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Nato is weakening America Europe, not America, is calling the shots

Get behind the defensive umbrella. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Get behind the defensive umbrella. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


September 27, 2023   8 mins

Nearly three quarters of a century after Nato’s founding, Britain has slid down its league table of political and military power: from a near-peer ally of the United States to more or less open vassalage. To witness the conquered mindset of the British establishment, one need only read a recent article deliberating on what is to be done with the British Army, plummeting in numbers, capability and international esteem. It proposes to reshape our land forces as a collection of Special Forces units at America’s disposal: “we are likely to fight as part of a coalition in future, so why not be the sharpened tip of the American spear?”

On the one hand, the very idea of formalising Britain’s role as Washington’s most loyal and reckless auxiliary, without even the hint that Britain may have vital strategic interests of its own, strikes the reader as a shameful metric of national decline. Yet on the other, it is merely a frank acceptance of Britain’s true role in the world.

Just as the Five Eyes alliance, promoted as a valuable forum to share secret intelligence, can be more accurately viewed as a means to ensure the Anglophone intelligence establishment orientate themselves towards serving US foreign policy goals, the Nato alliance is as much a Cold War means of organising satellite states to serve imperial interests as was the Warsaw Pact. The distinction between Moscow’s loyal network of European generals, securocrats and pet politicians and those of present-day Washington is barely perceptible. Yet, in recent years, the value of the Nato alliance has declined markedly, both to Washington insiders increasingly disgruntled that the United States finds itself subsidising the defence of rich but feckless European states, and to some European leaders such as Macron, who famously termed the Cold War relic “brain dead”. The alliance’s most recent adventures, in Afghanistan and Libya, were disasters both to the countries fated to host its intervention, and to the European states who suddenly found themselves hosting the unwanted human floods that followed.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, then, came as a godsend to the faltering alliance. Once again, Nato could focus on its core purpose: the American-led defence of Europe from an aggressive Moscow. Summarising an emergent  strand of thought on both the Left and Right of European politics, Wolfgang Streeck, writing in Natopolitanism, Verso’s collection of essays from the New Left Review, remarks that by “restoring the West, the war neutralised the various fault lines where the EU was crumbling
 while catapulting the United States into a position of renewed hegemony over Western Europe, including its regional organisation, the European Union”. This precise critique, that a war-revived “Turbo-America” has consolidated its wavering hold on our home continent, grasping us ever more suffocatingly to the imperial bosom, is now commonplace in discussions of geopolitics following the Ukraine war: but is it true?

The authors in Natopolitanism robustly make the case that, as the writer Thomas Meaney observes, “in practice, Nato is above all a political arrangement that guarantees US primacy in determining answers to European questions“ and “administers US power in Eurasia, as a regional satrapy and launchpad for excursions elsewhere”. In essays spanning decades, which aim to “stand in contrast to the pieties and propaganda that saturate the Natopolitan scene”, the writers outline Washington’s strategy of “convincing potential competitors” such as Europe “that they need not aspire to a greater role”, while accounting “sufficiently for the interests of the advanced industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership”. As Europe’s leadership shows, this plan was entirely successful, so that “what was once presumed to be an artefact of the Cold War order sits so comfortably at the heart of the Western system that it is frequently mistaken for a natural feature in the geopolitical landscape”.

The book reminds us of the fearful warnings of US defence establishment giants such as William J. Burns that the decision to expand Nato eastwards, enfolding the Baltic and Central European states while leaving Ukraine and Georgia in their current, fateful ante-room to membership, was an act of monumental hubris which. It would, he wrote, “cross the brightest of Russia’s red lines” by “indulging the Ukrainians and Georgians in hopes of Nato membership on which we were unlikely to deliver, while reinforcing Putin’s sense that we were determined to pursue a course he saw as an existential threat”.

Indeed, Natopolitanism’s essential thrust — and the limitations of its analysis — can be summarised by the title of Realist theorist John Mearsheimer’s contribution: “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.” It captures a strain of thinking common to European strategic autonomists who regret that the alliance has kept the continent subordinate to Washington, Left-wing anti-imperialists keen to highlight the hypocrisy of the alliance’s newfound commitment to the inviolability of national borders, and to the American anti-interventionists whose stance is, at least in liberal interventionist eyes, now indistinguishable from “IR Realism” Outlining viewpoints mocked by American neoconservative broadsheet columnists and boisterous cartoon dogs on Twitter alike, the collection is perhaps the most sustained and articulate critique so far of Washington’s hubristic attitudes towards Russia.

And yet, much of its argument can be refuted by observation of the Ukraine war’s progress until now. The purported “last chance for peace” lamented by contributors, Russia’s eve-of-invasion request to rule out the alliance’s further eastward expansion, also included a demand to withdraw Nato infrastructure from the Central European and Baltic countries welcomed into the alliance a generation ago: a politically absurd demand made in the full knowledge it was impossible to grant. Far from the United States forcing European states into a stance of radical and self-defeating hostility to Russia, it is European states that have consistently pushed a reluctant Biden administration into delivering ever-more deadly and sophisticated weapons systems to Kyiv. The pattern of hawkish European states browbeating their cautious and reluctant overlord into greater escalation echoes the dynamic of the Libya intervention, where the bright-eyed and idealistic Cameron and Sarkozy pairing cajoled Obama’s intervention in what he later termed the Libyan “shitshow” against his better judgment. If anything, Nato displays the European tail wagging the American dog: instead of keeping Europe subordinate, weak but ambitious European states use the Nato alliance to advance their own foreign policy ends — that these ends would, in Libya, prove disastrous is a European failing rather than an American one.

