The end of Hitler’s New Order in Europe in May 1945 ushered in a new order in America’s relationship to Europe. The arrangements that were designed, debated and put in place during the following four years endure to this day. They are part of the world into which the present generation of foreign policy practitioners and commentators were professionally and intellectually born; and they shape the perceptions and limit the imagination of the general public. NATO, in particular, is a fixture in the international political and strategic firmament. The present Atlantic relationship is not without flaws, but since its framework has the aspect of a given, critiques fix on surface phenomena and proximate factors—apparent weaknesses or apparent strengths. Improvements are considered within the given framework, not as alternatives to it. Even the flaws are felt as mere irritants, inspiring only enraged political opposition or petulant geopolitical daydreams.
In the past few years, the tides of discontent have been lapping at the base of the Atlantic alliance. And there has formed a sort of unholy and unintended coalition of the European left (for example, the German Green Party and the radical wing of the Social Democratic Party, or the left wing of the British Labour Party) and the American right. The outbursts of one nourish the resentments of the other. Indeed, if NATO ever is washed away, the cause may be seen to be the feuding of these transatlantic factions.
But, after almost four decades, it is time to gain more perspective on the architecture of NATO and to do some wholesale reckoning of NATO’s situation. For there is another, structural, reason for NATO’s present debility, which is at the root of the attitudes of the factions of left and right on both sides of the Atlantic: the danger and yet the incredibility of the American military guarantee of Europe, including our "nuclear umbrella." The cracks in America’s guarantee in turn proceed from a tension inherent in
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