NATO Is Obsolete
February 5, 2017
Ivan Eland|/ US News and World Report
Commentary: In his campaign and transition to power, President Donald Trump has repeatedly sent tremors through the commanding heights of the US national security establishment. Recently, he again attacked the NATO alliance, calling it "obsolete," because NATO was not set up to respond to terrorist threats, and the allies are not bearing their fair share of the financial burden. Embarrassingly, Trump is right on both counts.
NATO Is Obsolete
Trump's criticisms of NATO and US defense are both valid and needed
Ivan Eland|/ US News and World Report
(January 24, 2017) -- In his campaign and transition to power, President Donald Trump has repeatedly sent tremors through the commanding heights of the US national security establishment. Recently, he again attacked the NATO alliance, calling it "obsolete," because NATO was not set up to respond to terrorist threats, and reminding the world that the allies free-ride off US military efforts by not bearing their fair share of the burden.
Embarrassingly, Trump is right on both counts. Establishment figures such as former Ambassador Nicholas Burns often try to refute both of these points by arguing that the only time the Article V mutual defense clause of the NATO treaty has ever been invoked was after the 9/11 attacks, and that NATO troops have fought and died in Afghanistan going after al-Qaida terrorists and their Taliban hosts.
Never mind that the real reason the allies eagerly invoked Article V after 9/11 was to show that the alliance was a two-way street, given the United States alone accounts for about 75 percent of the military spending of the 28-country alliance.
The fact is, the United States really didn't need the allies' limited military capabilities. With incompatible equipment and an abundance of restrictions on the use of their forces, some American personnel actually complained that the allies simply got in the way.
Per usual they mostly provided international political cover for a US-dominated military operation. In addition, although ousting the Taliban regime and killing Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders may have been needed, the long and unnecessary NATO occupation of Afghanistan merely led to an increase in terrorism and other destabilizing violence there and in neighboring Pakistan. Thus Trump is correct that the Cold War-era alliance needs to be scrapped or at the very least reformed.
More generally, the bedrock of defense reform should be staying out of other nonstrategic brush fire wars in the developing world, such as in Iraq and Syria. As was the case in Afghanistan, such long-term US involvement only creates more terrorists.
Former President George W. Bush helped create the Islamic State group by his unneeded and costly invasion of Iraq. General Jim Mattis, Trump's new secretary of defense, noted this in an article based on his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 27, 2015:
With less military available, we must reduce our appetite for using it. Absent growing our military, there must come a time when moral outrage, serious humanitarian plight, or lesser threats cannot be militarily addressed.
Prioritization is needed if we are to remain capable of the most critical mission for which we have a military: to fight on short notice and defend the country.
By railing against the excessive costs and delays in development and production of the F-35 fighter by the Navy, Marines and Air Force, Trump has signaled that defense reform will be a top priority for him.
Other weapons systems should be examined for reductions as well In the very same congressional testimony, Gen. Mattis also hinted at paring down nuclear forces:
We must clearly establish the role of our nuclear weapons: do they serve solely to deter nuclear war? If so, we should say so, and the resulting clarity will help to determine the number we need. Is it time to reduce the Triad to a Diad [sic], removing the land-based missiles? This would reduce the false alarm danger. Could we re-energize the arms control effort by only counting vice launchers?
Any reduction in weapon systems or force structure should also include a reduction in the number of aircraft carriers the US has in its arsenal. If a major war, which laudably is the only kind Mattis seems to want to fight, breaks out, much more air power can be brought to bear by the Air Force, because land-based fighters and heavy bombers taking off on longer runways can carry and drop much more ordinance than vulnerable carrier battleships.
Under this more restrained military posture, the United States could avoid brush fire conflicts and fight the larger, less likely wars that affect America's vital interests, thus allowing more of the Army and Air Force to be transferred to the less costly National Guard.
On the business end of the armed forces, the military should not be providing anything that the private sector can provide better and cheaper. Therefore the armed forces should get out of the business of providing things like housing, commissaries, health care and golf courses.
Military personnel, like everyone else, could purchase these services on the civilian market more efficiently at a cheaper price. In the procurement of weapon systems, excessively rigid military specifications should be relaxed (especially for computer and communication systems), thereby allowing companies doing primarily civilian work to compete for defense contracts and subcontracts – resulting in lower costs to the taxpayer.
Finally, despite the armed forces themselves wanting to close excess military bases at home and abroad, members of Congress don't want to see the federal welfare for their states and districts disappear. Regardless, another round of base closure is sorely needed.
President-elect Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis appear eager to stir the pot when it comes to defense and national security. Such reform efforts, while surely giving the establishment heartburn, are duly warranted.
Ivan Eland is a senior fellow with the Independent Institute.
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