Is the U.S.-European Relationship Really in Decline?

My latest piece for The Atlantic, "Is the U.S.-European Relationship Really in Decline?" is posted.

My latest piece for The Atlantic, “Is the U.S.-European Relationship Really in Decline?” is posted. An excerpt:

[I]f it ever existed, the Unipolar Moment that Charles Krauthammer and others saw in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse is over. But that multipolar dynamic actually makes transatlantic cooperation more, not less, important. A hegemon needs much less help than one of many great powers, even if it remains the biggest.

Take the G-20. Seven of the members are NATO Allies: the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, and Turkey. Toss in the EU, and you have 40 percent of the delegation. If they can form a united front at G-20 summits, they are much more powerful than if each stands alone. Add in four NATO Partner countries (Russia, Japan, Australia, and South Korea) and you’re up to 60 percent of the delegation — a comfortable majority for the U.S.-European partnership and its circle of closest allies.

Granted, it’s unlikely that we’ll achieve consensus among all 12 states on any one issue, let alone most issues. But constantly working together toward shared goals and values expands a sense of commonality.

And, like so many things, projects end. Indeed, that’s generally the goal. The transatlantic military alliance that formed to defeat fascism remained intact after victory; indeed, it expanded to include its former German and Italian adversaries. NATO outlasted the demise of its raison d’être, the Soviet threat, and went on to fight together –along with many of its former adversaries — in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya. Is there seriously any doubt that other challenges will emerge in the future in which the Americans and its European allies might benefit from working together?

More at the link.

FILED UNDER: Europe, Published Elsewhere, World Politics
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.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Is there seriously any doubt that other challenges will emerge in the future in which the Americans and its European allies might benefit from working together?

    The affirmative argument for NATO is that it lowers the transaction costs for ongoing activities in all sorts of areas. The negative is related: it makes it easier for the U. S. to get embroiled in conflicts in which it has only contingent national interest.

    The 2% of GDP commitment that NATO members have undertaken is increasingly being seen as a ceiling rather than as a floor. Germany , a country with a large enough GDP that 2% of GDP really amounts to something, is unwilling to develop the capabilities that could make a substantial difference. Their forces are practically incapable of doing their own logistics, which places them at a diminished level of force readiness as the U. S. military reckons these things. The Germans rather clearly see it as in their national interest to eschew such capabilities. So be it.

    In my view the United States should avoid entering into treaties or international agreements of any sort, having entered into such an agreement should hold to them scrupulously, and should withdraw from them formally when the other parties in the agreement fail to uphold their end. I think it’s time for NATO to go.

    NATO may be useful for lowering transaction costs. As a vehicle by which our nominal allies can order American forces into battle to achieve objectives by which they (the allies) expect to benefit, meanwhile condemning us for spending too much on our military and for having imperial designs, it does not serve our national interests.

  2. Tano says:

    As a vehicle by which our nominal allies can order American forces into battle…

    huh? How is that possible?

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    huh? How is that possible?

    I am exaggerating for rhetorical effect. What has clearly happened is that the U. S. president, without Congressional approval or popular support, has ordered American forces into battle. Why? IMO he was persuaded by our European allies.

  4. Tano says:

    I am exaggerating for rhetorical effect.

    But it is not really simply an exaggeration, it speaks to a fundamentally different scenario.
    The difference between an external force that can compel action, and a voluntary alliance in which our actions are always under our own control, is fundamental.

    NATO is a vehicle through which the resources of a huge chunk of the Western world can be mobilized to support military action that we deem necessary or important. Our allies will have their own concerns, and we will acknowledge and deal with them, but they cannot compel action or inaction on our part.

    I also do not quite understand your points regarding how some members, like Germany, are unwilling to develop their forces in certain ways. One of the values of an alliance like this is that like-minded nations need not duplicate capacities. If the Germans end up merely supplying bodies and money to the alliance, what is wrong with that? We have excellent logistical capacities and should be in control of that area.

  5. Rob in CT says:

    The money is out of wack, though. The % of GDP we’re spending is double (triple?) that of other NATO members. If they want to contribute to our military budget, well ok then. Until such time I’ll be skeptical of the value of NATO to the USA, despite the obvious example of NATO allies helping in Afghanistan. That was nice. But we cannot sustain our military spending and that means either things change dramatically for the alliance (over time) or the other members have to step up their spending to make up the shortfall.

    I know, I know. I’m dreaming of an alternate reality in which we actually enact major cuts to our military budget. Fat chance.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    “I also do not quite understand your points regarding how some members, like Germany, are unwilling to develop their forces in certain ways. One of the values of an alliance like this is that like-minded nations need not duplicate capacities. If the Germans end up merely supplying bodies and money to the alliance, what is wrong with that?”

    I believe Dave’s point in asserting that the primary advantage of the alliance is reduction in transaction costs, is that by having systemic processes for training and coordination in place, the allies can be effective in joint military operations. If Germany is only going to supply money (for operations it agrees with), or supply police forces, they are not helping with the transaction costs. Japan and Pakistan (for example) could provide those.

  7. ponce says:

    The money is out of wack, though.

    Military spending, % of GDP:

    US – 4.06%
    Canada – 1.1%
    France – 2.6%
    Germany – 1.5%
    Italy – 1.8%
    UK – 2.4%
    Turkey – 5.3%

    https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2034rank.html

  8. Rob in CT says:

    Thanks for the numbers, ponce.

    I should add to my earlier post that, if NATO becomes less interventionist I’d be a really happy camper. I don’t have any problem with Germany spending 1.5% of GDP on its military. I’d like us to spend ~2% of GDP on ours.

    If we decide to cut back, either NATO has to cut back its missions (my preference) or the other members have to increase spending (which I assume is Robert Gates’ perspective) so we can keep up the interventions.

  9. NATO is a vehicle through which the resources of a huge chunk of the Western world can be mobilized to support military action that we deem necessary or important.

    Except it appears it doesn’t allow the mobilization of anything other than the US military, which we can do without being in NATO.

  10. Rob in CT says:

    Oddly enough, the CIA numbers don’t match up with the NATO data Bruce Bartlett used as his source in his NY Times article recently:

    http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/can-we-afford-the-military-budget/

    That chart makes it look even worse. It has us spending 5.4% of GDP, with the next closest being Greece at 2.9% and Britain at 2.7%. Oddly, Turkey comes in at 1.9%, wildly off from the CIA data.

    I could understand some minor differences in accounting, but man there is some serious variation here between the two sources. Either way, however, our military spending is nutty.

  11. Rob in CT says:

    I should note, however, that now is a bad time to suddenly slash the military budget. It should be done slowly over a period of years, as we wind down Iraq, Afghanistan and Lybia. In an ideal world I’d like to see our military spending at ~2% of GDP, but getting there from here (~5% of GDP) shouldn’t be akin to stopping your car by slamming it into a brick wall. Not only is it obviously a bad idea to slash the budget while we’re fighting three wars (I say this even though I want all three ended), but to me it’s bad economics. The military happens to be a pretty significant government jobs program and we’re at 9% unemployment already.

    Medium and long-term, though, something has to give.

  12. Rob in CT says:

    Of course, my supposedly liberal democrat congresscritter just proudly boasted about making sure Electric Boat got an order for two new submarines (’cause we really, really need more subs).

    It’s just like supposedly anti-subsidy congresscritters from the plains states. Subsidies are bad, except my ethanol subsidies! Military spending is too much, but you can’t cancel that contract in my district!

    We’re screwed.