No wonder that American defence thinkers, such as the Realist strategist Elbridge Colby, dispassionately debate the idea of cutting the Baltic countries loose as a strategic burden a declining US can no longer afford. Yet the sceptical attitude to the alliance displayed by the American Right, and particularly Trump, points to another potential outcome from the war. While Streeck asserts that “the war also seems to have dealt a death blow to the French dream of turning the liberal empire of the European Union into a strategically sovereign global force, credibly rivalling both a rising China and a declining United States”, dwindling American political support for a war in which the EU has fully committed itself leaves Europe forced to assume a position of power, almost against its own will.

Ultimately, Europe’s future defence strategy will be written in the straits and islets of the Western Pacific: either the US will be forced to concentrate on the threat from China, forcing Europe to finally take up the burden of its own defence, or Washington will abandon its role as global hegemon, taking Europe tighter into its embrace as a rich and easily assimilable core empire. Either outcome is possible, and the decision will only come at the time of China’s choosing. But if the first eventuality comes to pass, with a giant and hostile neighbour to its east, and an imperial sponsor distracted from by its own great challenge on the other side of the world, Europe will be forced to extract itself from the position of helpless dependence its role in the Nato alliance has fostered.

For Left-wing writers such as Meaney, such an autonomous Europe is hardly a more appealing outcome than subordinate membership in the American alliance: “considering what the European Union is today, if it ever did succeed in taking a more militarised form, this would hardly be a rosy prospect,” he writes. “A competent EU army patrolling the Mediterranean littoral for migrants, enforcing an elaborate repatriation system, and forcing regimes in Africa and Asia to serve in perpetuity as extraction points for its resources and receptacles of its trash would only clinch the status of ‘Fortress Europe’.” European conservatives, accustomed by habit if not self-interest to look longingly for Washington’s approval, may yet come to welcome this new dispensation.

Certainly, the most recent iteration of Nato as a heavily armed liberal NGO would not survive this shift. As noted in Natopolitanism, Poland’s hawkish attitude to the Ukraine war has led Washington to forget its until-recently-held doubts about the strength of the country’s democratic institutions, just as concerns over Meloni’s purported fascism evaporated once she committed herself to the war. So, Streeck warns, controversies over the “‘rule of law’ will become increasingly obsolete as cultural conflicts between “liberal” and “illiberal” democracy will be eclipsed by the geostrategic objectives of Nato and the United States,” while “a shift in political power inside the EU may be imminent in favour of the Union’s eastern front states”. Poland’s massive programme of rearmament, plus the planned incorporation within the EU of whatever iteration of the Ukrainian state follows the war, already promises a shift in Europe’s gravity from the post-national liberalism of the continent’s northwest to the resurgent, militarised nationalisms of the eastern frontier. As long as the new Europe’s defence posture alleviates the burden on the United States, Washington voices which once promoted Nato as an engine for liberal idealism will no more protest Europe’s Rightward political experimentation than their equivalents of past decades did the pliant authoritarian regimes of member states Portugal, Greece and Turkey.

Far from ensuring Europe’s political and economic subordination, America’s retrenchment towards simultaneously managing both a great struggle with China and its own internal political conflict is very likely to leave Europe functionally autonomous. American voters and politicians may already be tiring of what will be a long and bloody war: Ukraine has, it seems, already reached the high-watermark of Pentagon support. Yet committed as Europe now is, with expanding Russian armies on its doorstep, disengagement is a luxury European leaders cannot afford. Perhaps things might have been otherwise, if different decisions had been made at the zenith of American power: but there is no rewriting history, no going back, and we are forced to make the best we can of the cards our masters dealt us.

In all this, the Sixth Form Third Worldist anti-imperialism of Nato sceptics such as Corbyn has been superseded by events. The idea that Corbyn could ever have extracted Britain from Nato was fanciful. As Meaney observes of Central Europe, “were any political leadership in Poland, Romania, Hungary, or any other Eastern European state to become intolerable for Washington, it would have an open, exploitable channel to that country’s military, greased by years of mutual exchanges, including stints at Nato headquarters, bevies of Nato conferences, retreats, and ceremonies, as well as wars fought together in the Middle East”. Precisely the same is true, with the inclusion of securocrats and wonks as loyal devotees, for us Western European countries. As the desperate wheedling for an American pat on their head from Britain’s defence establishment makes clear, the idea of Britain pursuing strategic ends distinct from those of its imperial master is literally incomprehensible to our governing class. Updating this strategic calculus is more likely to result from a sudden external shock than dispassionate consideration of Britain’s interests.

Yet Macron’s sudden pivot from Nato-scepticism towards a full-throated commitment to the alliance’s eastward expansion reminds us that other outcomes are possible. In our current turbulent period of interregnum between American supremacy and retreat from global hegemony, the Nato alliance may provide the framework within which a future, sovereign Europe can establish itself, through the creation of a notionally subordinate European defence pillar ready to take up the burden of the continent’s security from its faltering sponsor. There is no political utility in railing against Nato, given the unshakeable attachment of European elites to their sinecures as loyal auxiliaries. Yet by working within Nato structures, to establish Europe as an equal partner within the alliance rather than a collection of weak and disunited supplicants, our home continent may still quietly prepare itself for the withdrawal of America’s protective shield, and the contested multipolar order already bloodily dawning on its borders. Just as Rome’s successor states, once the legions left, still proudly wore imperial titles, Nato’s ghostly form may yet outlast the empire itself.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
9 months ago

