Nay-TO: Militarism will not bring peace

Max Marcello | Staff Writer

Foreign affairs are emerging as a pivotal issue in the upcoming election, marking a significant shift from traditional perspectives. 2024’s major foreign policy debate is quickly shaping up to center on the United States’ role within NATO and its involvement in European military affairs.

Historically, since NATO’s establishment in 1949, both the continuum of presidents and the American public have consistently supported the alliance, seldom questioning its purpose or the United States’ active engagement.

This unwavering support transcended party lines, rejected isolationist tendencies, and upheld NATO’s expansion as beneficial for both the United States and Europe. The enlargement of NATO was not only viewed as a military advantage but also as a catalyst for the third wave of democratization following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, this once clear-cut narrative of NATO’s benefits has grown complex in the wake of events post-1991 following the reshaping of NATO’s responsibilities in the new Europe. This evolving landscape necessitates a thorough reassessment of what the United States gains from its continued involvement in NATO, and how a peaceful approach to foreign actors might lead to less aggravation overall.

NATO is fundamentally a military alliance, dedicated to protecting the territorial integrity of its member states. Any other functions it performs are secondary to this principal goal. In the U.S., there is often an idealized view of NATO, which sometimes neglects the discrepancies between its founding charter, its operational history and the context in which it was established.

Born amid the heightened tensions of the Cold War, NATO’s establishment was driven by three primary objectives. The first was to bring its member nations into the American sphere of influence. The second objective was to foster integration in Europe.

While other intergovernmental organizations were working toward European unification, NATO initially helped to spearhead the groundwork for this political, cultural and economic integration. The third objective was a tactical response to the perceived threat of Soviet military expansion.

By these objectives, the alliance served its purpose. It effectively prevented large-scale conflict in Europe, and its role in laying the foundation for European integration was vital. However, the continuation of the alliance after the Soviet Union’s implosion raises questions.

1991 was heralded by experts as a turning point, the end of history, an inauguration of a new era of unprecedented global prosperity. Instead of moving to address the unique challenges facing a Europe without a Cold War, NATO, under U.S. guidance, began to swiftly incorporate former Warsaw Pact nations. This aggressive expansion sparked debate among critics who questioned the strategic wisdom of integrating these nascent democracies into the military alliance.

Critical leaders argued that alternative strategies might be more effective in facilitating economic and political reforms in these countries, suggesting that a military alliance may not be the most advantageous approach for their development. All told, the complexities and miscalculations of this era would only fully reveal themselves retrospectively.

NATO expansion has caused more problems than it has solved, leading to public and scholarly scrutiny for the first time.

The once unified support America had for NATO has been slipping in recent years, which is not a bad thing.

While a complete withdrawal from NATO is unnecessary, a pragmatic approach is essential. The alliance reached its optimal size some time ago, and the decision to expand eastward has proven contentious.

While the impact of NATO’s expansion on the escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War is still debated, the strategic benefits of America and its NATO allies expanding further into Eastern Europe lack clear practicality. This expansion has strained resources and risked provoking Moscow.

Rather than reducing military presence in Europe, the U.S., influenced by a Cold War mentality, expanded eastward and indirectly supported Boris Yeltsin’s fraudulent presidential election, which set the stage for Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.
Recent events make it easy to overinflate the threat Russia poses to our allies. This combined with Putin’s mercurial behavior makes it difficult to plan a cohesive security policy.

Atlanticism can be promoted by the United States through non-military means.

Educational initiatives like the Fulbright and Marshall Scholarship programs, that allow American citizens to work and study internationally, along with enhanced trade and cultural exchanges, serve as valuable alternatives to defense-centric NATO investments. Furthermore, if the objective is to uphold liberal democracy and foster cooperation in Europe, focusing on the stability and welfare of these nations is arguably more impactful than military support.

After all, if history is to be our guide, then the most significant threats to liberal democracies often stem from internal political extremism rather than external aggression. Foreign actors like Putin recognize this, and they aim at inciting political instability and violence within NATO members, including with the United States.

Prioritizing non-military avenues could therefore be a more strategic approach in strengthening democratic resilience across the Atlantic.

The U.S. should still support the commitments it made to Western Europe following WWII. However, it is crucial for America to exercise caution and avoid overextending itself through the pursuit of elusive ideological objectives that could be achieved through no military means.

The feasibility of reversing or renegotiating NATO’s eastward expansion is a matter of ongoing debate. Nonetheless, the U.S. should strive to maintain the post-war peace through means outside of force, protecting democracy from internal threats rather than giving credence to the Russian paper tiger.