Scholars debate the future of NATO

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Michael Desch, professor of political science and director of the Notre Dame International Security Center, believes the North Atlantic Trade Organization has outlived its original purpose to defeat the Soviet Union and should be put to rest. He explains, “This is the corpse of an international institution that’s become zombie-fied. It’s dead! But it continues to exist and chase after the living.” According to Desch, NATO’s confounding factors are the amount of resources the United States spends on the alliance and the “moral hazard” of maintaining a permanent attachment to European countries that may no longer share our interests.

While Desch came out strongly in favor of ending the alliance, other scholars still see the security alliance’s value—although not in its current form. Author and historian Andrew Bacevich notes that NATO “ought to do what it was founded to do, which is provide for the security of Europe. It’s just that what is different today than back in 1949 is today the Europeans are fully capable of taking responsibility for their own security.” After all, the United States spends more than 3.5 percent of its GDP on defense, whereas the median defense expenditure of European NATO countries is a mere 1.18 percent of GDP. Bacevich believes the United States could foreseeably exit NATO if it gave its European partners approximately ten years to take charge of the alliance.

Richard Betts from Columbia University takes a different tack on the usefulness of NATO. “NATO can be useful without being activist,” he claims. “The problem with NATO was the assumption that it had to do something after the Cold War, rather than stay on ice in case at some point in the future it … needed to be reactivated.” The University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer agreed, calling the sentiment a “grow or die” perspective. In reality, says Mearsheimer, NATO expansion made the alliance worse off by antagonizing Russia. “It’s actually very strange,” added Eugene Gholz of The University of Texas at Austin. Policymakers “who in some circumstances say they don’t believe in deterrence anymore … really fundamentally believ[ed] that NATO would deter all bad behavior from Russia.”




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