There is something very odd about the UK. I don’t know if it something beaten into people at Eton, or Cambridge, or some kind of Southern English cultural obsession, but the focus with ‘leadership’ is bizarre. Every military exercise the UK is involved with seems to have someone from the government or the MOD stating how Britain ‘will provide leadership’. This is bemusing and it is absurd. The majority of the UK would really prefer the country to be managed properly, maybe be able to build a railway like other countries can, or even have a coherent and long-term industrial policy, yet those in positions of ‘leadership’ are obsessed with acting out their globe striding fantasies instead.

patrick macaskie
patrick macaskie
9 months ago

“The majority of the UK would really prefer the country to be managed properly”. On what basis do you think we face a choice between being managed properly and defending the free world from Putin. the ukraine is the one example of where the voter gets value for money and some might say it is our last chance to garner the esprit de corps needed to dig our domestic politics out of the hole in which we find ourselves. the Ukrainians are holding up a mirror to the free world and what we see is a picture of dorian gray. the right is as deluded as the left in their belief the old remedies work when you are pushing on a string.

patrick macaskie
patrick macaskie
9 months ago

wow! -20 that is my highest score yet . Perhaps you are all Russian bots…or that special segment of Trump followers who believe Putin is a guardian of your values. Either way I can only commiserate. it must be a bleak place….once you start to believe these two losers can save your bacon. The Trump cupboard is bare. He has no legislative programme to disarm wokery and there is no economic programme beyond a rather fuzzy and optimistic pro-business attitude. G7 debt is now 3x gdp. Inflation happens when no single group in society will take responsibility for what has happened. The older generation buys goods and services from their children. the problem we have is the terms of trade needs to change and the working age population are changing the price for the goods and services they deliver to us. Was it really realistic to think they would meekly mortgage themselves for 2 lifetimes to keep the show on the road or that investment led growth could happen without balance sheet repair for the households that will be doing the heavy lifting. in the end markets take matters into their own hands. the democrats don’t have a clue either but at least Biden seems to understand the economic and strategic value to America of moral courage and unity in the free the world.. I share much of your pain. I just think you are barking up the wrong tree. Trump is a chancer not a leader. I would imagine Ronnie Reagan and Mrs T are spinning in their graves.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
9 months ago

It is absurd. Why would any country willingly accept the leadership of another if the latter country can’t even get its own state apparatus working? It’s a bit like all of these business gurus/life coaches I keep meeting at networking events, telling me how I need to adopt a “growth mindset”. You probe a little deeper in conversation and find that 90% of them have never even owned a business, nevermind a successful one. It’s utter rubbish.
To have authority, you need competence and experience, not just chuck phrases around, hoping no one will notice you’re a basketcase. If you’ve got that, people will listen to and follow you without you having to make a song and dance about it.

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

It’s not just military leadership. The same phenomenon can be seen in net-zero. Everyone knows that our efforts will have a vanishingly small impact but once this argument is pushed the reply always comes back that we must provided world leadership on this!

P N
P N
9 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

All countries, all people and all leaders have internal or personal flaws. Claiming a country or a persuade can’t lead unless their own house is in perfect order betrays a naĂŻve idealism about countries and people.

Jeff Watkins
Jeff Watkins
9 months ago

Hear Hear. We are being run by idiots. I don’t understand why these politicians have such delusions of grandeaur. Surely we should leave NATO and declare ourselves neutral, ditch our nuclear deterrent and save at least 50 billion in replacement costs and give up our seat on the UN to India. Focus on making this the healthiest, happiest best run country in the world.

Iris C
Iris C
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Watkins

Although this is clearly written with tongue in cheek, it is time to consider if an aggressive military organization is now out-of-date when hacking and other technological devices can force a country into compliance.
The non-miliary power of BRICS PLUS should, therefore, not be dismissed..

Phil Rees
Phil Rees
9 months ago

Absolutely correct, and Johnson is the latest example of that Eton based characteristic, as Cameron was before him.

P N
P N
9 months ago
Reply to  Phil Rees

There will always be leaders and followers. You Phil are destined to always be a follower.

P N
P N
9 months ago

It’s not an either / or and when Britain was a global leader it was capable of building a railway and having an industrial strategy. No country or human is perfect so to claim a country or person can’t be a leader unless their own house is in perfect working order is just a naive escape from reality.
There are huge benefits to leadership and soft power, which the United States has reaped since the Second World War, largely at Britain’s expense. Whether that was Britain’s retrenchment from east of Suez causing us to lose our influence in the Middle East and thereby lose control over the oil and natural gas fields which British capital had discovered, or having to get the nod from Reagan before we could defend the Falklands, loss of leadership costs money and gives us less control over our destiny. Now China leads the world and watch it harness the African continent’s natural resources for its own benefit.
People are quick to be down on Britain. It makes them feel clever, exceptional and removed from the proles. But as Roger Scruton pointed out, oikophobia is a terrible look. Before condemning Eton, Cambridge or any of the other institutions which have given us leaders since the 18th Century, maybe we should look at how much Britain has achieved in that time.

