NATO's Growing Pains

Kafkaesque Alliance

American Cockroach (Periplaneta americana)

There is not that much of a difference between the metamorphosis of a person into an insect and that of a group of states into a poorly functioning alliance. Franz Kafka, who described the transformation of a human into a vermin, could also have written the plot for the mutation of the old NATO into the new NATO, which in fact took place in his hometown of Prague. After all, Gregor Samsa, who found himself transformed into an insect one morning, is not that unlike this new NATO—at least as far as the old European members of the alliance are concerned. Thus, this Gregor Samsa lies in a room, examines his new physical state, and considers how he will be able to explain being late for work. Samsa does not waste any time thinking about why he is now an insect and how to escape this situation. Instead, there is only apathy, quiet resignation—the man accepts the incontrovertibility of the surreal situation. He lies quietly with shallow breath, thinking, feeling, and acting as if he were unchanged.

A similar fate has befallen the European members of NATO of the traditional order, which is to say the alliance’s Cold War veterans, whose countries were always marked in blue on the maps. They question nothing, they do nothing, and they observe their metamorphosis without discernible agitation. After the meeting in Prague they even seem euphoric and imagine that their old bodies have been returned to them, and thus that NATO has risen again in its old glory. Once the smoke has cleared from the stage, however, and the new NATO shows its true contours, they will catch sight of an ugly creature—themselves.

This metamorphosis of NATO, and especially the deformation of the West Europeans within it, is a process that has been going on for some time now, beginning with the decline of the Warsaw Pact. The Prague summit can be regarded as its finale, because now a new security alliance has emerged that is not at all like the Europeans picture it. But these Gregor Samsa Europeans do not know what shape they would have given it instead. For years they avoided defining their interests. And for years they sounded off instead of concerning themselves with facts and thereby ensuring their influence. Now they are in the middle of the new NATO, complaining about its big and unwieldy shell and forced to accept their fate.

There is no question that the new NATO can be strong, because the superpower heading it is strong. But turning this argument on its head, it is also true that never before has it been so clear that the alliance is making its significance, its military and its political weight, dependent on the contribution from the United States. The provisional climax of this development was reached in Prague: Without the United States, NATO is nothing, and only with it can the alliance be everything. At its core, NATO is an alliance for the United States, not simply an alliance with the United States.

Eighteen nations are clinging to this alliance because solidarity gives them more power than they would have on their own. With member no. 19, however, the situation is reversed: The United States is strong enough, even without the alliance. The prevailing philosophy in Washington with regard to alliances and allies does not cry out for a signature at the bottom of club bylaws with set hours of business and strict rules. Such a signature is binding. That is why the rules of the club have now been quietly changed, so that it can be made useful for its biggest and most important member.

NATO as a service provider for the one that endows it with meaning—several deals were made in Prague to that end. First, the expansion. The imminent admission of seven states—including some from former Soviet territory—is rightly regarded as historic. Stability is projected far and wide, and the old West’s canon of values meets with enthusiastic acclaim in the new East as well. In reality, however, this is a loss-making deal for the old NATO: The alliance gives but becomes no stronger as a result—especially when it comes to decision-making. The military gap between high-tech and have-nots is now simply too great, and when security is at stake, an alliance of armed forces cannot operate according to the old E.U. rule that the slowest ship dictates the speed of the entire convoy.

Concerning the NATO reaction force and the new structure of headquarters, the United States made clear that it intends to exercise no restraint. Of all the major military projects in recent NATO history, the reaction force was certainly pushed through in the shortest time. Its purpose is to force the dilatory members to undertake overdue technological modernization and to provide the United States with the much-vaunted toolboxes for all possible deployments of craftsmen.

The Iraq resolution shows especially clearly how bereft NATO is of meaning: Of all the NATO partners, only the United States has a self-contained security doctrine for how to respond to the new threats. The core of this doctrine is prevention, the preventive military strike as a means of averting a looming danger. This U.S. version of prevention goes against international law and requires a new thought construct for security policy, which in turn affects the role of alliances, the structure and outfitting of armed forces, and the organization of security, both internally and externally. Although comprehensive security concepts connected to prevention are being discussed in Europe as well, the U.S. definition is carrying the day.

In terms of security policy, the United States has entered a new era and has in its own way provided an answer to the threats of this age. These answers were accepted by NATO in Prague more or less without objection.

There is no counterproposal because Europe is not even in agreement as to whether Islamic fundamentalism constitutes a threat to the security of its own populace. Or more specifically: no response from Berlin about what effect a missile strike against Israel would have on Germany; no analysis from the Office of the [German] Chancellor about whether North Korea’s nuclear armaments should be a concern of German security policy; no sincere word about whether our own interests are better served by the trans-Caucasian oil pipeline passing through Afghanistan or through Iran.

By the way, the metamorphosis of Gregor Samsa, left bereft of meaning and emotionally impoverished, ended relatively peacefully: He died.