European Military Cooperation Need Not Weaken NATO

European military integration would augment NATO and signal European, in the absence of American, resolve.

Italian and Portuguese army units take part in a NATO exercise in Santa Margarida, Portugal, October 21, 2015
Italian and Portuguese army units take part in a NATO exercise in Santa Margarida, Portugal, October 21, 2015 (Sebastien Frechette)

Tomáš Valášek, the director of Carnegie Europe, argues that European allies cannot assume Donald Trump’s aversion to NATO is an anomaly and the next president will put things right. The United States have been cooling on NATO for years, he writes:

A number of factors — a crisis in Europe that grips Americans’ imagination, an articulate pro-European leader in Washington, a crisis in the United States that the European allies help resolve — could revive America’s flagging interest in the alliance it created nearly seventy years ago. But for now, the passage of time and memories work against NATO.

Valášek is nevertheless uneasy about Europeans exploring a “backup” to the Atlantic alliance, arguing that continental security cooperation cannot come close to what Europe and North America have now.

Without plans, commands and sophisticated weapons in meaningful numbers, the Europeans may not on their own impress Russia, he warns — “and may therefore be unable to deter it from misbehaving.”

Cooperation outside NATO

Fair enough, but if Valášek is right that popular support for America’s security role in Europe is on the decline — and I think he is — then it surely makes sense for European nations to expand military cooperation outside NATO?

After Trump was sworn in, I argued here that Madeleine Albright’s famous “three Ds” — no duplication of NATO, no decoupling from NATO, no discrimination against non-EU NATO countries, like Turkey – were moot. It is America, not Europe, I pointed, that has declared NATO “obsolete”. It is Europe, not America, that will suffer the consequences.

Concretely, I suggested Europeans armies could share more assets (the Dutch-made HNLMS Karel Doorman, for example, is operated by both the Dutch and German navies), do more to combine development and procurement of weapon systems (like the Eurofighter), jointly patrol the Baltic Sea area with non-NATO Finland and Sweden and deploy Western European “tripwire” forces along Russia’s frontier.

None of this would weaken NATO. It would augment it and signal to Moscow European, in the absence of American, resolve.