Steve White
Steve White
9 months ago

It seems to me that any conclusion that NATO would outlast its American master needs to address the fact that its master is currently looking to expand NATO into East Asia for its own ends. Just like it blew up the German pipeline for its own goals. It doesn’t care about the people of Germany any more than it does the men dying under bombardment in Ukraine. Which is why they and the Banderite controlled Zelensky are more than willing to pollute the land they claim to love with cluster bombs and depleted uranium, which they know won’t make the failed offensive anything other than it already is.
For my own opinion I think Aris needs to think more outside the box of the current and historic forces and organizations. I believe that national sovereignty and autonomy are a requirement for strong defense partners. I would suggest that only nations that are more in control of their own financial futures, their own diverse cultures, their own borders will do well moving forward. In other words the civilization state is the future not the neoliberal nation state.
So, the BRICSification of the world is not such a bad model, in at least the idea of sovereignty, autonomy, and diplomacy are all mutually desired goals. For this, the hyper-financialized globalist, corporatist centric world where the Klaus Schwabs, and the George Soroses of the world wield forms of power, will hold less sway, because nations are not willing to tolerate their funded, or the CIAs funded NGOs, of millions in soft money poured into nations to bring about whatever gets lumped under terms like democracy, or human rights. Nations that have their own people as their chief interest, and therefore their own identity, their own financial and cultural futures at interest is the way for a more blessed Europe.
That means that if you want to live in a nation that emasculates or murders its own children in the name of progressive values, then your nation next door to you should let you do that, but at the same time, you shouldn’t try to push your trans-human (or any other) views and values in their universities, or penalize them for not wanting that in their universities. That’s about tolerance, mutual respect and boundaries. Something narcissists are not good at. So, perhaps we need to expect better mental health from our leadership. Boundaries are important. We need to stop trying to control things on the other side of our borders, and we need to stop letting people come into and try to control things inside of our own borders.
If there is a humanitarian crisis someplace in the world, if they allow us, we need to go there, set up a safe zone, and provide tents and food for them there. We need to reject their migrations to Europe. They have their own countries. If they want to be gay, or Muslim, or communist, or capitalist, or libertarian, good for them. That’s their country. If someone wants to live in that, great. If they want to change that, great. That’s their country. We need to respect them and set our own boundaries so that we don’t feel entitled to go tell them how to run their lives or their countries.

Last edited 9 months ago by Steve White
Steve Hall
Steve Hall
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

Good points. The economic infrastructure on which the geopolitical great game is missing in Aris’s analysis. What has kept the EU subservient to US interests is the absurd ‘fiscal credibility’ rule, which restricts EU states to 3% of GDP. The NATO limit of 2% on military spending indicates just how short the overall budget is. The US slyly ignores this – it spends 3.1% of its GDP on the military alone – and for China and Russia it has never existed, which is one reason why the stupid sanctions on Russia backfired. Whatever they need is paid for by their central banks, while unmanageable inflation is avoided by increasing supply and levying enough tax from the suppliers and wage-earners in the military industries. The current and largely US-based globalist PECs that monopolise investment and manage pension and insurance funds are risk-averse. They have no intention of releasing big investment funds in the UK or other European nations because the returns would not excite their ‘animal spirits’. The only way we can kick-start the process of regeneration and exert control over our financial future as you suggest is to use our central bank to fund substantive public investment – in energy, transport, education (technical and scientific) and the return of essential manufacturing – and crowd out the risk-averse PECs with some serious competition. You never know, if important dimensions of our economy take off they might even try to muscle back in, which would be all well and good. If we are to have true sovereignty and intend to start inching our way back to prosperity, control over investment, the life-blood of all economies, is essential.

Chipoko
Chipoko
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

Boundaries are important. We need to stop trying to control things on the other side of our borders, and we need to stop letting people come into and try to control things inside of our own borders.
Amen to that! Spot on! Arrogant democratic imperialism post WW2 is what has produced our failed civilisation. We have allowed the cancer of ‘human rights’ (AKA the Marxist dynamic of supporting the oppressed against their oppressors) to rot our body politic from within and to use this mantra as an excuse for scores of foreign interventions that have created havoc for us globally (just consider the consequences of the Blair/Bush invasion of Iraq for starters). Suella Braverman (UK Home Secretary) was absolutely correct to assert that uncontrolled migration represents an existential threat to western civilisation. No other senior politician has had the guts to state that so clearly.
How many of the Woking Class elites who live in substantial homes protected by hedges, fences, armed response contractors and electronic security advocate and facilitate open borders and uncontrolled migration in the name of ‘human rights’? I bet none of them has allowed people (Cameron’s ‘little people’ or Hillary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’), whom they profess to care for so much, to picnic and camp uninvited in their gardens!

Laurian Boer
Laurian Boer
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

Excellent comment!

Debra Maddrell
Debra Maddrell
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve White

American master? Ha. America is nothing more than a bottomless purse as far as NATO is concerned. There’s a reason why the acronym is often expressed as no-action-talk-only (referring to the political establishment).

David McKee
David McKee
9 months ago

As an example of the wholesale rewriting of history, this is hard to beat.

The former Warsaw Pact countries were not strongarmed into NATO by a triumphant United States. They demanded it, because they were weak states, sandwiched between two powerful states: Germany and Russia. The last time that happened (1919-41), it did not end well. In spades.

Putin rewrote history to portray eastern expansion of NATO as a threat to Russia. It never was. It’s a defensive alliance. Kosovo and Afghanistan were aberrations, not the rule.

Max Price
Max Price
9 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Correct. The idea that NATO is a threat to Russia is ludicrous.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
9 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

I am sorry, it most certainly is a threat. You only have to look at the US meddling in Ukraine in 2014 to see what Uncle Sam has in mind

P N
P N
9 months ago

Even if your claim that US meddling in Ukraine was unjustified (good luck finding a Ukrainian to agree with you btw), it does not follow that NATO is a threat to Russia. The idea of NATO invading Russia is too preposterous for words. NATO might have been a threat to Russian hegemony in the region because it prevented it oppressing Ukraine but that does not make it a threat to Russia itself.

