During the recent NATO summit meeting, a rumbustious Donald Trump tore off a thin scab of niceties to reveal a deep and old NATO wound — one that has predated Trump by nearly 30 years and goes back to the end of the Cold War.
In an era when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact are now ancient history, everyone praises NATO as “indispensable” and “essential” to Western solidarity and European security. But few feel any need to explain how and why that could still be so.
Does NATO still protect the West? Does it prevent destructive European feuding? Does it ensure the postwar global order of free trade, commerce, travel, and communications? And is NATO — or the United States and its leadership of NATO — the real reason there has not been a World War III or a return to global tribalism and chaos?
NATO’s post–Cold War expansion to 29 nations and to the border of Russia meant the alliance became more expansive at the very time the old existential Soviet threat disappeared. Larger membership tended to weaken common ties, even as common dangers disappeared.
The result was that the idea of NATO membership became more important to the countries that are part of it than the reality and responsibility of actual military readiness.
Polls show that in most NATO countries, the idea of fighting on behalf of another country receives scant public support. The notion that the Dutch would march into Estonia to save its capital, Tallinn, from Russia is a cruel joke.