This month marks the 70th anniversary of the NATO pact, to be celebrated Thursday with a ceremony in Washington, where the original document was signed in 1949, launching the Cold War.
The ill-named North Atlantic Treaty Organization had Luxembourg and Italy among its original members — neither on the Atlantic — and has expanded over the years to Greece, Turkey (not even in Europe), Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, the three Baltic states, Albania, Croatia, Bulgaria and Montenegro, so that a clear majority of the countries now have nothing at all to do with the Atlantic Ocean. Thus disclosing that the treaty wasn’t about the ocean countries at all, it was about creating a European ring around the Soviet Union and then Russia where America could establish its power and circumscribe the Red and now the Pink menace.
One might argue that its original purpose was to create a Western response to the Warsaw Pact, except that this pact didn’t exist until 1955, and it was created in response to NATO. NATO’s original purpose then was purely and simply to advance the American Empire now that the U.S. was the dominant power in a war-shattered world, and hence we established military bases — 23 Army, 10 Air Force, 6 Navy — throughout NATO territory, with some 70,000 American soldiers stationed there, to so inform the Kremlin.
In one of his early campaign appearances Donald Trump let slip that he thought NATO was no longer useful, a stance that he later thought wise to retract under pressure from the Washington establishment and his neo-con advisers. But in fact it is true, at least in the sense that it was originally useful. We don’t need to surround Russia for fear that it will start gobbling up Eastern Europe and the Baltics because Putin has given no sign that it wants to, and his takeover of Crimea indicated that he wanted to consolidate a greater Russia — it was historically Russian territory and the Russian majority there wanted it — not that he was empire-minded.
Even if it could be argued that NATO has some use in uniting Europe into a military force in case it was ever needed, it doesn’t follow that America should be its linchpin and sugar daddy, as it has been for these 70 years. We have paid out trillions of dollars to NATO — currently we’re paying $680 billion a year, plus another $6 billion for a silly “European Deterence Initiative” created to show our unhappiness with the Crimean takeover, and that makes up some 70 percent of the pact’s budget. Why do we have to be the protector of a Europe that is perfectly capable of defending itself? What on earth do we get out of it?
And what might we do if we stopped paying those sums to Europe? What might we do if we stopped funneling billions to those 39 bases and brought those 70,000 soldiers home? Seems to me that it would make sense to invest that money at home and maybe put those troops to work repairing the U.S. infrastructure — or even building that bloody wall.
The truth is, we are today in the difficult economic straits we are in ($22 trillion in debt) and the chaotic foreign policy mess we are in because we are trying to maintain an empire when the need for that empire has vanished and the attempt to maintain it does nothing except beef up a military-industrial leviathan and make us enemies wherever we go. Let’s shut down not just those 39 European bases but the other 750 or so we maintain around the world, plus the acknowledged five wars that we are fighting — we’ve learned by now that they are unnecessary and incite more blowback than admiration and respect, and they certainly do nothing to advance “democracy.”
You know, make America first again, get on with the business of healing our riven nation and repairing its badly damaged transportation systems. And to pay for all that we will have the $100 billion a year we spend on our overreach and the $200 billion we squander on futile wars.
We will give up trying to be the world’s policeman. We will give up trying to implant our version of democracy everywhere we think it is badly needed. We will not behave as if it’s our job to deprive North Korea of a nuclear deterrent system that it feels it needs to defend itself in ways that Libya’s Khaddafi failed to do. Not our job to send provocative naval fleets to the China Sea to prove to China that we still have a mighty Navy. Not our job to overthrow a corrupt regime in Venezuela, beef up a fascist oligarchy in Ukraine, help Saudi Arabia fight a proxy war against Iran in Yemen.
The “again” to which we might make America great is the one we had before we decided to become an empire. A withdrawal from NATO on April 4 would be a good start along that road.
Kirkpatrick Sale is the author of 12 books, most recently “Human Scale Revisited,” and lives in Mount Pleasant.