Rob N
Rob N
9 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

I think you are wrong BUT the question is not whether NATO is a threat but whether Putin/Russia might think NATO is a threat and, separately, whether that is reasonable.
If Putin/Russia think NATO is a threat then they will respond to that; maybe in a manner like invading a large, resource rich neighbour who is threatening to join NATO.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
9 months ago
Reply to  Rob N

You probably didn’t notice that Russia only entered Russian speaking, pro Russian regions that were being annihilated by NATO trained and armed proxies from Westrn Ukraine, ie Ukraine west of the Dnipro River. As such the Russians are there by invitation (begging) from the people of those regions so as to stop the genocide.
If this is inaccurate please state your reasoning.. When Russia advances into (Russian-hating) Ukraine, across the Dnipro River and South from Belarus into Kyev, then we’ll call it an invasion.
After all we don’t say the US invaded Vietnam do we? Why not? Answer, the US was invited into Vietnam by an (unpopular) Vietnamese government just as Russia was invited into Afghanistan by an unpopular government there. Did USUK invade France in 1944? ..or were they invited in by the French?

Jon Barrow
Jon Barrow
9 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

That’s not true, the original Russian plan was to seize Kyiv (a Russian-speaking yet pro-Ukraine city).

P N
P N
9 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

This is complete garbage. Russia invaded Ukraine from the north to attack Kiev but got pushed back.
The people of Bucha weren’t begging for the Russians were they?
This is offensive fake news.

George Venning
George Venning
9 months ago
Reply to  P N

That is true. But they did so with a modest force that is generally reckoned to have been about a third the size necessary to take over the country. Why?
Was it because they had some new theory of war, under which their forces counted triple, or was it because they were actually (as many people have argued) seeking to force Kyiv to implement their obligations under Minsk II?

Last edited 9 months ago by George Venning
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
9 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

Garbage! NATO is a threat to EVERY country that refuses vassal status! Ask any Iraqi, Libyan, Syrian, Afghan and a 100 other states if USUK-NATO isn’t a threat?
And in case you haven’t noticed, NATO has been effectively at war with Russia for a year and a half.. are you living on Mars?

Simon Diggins
Simon Diggins
9 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

As the Polish Foreign Minister said, “We joined NATO to kick a serial rapist in the balls.”

The idea that the East Europeans had no
autonomy in their decision-making, to join NATO or not, is an example of American arrogance, in spades.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
9 months ago
Reply to  Simon Diggins

Do that’s what we call “defence” now is it. I hope you’re not defending yourself from your next-door neighbour in that manner, are you?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

You forgot IRAQ!
Or was that a defensive move forced upon us?

ps.Silly me! I forgot Saddam Insane DID 9/11!

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
David McKee
David McKee
9 months ago

It wasn’t a NATO operation, at any stage.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

I didn’t say it was. But as an obedient Poodle ‘we’* still turned up, much to the irritation to many in the US Forces.

(*aka “The Borrowers”.)

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago

Saddam’s missiles would’ve hit us in 45 minutes! Britain would not, could not, endure the Mesopotamian menace. Britons sleep peacefully in their beds because our brave boys beat the Baghdad bully.
On a more serious note one wonders when the next iteration of ISIS will be ready to destabilise Iraq?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Iraq would be ideal, although my preference would be the wretched Saudis.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
9 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

Isis, throughout the world has only ever had two backers: the US and the UK.. snd it still goes on in the Sahel; only the label is different.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
9 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

I’m sorry but invasions, bombings and murderous sanctions ARE the norm.. if you’re suffering under the delusion that NATO’s approach is defensive then you cannot have opened a newspaper for decades! Exactly who was under threat from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria etc? Were they all gathered in a vast hoard in Mexico or Canada ready to invade the US? Or was that hoard massed in Normandy ready to
invade GB? Defence my arse!

P N
P N
9 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Murderous sanctions? Now I’ve heard it all.
Who was under threat? It seems you have forgotten 9/11. You don’t need a invasion force to attack Americans. The Japanese understood that and so did Al-Qaeda.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago
Reply to  P N
George Venning
George Venning
9 months ago
Reply to  P N

You’d do well to click the link that AMcG has posted below if you haven’t seen it.
But you also seem to have forgotten that the sanctions imposed by the Americans on Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 – first because they long pre-dated 9/11 but also because Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
9 months ago

The article takes a very long view but does so rooted in the demographics of today. Migration is rapidly remaking the populations of the USA and Europe. Like a dam waiting to burst, their establishments will eventually be replaced and when this happens the traditional Western strategic assumptions of the article will be swept away. It was, after all, entirely different peoples that wore Rome’s old imperial titles, and this will be true in the USA and Europe.

Rome very much fell apart when those new people were wearing Rome’s old imperial titles. When the legions left the pax Romana was replaced by a vacuum. Objectively, things were less good. Populations shrank. Europe’s significance in the world drastically shrank. Europe was eclipsed by Asia for a millennium. It could be argued tribal warfare, aggregating ever more people together, raged in the former core of the Roman Empire until the end of the Yugoslavian war in the 1990s. Yet the dream of Rome never went away. The new peoples found themselves at various points in the next 1500 years trying to imitate Rome.

