Ian Buruma on the Transatlantic Relationship

Rather a lot to chew over in such a short essay, but well worth your time. After a smart if familiar examination of how the “lessons of Munich” resonate differently for Europeans and Americans, Buruma writes:

These different perspectives have caused peculiar tensions between the US and its democratic allies. Europeans and Japanese depend on American military power for their security, but often don’t like the way the US uses it. Too much dependence has also had an infantilising effect. Like permanent adolescents, Europeans and Japanese crave the security of the great American father, and deeply resent him at the same time.

And so:

The choice is stark: if Europeans are prepared to fight for Georgia or Ukraine, these countries should be invited to join Nato. If not, not. But, instead of choosing, major European countries such as Germany, have dithered, first dangling Nato membership as a juicy carrot, and then withdrawing the offer, leaving the Americans to indulge in heroic rhetoric without the necessary follow-through.

All this is making the western alliance look incoherent, and, despite its vast wealth and American military power, strangely impotent. It is time for European democracies to make up their minds. They can remain dependent on US protection and stop complaining, or they can develop the capacity to defend Europe, however they wish to define it, by themselves.

The first option may not be feasible for very much longer in the twilight days of Pax America. The second will be expensive and risky. Given the many divisions inside the Union, Europeans will probably muddle on, until a serious crisis forces them to act, by which point it could well be too late.

This strikes me as exactly right. NATO will never be dissolved — institutions like it are hardly ever dissolved, as doing so would be needlessly dramatic. But of course it is a very different institution from what it once was, and admitting Georgia or Ukraine would likely push it further into obsolescence: no one seriously believes that any of Estonia’s NATO allies would launch a nuclear strike in her defense. So the security NATO provides seems mostly notional, and mostly about deepening cooperation between the military personnel of partner states — which, by the way, isn’t trivial.

I tend to think the “no permanent allies, only permanent interests” approach is going to become more attractive. The hope, of course, is that the U.S. will generally be part of the broadest, deepest, status quo-affirming coalitions. This is a good time to revisit Randall Schweller’s brilliant Deadly Imbalances, on the peculiar dynamics of tripolar systems. Revisionist coalitions are smaller than status quo coalitions because they have to scrap over the spoils of victory. It’s interesting to think about this framework in the context of Iraq Wars I and II.