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NATO's Surreal World

The New York Times' opinion page is hosting a protracted and engaging conservation on the future and relevancy of NATO. 

Has the Atlantic alliance outlived its usefulness? The British journalist and writer Geoffrey Wheatcroft raised that question in an opinion article ("Who needs NATO?," June 16) that drew a strong reaction from Ivo H. Daalder, the U.S. permanent representative to NATO, who argued that the alliance is more needed than ever (Counterpoint, June 18-19). Sarwar Kashmeri, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council's International Security Program and the author of "NATO 2.0: Reboot or Delete?," joins the debate.

Kashmeri's article commences by flagging a misleading assertion I like to call "NINO" (NATO In Name Only). Simply having a NATO stamp on a military mission does not necessarily lend credit to the ever-more-discredited agency. Afghanistan, for example, is NATO-led on paper, but U.S. led in reality. Libya is truly NATO led, thanks to America's reluctance to take the reins - and the mission's malaise is attributable precisely to that fact.

Kashmeri notes an important point when he observes: "Europeans simply do not feel as threatened as Americans do, and are not interested in using their tax dollars to fight in distant lands." Touching upon a theme I attempted to articulate in a recent Ashbrook editorial, Kashmeri continues:

This European/American schism within NATO is further aggravated by a split between Central and Eastern European members on one side, and Western ones on the other.

Noting the need for fiscal and perceptual changes in NATO, Kashmeri concludes:

I am convinced this will to change will only come about when America decides to take away its defense credit card and asks Europe to take responsibility for its own security.

The E.U. is increasingly capable of defending itself under its Common Security and Defense Policy....

C.S.D.P. should be the pre-eminent vehicle to defend Europe; NATO should be bridged to C.S.D.P. and only come into action when Europe, America, and Canada wish to act together in conflicts where all three share vital national interests.

NATO has truly done a magnificent job, but it is time to move on.

This debate will broaden as Obama attempts to alter the de facto, half-century reality of a U.S.-led NATO. If the U.S. is to recede in light of the advent of a truly independent NATO, we must decide if we are willing to support our - and NATO's - new role in the world. NATO is already Euro-heavy, and Kashmeri's formulation of extracting the body (as well as the U.S.) from Euro-centric military concerns seems sensibly prudent.

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