Is the dream of Western imperialism as intoxicating and will the new people try and rebuild it as we tried to rebuild Rome? Will the echo of the Anglosphere Empire and NATO reverberate for centuries even as the fortunes of their successors wax and wane? Or is the demographic shift so great that we are ushering in a complete rupture with West’s past and present?

Last edited 9 months ago by Nell Clover
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Rome did NOT “fall apart “. The western half of the Empire disintegrated around 476 AD, whilst the Eastern half survived and thrived until at least 1204 AD, and finally expired on Tuesday the 29th of May, 1453 AD, just before lunch.
That vacuum you speak of included a myriad of Germanic thugs, including our own benighted ancestors, the dreaded Anglo-Saxons. Three centuries of internecine warfare, until the advent of Charlemagne* can hardly be described as a vacuum.

(*Otherwise known as Karl der Gross/Karl der Große.)

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
9 months ago

When something splits in two and one half entirely disintegrates, I think you can say that something has fallen apart.

The vacuum was metaphorical. An absence of a strong power allowing smaller powers (Germanic tribes) to fight constantly in an attempt to become dominant.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
9 months ago

‘bet you didn’t know Charlemagne had an Irish monk as tutor!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Of course I did, Irish monks were all over Europe at this time! Wasn’t Ireland ‘The Land of Saints and Scholars’?
You probably know that Charlemagne also had an Englishman, one Alcuin as his ‘enforcer’.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago

And no doubt you share St Jerome’s opinion of the Hibernian race …

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Albert McGloan

No, and had I been the fortunate Proconsul I would have had the wretched Jerome ‘Damnatio ad bestias’ without a moment’s hesitation!

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago

My God have mercy on your soul, Carolus.

Robert Appleby
Robert Appleby
9 months ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Liam – your contributions to this discussion could only have come from an Irishman! So much resentment against the powerful! A Marxist logic of the ‘defense of the oppressed’ clouds all reason in your argument.

Albert McGloan
Albert McGloan
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

“The demographic shift [is] so great that we are ushering in a complete rupture with West’s past and present.”
Fixed it for you.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

In the provinces of Britain, the Roman presence in all its forms vanished in a generation. According to the Greek, Zosimus, the Roman elite were ejected from the British Isles by the natives.
Though thin, there is enough evidence that the new populations, a whole variety of peoples more varied than ‘Anglo-Saxon’, saw only alienation in what had pre-existed their arrival. Bede, one of the new peoples, was dismissive of the Britons. Writing earlier, Gildas savagely indicted the Brittonic rulers who were in charge after the Roman departure (a departure perhaps as sudden and as unannounced as the Americans from Afghanistan) for their policy of employing other over-the-sea peoples whose skills were useful, shall we say.
At the same time, there was no communitarian philosophy, as it exists today, to keep all these new peoples, their cultures and their languages distinct and enduring.
In the seventh century, the communities, as they would be called today, of the different new peoples, underwent a decisive break, not only from the vestiges of the Romano-British past but also from their own original and local identities as well as their conscious affinity with their homelands. Through the stratification of society and the competition between the myriad petty kingdoms (communities in today’s philosophy), the people of Lindsey, for example, were transformed into a wider identity that Bede would have recognised as Anglo-Saxon, and how the Lindissi were known to themselves vanished completely.
A scenario about the future could be posited based on the presence or absence of these factors in the present-day world.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
9 months ago

Once again a very odd article; two observations:
Mr Roussinos acts as if US foreign policy actions spring from a single mind – in Libya for instance, the intervention was strongly pushed by Hilary Clinton and her coterie. It was not a decision foisted on a reluctant US by eager Europeans. He completely ignores the schizophrenic nature of US policy and the bizarre persistence of Neocon actors who manage to instrumentalise US power, both military and other (at the cost of actual diplomacy), even where it is obviously detrimental to US interests. Like Ukraine, the Baltic States, Poland and so on are not determining US foreign policy – the US is leveraging their vainglory, their Russia derangement syndrome, their Germany derangement syndrome, and their revanchism for its own ends … and once they no longer serve those ends, the US will walk away and hide behind its oceans, like it always has.
Secondly, never mind which side the authors are on, they all assume that Europe will remain rich and in charge. Those times are over. We’ve destroyed the basis of our prosperity (with vigorous help from the US). Europe is headed back into the obscure, impoverished backwater we once were, Africa and Asia are pulling ahead.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
9 months ago

A difficult to read wordsoup of curious concepts and boring cliches which seems to promote the idea of a strong EU Army to replace the US shield. Are you having a laugh?

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
9 months ago
Reply to  Malcolm Webb

There’s always the Sun for the opposite view and smaller words and paragraphs.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
9 months ago

Sorry if my comment seemed to be flippant but in all seriousness I thought the article was poorly written and deeply flawed..

j watson
j watson
9 months ago

Whilst the premise of the article that Europe needs NATO more at this moment than the US has a hint of ‘truism’, I think Author misses some fundamentals. For example ÂŁ1.5Trillion of Trans-Atlantic trade – the biggest, and safest trade axis. US prosperity is directly connected to this. Think of the Mercedes plant Tuscaloosa, or BMW in S Carolina as just small examples of the inter-connectedness.
The power of an idea – liberal democracy, freedom etc, shouldn’t be completely ignored either. People find motivation in ideas and principles too.
So the US has good reasons for pushing back on Putin. And it’s not exposed to impacts such as energy costs in anything like the way Europe is too that might hasten dis-engagement.
But this doesn’t mean Zelensky won’t come under pressure to agree terms at some point if this drags on. He’ll be aware of weariness in the West and aware of where and how he might compromise if required, but the West will be aware little point helping him if then he’s critically undermined and a Putin favouring regime slips in.
It’s messy. Such conflict usually is. The counter factual needs to be considered too and it’s not at all rosy when you ponder it and it’s repercussions.

