Our Dorian Gray Alliance

by Patrick J. Buchanan – December 12, 1998

In her latest essay on NATO’s future, Madeleine Albright begins to sound like a parent frantic that her only child has decided to go away to college and leave her alone in the house.

Albright’s article in the Financial Times Dec. 7 was clearly propelled by the historic British-French decision that the European Union must have its own defense role. Prime Minister Tony Blair is taking Britain deeper into Europe and away from the United States.

“As Europeans move … to organize their foreign and security policy cooperation,” writes an anguished Albright, “the key is to make sure that any institutional change is consistent with the basic principles that have served the Atlantic partnership for 50 years.”

The first of these principles — no “decoupling.” NATO, writes Albright, “should remain an organization of sovereign allies where European decision-making is not unhooked from broader alliance decision- making.”

Albright seems fearful that Europe is going its own way. But why should Europe’s natural desire to defend itself upset us? To the extent that the EU provides for Europe’s defense, the United States is relieved of a burden that has cost us trillions of dollars over 50 years.

To frighten Europe into re-enlisting in a new, expanded NATO, Albright raises a specter: “While most of Europe remains more secure than at any time in living memory, alliance territory and alliance interests can be affected by a range of risks from a variety of sources.” Foremost among these are “the spread of weapons of mass destruction, regional violence and ethnic conflict.”

Europe, however, appears less alarmed by this specter than Albright — for the best of reasons. No one is threatening Europe with these weapons, because Europe, unlike the United States, has opted not to meddle in the vicious quarrels among the nations brandishing them.

Iran may be building rockets; India and Pakistan may have atom bombs, but Europe has decided that if it stays out of Iran’s conflicts, and out of the Kashmir dispute, she need not fear such weapons.

What we are witnessing is a historic role reversal. Europe is adopting the policy of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson of non- intervention in foreign conflicts, while America is behaving like Europe in the early 20th century, plunging into every ethnic quarrel — from the Balkans to the Mideast to the Persian Gulf to the Taiwan Straits.

Europe has given up policing the planet to go into business, and to Europeans, America looks increasingly like a global frontier marshal that can drag them all into a wild shootout at some faraway OK Corral.

In the new National Interest, University of Chicago Professor Stephen M. Walt (“The Ties That Fray: Why Europe and America Are Drifting Apart”) writes that with the vanishing of the Soviet threat, nothing really holds our decrepit “Dorian Gray Alliance” together.

The EU is creating a single-currency zone larger than the United States as a rival. It is consolidating defense industries to cut dependence on U.S. weapons. It disagrees with U.S. Mideast policy, rejects our policy in the Gulf and ignores our sanctions on Cuba, Iran and Iraq.

While the EU is delighted to let America take the risk and pay the costs of keeping Russia out of Europe, America, not Europe, was the driving force in expanding NATO to Russia’s border. So great is our nostalgia for the Cold War, we just cannot accept that it is over.

From 1900 to 1940, America “freeloaded” off the British fleet and French army that kept Germany at bay. We did not enter World War I until 30 months after the bloodletting began or World War II until Adolf Hitler declared war on us. Europe has now decided to freeload off us. Why do we not do what is transparently in our national interest — pack, go home and let Europe defend Europe?

Professor Walt is among the few to cut to the real problem: a U.S. foreign-policy elite that is incapable of letting go.

“Having been in business for more than four decades, NATO is now buttressed by a large formal bureaucracy and by an extensive transatlantic cadre of former NATO officials, defense intellectuals, military officers and journalists all of whose professional lives have been devoted to preserving the ‘Atlantic community.’ Ending the alliance would remove their main professional preoccupation and call a halt to the endless series of conferences that these elites have long enjoyed. It is therefore not surprising that they resist any hint that NATO is beginning to dissolve or that they have labored hard to devise new ways of keeping it busy.”

Right down the smokestack, professor. For our old Cold War bulls, it is NATO — or Leisure World. NATO survives, only because its passing would break too many rice bowls.