European Wake-Up Call

Victor Davis Hanson argues that, in addition to the fact that a major realignment of our military forces away from Western Europe makes good strategic sense, there is an important side benefit to the announcement.

The real significance, inasmuch as many airbases and depots will stay, is symbolic and psycho-sociological. Unwittingly, we had created an unhealthy passive-aggressiveness in Europe that clinicians might identify as a classic symptom of dependency. Europe — now larger and more populous than the United States — has reduced defense investment to subsidize a variety of social expenditures found nowhere in the world. So insular had its utopians become under the aegis of NATO’s subsidized protection that it was increasingly convinced that the ubiquitous United States was the world’s rogue nation, the last impediment to a 35-hour work week, cradle-to-grave subsidies, and wind power the world over.

A once-muscular and hallowed NATO has become a Potemkin alliance. The more jetting grandees praised the “historic role of the Trans-Atlantic partnership,” the more its logic dictated that it would deploy only where there were no enemies of the West — parading and maneuvering where there were never dangers, bickering and recriminating about going where there always were.

Europe, as the perpetual adolescent, took potshots at its doting parent, always with the assumption that Dad would still hand over the keys, ignore the cheap sass, and “be there for me” if the car ended up in the ditch.


The real significance of Bush’s decision will be felt inside Europe itself. Our gradual departure will bring slow reckoning to the nations of Europe, not just in places like Poland, worried about 10 percent of old Germany inside its borders, but also and especially in the west among nations like Denmark and Holland. Their no-nonsense leaders have ignored the mob’s cheap antics and treasured the idea that real Americans in uniform were always nearby, whose sanctity meant their own security, and whose imperilment guaranteed that a $600 billion military would immediately rush to stand side-by-side on their ramparts. So their concerns — as bilateral partners — must be addressed.


Yet if there soon arises what the Germans call schadenfreude as we watch them implement continental utopia without retrograde American troops, there is a sense of sadness about it all as well. The Danish, the Dutch, the Italians, and the Eastern Europeans, each according to their station, are engaged in Iraq. They are good and reliable friends, and haven’t forgotten the white crosses that dot the European continental landscape. And as smaller nations they sense incipient bullying within the EU, both over their loyal relationships with America and heavy-handed trade politics with France and Germany. Smaller nations may see themselves first as independent Europeans, but privately they realize that it is only so the last two centuries because of the Anglo-Americans in the shadows who, from Wellington to Patton, at the eleventh hour always proved to be about the only ones who fought well for someone else’s freedom.

So it is also with some trepidation that we are seeing the inevitable end of the old, and the beginning of a new, transatlantic world, as troops on the ground at last reflect the reality of the past 20 years. And as we begin to leave Europe, as NATO mutters and shuffles in its embarrassing dotage, as cracks in an authoritarian and unworkable EU begin to widen, ever so slowly we here in the United States shall start to witness all over Europe both a new sensibleness — and a new furor.

Gut-check time is approaching. In places like Brussels, Berlin, and Oslo, in the next half-century citizens will slowly decide who wishes and does not wish to be an ally of the United States of America. Some will prefer opportunistic neutrality and thus go the Swedish and Swiss route. Others in their folly may ape French and Spanish bellicosity, and think isolating the U.S., selling weapons to the Middle East, or going on maneuvers with the Chinese might work. Still more may prefer to remain staunch friends like the Poles and Italians, realizing that, for all the leftist slurs about unilateralism, never in the history of civilization has such a powerful country as the United States sought advice and cooperation from weaker friends about the wisdom, efficacy, and consequences of using its vast military.

But this is no parlor game any more. Islamic fascism, scary former Soviet republics, rogue Middle Eastern nuclear states, an ever more proud and muscular China thirsty for oil — these and more specters are all out there and waiting, waiting, waiting…

An interesting thesis and, certainly, one can hope. The reality is that daddy will, of course, be there if the car ends up in the ditch. In the incredibly unlikely event that any of the Western European states are faced with foreign invasion, there’s no doubt that the U.S. would be there in an instant to defend its friends, fair-weather or otherwise. Still, if a bit of uncertainty in that regard cuases the Europeans to act more responsibly, it would be a good thing indeed.

James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. BigFire says:

    I’m not sure what American military can do should there be a Islamic Revolution in France? A Taliban style revolution with the aim of re-conquesting, starting with Spain and Portugal and then the rest of central and eastern Europe.

  2. Joseph Marshall says:

    Just a little reminder, from the Globe and Mail, James:

    “Monday, Aug 9, 2004

    France takes over NATO’s Afghanistan force

    Kabul — Canadian Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier relinquished command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force on Monday, handing over responsibilities to French Lt.-Gen. Jean-Louis Py.

    The handover marks the start of Eurocorps’ first overseas deployment and the end of Canada’s largest commitment to Afghanistan yet.”

    Maybe if we asked for real friends, rather than syncophants who applaud our every decision, we’d be surprised at how many friends we still have.