Last edited 9 months ago by j watson
Andy White
Andy White
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

Aris Roussinos acknowledges what the European powers currently see as their strategic needs re. Ukraine but he doesn’t acknowledge their financial inability to meet those needs any time soon. So just how realistic are those perceived strategic needs, if we can’t deliver them ourselves? How much is wishful thinking?

Has expanding NATO made us feel more or less secure? Any NATO rethink along the lines suggested would have to face some very hard truths.

j watson
j watson
9 months ago
Reply to  Andy White

Don’t know how old you are AW, but I suspect not old enough to remember that nagging fear many my age grew up with when the Iron Curtain ran much further West. Historical perspective can be lacking if one just looks at last few years. NATO expansion without question IMO made us all safer, if not entirely ‘safe’. But that option never existed.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
9 months ago
Reply to  j watson

What you say makes sense except for your assumption that Zelenskyy is A) capable of and B) permitted to, make ANY decision whatsoever except perhaps the manner of his own impending death, if he’s lucky.. I doubt very much if he’ll get to enjoy retirement in his Florida mansion.. a patsy is needed desperately by the USUK warhawks.. so we’ll get another coup in Ukraine, this time pro Russian but still orchestrated by USUK as a face-saving exercise.

Geoffrey Kolbe
Geoffrey Kolbe
9 months ago

British military might has traditionally been in the form of a powerful navy, not a large army. To ask what we need an army for is a reasonable question.
Clearly, if an invading force gets past our navy, then we are in serious trouble and it can be argued that in those circumstances, we do not need tank regiments and massed artillery fire. So, we do not need a “reference” army to defend the UK.
Do we need an army to help out as part of the NATO defense in Europe? That has been the thinking for the past 70 years. But in that case, we should have interoperability in our equipment with the European partners we are to help. We should not (for example) have tanks which fire unique ammunition that cannot be fired by any other tank, or that cannot fire the ammo our partners use.
In any case, things have now moved on. After WWI, a Polish statesman JĂłzef PiƂsudski proposed an “intermarium” of states which bordered Russia (basically Poland and the old Lithuanian Commonwealth) to share a common defense policy against the threatening menace to all of them of invasion from Russia. Today, it exists today, but it is called NATO. The problem is that it depends on the United States to come riding to the rescue if Article 5 is ever triggered and it looks very much like the US cannot be relied upon to act in those circumstances. So, Poland is busy re-arming and I fully expect an intermarium like agreement to come into play which will replace the NATO commitments of today for what was basically Soviet Eastern Europe.
That leaves us without a real role in Europe for our Army.
Our Navy, on the other hand, has two aircraft carriers that do not have aircraft to fill them and for which we do not have enough ships to form adequate carrier groups to defend them. They were Gordon Brown’s present to Rosyth. An aircraft carrier was the biggest ship they could build, so he ordered two!
Frankly, it can only get better!

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
9 months ago

The writer’s hatred for Britain for not being more powerful is blindingly obvious. He will be happier adjusting himself to life in a backwater. The real action in the future will be trying to keep Europe from being Africanized. That struggle will be punishing enough to keep busy everyone who earns a living pontificating about existential matters.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago

Outstanding analysis. Thank you.
I don’t see Ukraine as restoring US hegemony, either. I tend to drift off to sleep at night for most of the week, listening to the right-leaning and semi-conspiratorial Redacted, and I sense that many in the US are no longer as hawkish about US military adventures abroad (nor is RFK Jr., for that matter). Redacted has a lot of Ukraine coverage, rather opposed to the story you read in UK legacy media, allowing me to make a more balanced judgement on what is really going on there.
However, I remain worried that the MIC will still want the market Taiwan may provide in the future if it faces diminishing returns in Ukraine, and it remains one of the key drivers in US foreign policy.

Jeff Watkins
Jeff Watkins
9 months ago

Good article. However, one has to ask why Europeans need defending against Russia who are after all Europeans. Russia is the country in the world to most benefit from global warming with for example opening up the Artic sea passage, providing more agricultural land etc. So Europeans should ditch NATO, hold their noses have a pan European peace treaty and whilst they are at it ditch our friends in the USA (who blew up the pipeline)

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Watkins

That would involve greater European unity and a common European army. Neither of which were too likely at the best of times, and of course Brexit scuppered such ideas completely. Divided we fall.

Simon Diggins
Simon Diggins
9 months ago

Excellent article that, amongst other things, highlights the utter folly of British security and defence thinking. ‘Tip of the spear’ means you go wherever the shaft is pointed, or thrown: that is not compatible with being an independent, sovereign nation, nor UK’s best interests.

Matt M
Matt M
9 months ago

Why does Britain have any more responsibility for border disputes in Eastern Europe than the USA? If they disengage, why shouldn’t we?
Is anyone one seriously suggesting that Russia could invade Britain?
If that was thought likely, what should our posture be?
I would say round-the-clock nuclear deterrence, nuclear attack subs and a surface fleet capable of defending our underwater infrastructure and trade routes. A couple of carrier battle groups capable of projecting force anywhere in the world would be good. Also needed: air defences, cyber, signals intelligence, human intelligence, small but highly trained, well equipped and battle-tested ground troops, special forces etc.
Most importantly, we need an allies. Most important of them is the USA.
Luckily we have all of those things in place or coming soon.
I really don’t understand how this idea of a strategically independent European military is a good thing for Britain. It might make the French feel good about themselves. Fine! But leave us out of it.

