-sharing -- only the last two remain. Burden-sharing is, and will continue to be, an unavoidable fact of life, but it has never been, and need not become, unmanageable. "Out of area," however, is now widely seen as the only justification for NATO's continuing existence by many in the United States who are still conscious, rightly or wrongly, of their responsibility for the preservation of some kind of world order. With the disappearance of the Soviet threat it is not clear what other purpose the alliance can still serve if not to share this burden.

But there are two major problems about this. The first is that only by a most imaginative interpretation of the text of the NATO treaty can alliance partners be held to have any "out of area" obligations at all. The second is that such operations demand a high degree of military cooperation and expertise such as can be expected only from a very few members of the alliance, whose intervention would probably be far more rapid and effective if it did not have to be sanctioned by a dozen or more reluctant allies and take place under the cumbrous umbrella of a NATO command structure.

Finally, there is the problem created by the evolution of the European Union itself. What territory will it cover, what powers will it have, and what attitude will it adopt towards the United States?

With the adoption of the Euro the European Union today seems to be developing a degree of economic cohesion that once seemed barely possible, and this will inevitably bring a certain degree of political unity in its train. Even the goal of a common foreign and defense policy, a European "Security and Defense Identity," now seems sufficiently attainable for NATO to be making provision for it within its own organization. Yet to many in Europe this goal still seems a distant one, and the more members that are admitted both to the union and to the alliance, the more distant it appears. It has been difficult enough during the past half-century to hammer out some kind of consensus about world events among London, Paris, Bonn, Rome, and Copenhagen, to say nothing of Ankara and Athens. Prague, Budapest, and Warsaw raise eyebrows. Add Vilnius and Bucharest, and the imagination begins to boggle. The most that can be expected is some kind of lowest common denominator that will always incline toward the kind of passivity with which the Europeans have infuriated their American allies ever since the 1950s. If the members of an enlarged European Union were ever to develop a single coherent defense and foreign policy, it would be as likely to find itself in opposition to that of the United States as in support of it.

None of this means that the alliance should be dissolved. It remains a uniquely appropriate framework within which the United States and the states of Europe can collaborate where collaboration is possible and coordinate their policies when collaboration is not in the cards. But it might be as well to define very much more closely what the alliance is now for. If it is to be just a community of like-minded states peacefully cooperating with and consulting each other as foreseen under Article 2, and in addition providing facilities for military cooperation by those members who wish to take part in out-of-area operations, well and good. It would continue to serve a valuable function for all its members, and be a stabilizing factor for the world as a whole. Then much of the huge and expensive infrastructure built up to implement the mutual military guarantees under Article 5 could be dismantled, and membership extended almost indefinitely to like-minded and contiguous nations.

But let us no longer pretend that this would be an effective military alliance as previously understood, whose members offer credible reciprocal guarantees to come to each other's defense. The alliance would still serve the goals set out in its original text, and even the wording of Article 5 would not be entirely invalid. The alliance can certainly continue as a successful marriage -- but only if the partners know what they may now reasonably expect of one another.

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