Matt M
Matt M
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

For avoidance of doubt, I am not saying we shouldn’t back the Ukraine against Russia. We should. What I am saying is that Russia is no more a threat to us than it is to the USA. It is ludicrous to think its troops could storm across Europe, over the channel and up Whitehall.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Maybe they could come direct to Whitehall, a ransacking there could be very helpful

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

One can but pray.

Matt M
Matt M
9 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Very true JR

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Historically Britain spent a lot of treasure and blood to prevent any single power (France, Germany, …) from completely dominating Europe. Not because either was likely to invade Britain (assuming Britain behaved) but because being s small neighbour to an aggressive continental behemoth was not a nice place to be. The same is likely to hold if Russia starts dominating Europe.

As for being “capable of projecting force anywhere in the world” you are way too small and almost a hundred years too late for that one.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Nobody is suggestng that, at least, not yet. However, is anyone seriously suggesting that Russia hasn’t designs on much of W Europe? Russia is a ountry which has failed its own people, and it needs perpetual conflict externally to maintain internal unity. And is a Europe dominated by Russia really in Britain’s interests?

Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
Mr Sketerzen Bhoto
9 months ago
Reply to  Frank McCusker

I for one am seriously suggesting that Russia doesn’t have designs on Western Europe. Or Eastern Europe. Ukraine, yes, but it’s managed to get about 15% of that country so far, down from 25% and counting.

(Not that the invasion of the north lasted that long, so most of the 25% was down to surprise.)

Ukraine is a dirt poor country by European standards, even by Russian standards. This is not the era of the Warsaw pact when there was military parity, and Russia had armies deep in Central Europe and less than 200 km from France, with allies across Eastern Europe, and a huge cohort of the intellectual classes across Europe ideologically in tune with the USSR. Yet there was less hysteria then.

This doesn’t mean that Europe should not make sure of its security but that there is no threat, except nuclear. And you avoid that by the same way we always have by assured mutual destruction. Not great but all we got.

Russia in the minds of some people is a powerless kleptocracy no bigger economically than Italy, and also a major military threat. Only one of these can be true and only one is true. And it’s not the military threat part.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
9 months ago

Recalling that scene in the Oliver Stone movie about Bush “W”, where d**k Cheney stands up before Dubya’s cabinet with a map and lays out his plans to invade Iran through Iraq and so consolidate the first stage of the neocons’ project for a New American Century. A passive-aggressive eastern ‘NATO shield’ wasn’t so much in his plans when resource hegemony was on the table.
Given what had happened, the Pentagon scoffed at him. Then somehow Joe Biden made himself immediately available for a replacement venture in the mineral-rich Ukraine although there may have been some timing with Obama’s election. Even then, Hillary took the stage before Joe, steering the catastrophe in Libya
But US hegemony in Eurasia is far from being achieved. Trump was speaking for the American political establishment when he criticised German contributions to NATO. Yet Mrs Merkel had already taken a different peace using gas as a tool of detente.
Sadly, both Biden’s weakness and his personal ‘interest’ in the Ukraine have switched the direction of diplomacy and geopolitics back to the 2000s. With a paranoid, opportunistic Moscow on the other side, NATO has made a come-back as the virtual western front of a 3rd world war.

Andrzej Wasniewski
Andrzej Wasniewski
9 months ago

Short summary: there is nothing in the article that would support the title. Stronger Poland and Baltic Republics will lower the cost of US influence and protection in Europe. The dumbest is to imply that US should use NATO in Europe to promote “liberal idealism” whatever it means. How? Interfering in internal politics of other NATO countries? That’s the core role of NATO. What a garbage.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
9 months ago

A great piece, thank you.

rob drummond
rob drummond
9 months ago

You say “ Britain has slid down its league table of political and military power” what evidence do you have?

UK spends more on defence than any other NATO Member – apart from US.

I would be interested to learn more

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

We don’t have much to show for it. For example have either of our ‘poor man’s Aircraft Carriers got anything like their FULL compliment of (American) F-35’s yet? I hear we have only 12!

martin logan
martin logan
9 months ago

This just shows that “the long holiday” of the last 30 years is over.
Just as the fascist 1930s followed the benign 1920s, we are in an era where economically declining powers like Russia, China–and now Serbia–are attempting to reinvent themselves as military hegemons.
Whatever they do wind up with will necessarily involve very poor and very restrictive societies, whose regimes can stay in power only by repression. Economic growth for all but a very few is off the table.
That’s a challenge to both Europe and the US.
And the more societies like Russia and China there are, the closer will be the alliance between Europe and the US.
If the US and Russia could be allies in WW2, there’s little problem with the US and Europe.

Martin Butler
Martin Butler
9 months ago

He’s certainly right about the UK’s diminished military role in the world. But at least NATO provides a forum in which the UKs voice still has significance, as was demonstrated in Ukraine. Pity there isn’t an equivalent economic or political group of like minded nations in which we could play a leading role.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

There used to be EFTA.*

(* European Free Trade Association.)

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
9 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Don’t worry, Britain would find an excuse to exit it lol

rob drummond
rob drummond
9 months ago

You say “ Britain has slid down its league table of political and military power” what evidence do you have?

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
9 months ago

A truly excellent article, and a shining star of Unherd’s authors, I believe. I feel more intelligent having read it. Thank you, Unherd. It both challenged and educated me at one and the same time.