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WSJ: The Dangers of a Rearmed Europe NATO kept its promise to keep ‘the Germans down.’ The U.S. shouldn’t assume that success is permanent.

  |   By Polling+ Staff

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Germany at war – again?

The Wall Street Journal features an Op-Ed by Aaron MacLean, ‘a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and host of the “School of War” podcast.’

MacLean headlines:

The Dangers of a Rearmed Europe

NATO kept its promise to keep ‘the Germans down.’ The U.S. shouldn’t assume that success is permanent.

The story reports:

“Since the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s inception in 1949, American leaders have complained that the alliance doesn’t spend enough on defense. John F. Kennedy in 1963 told his National Security Council that ‘we cannot continue to pay for the military protection of Europe while the NATO states are not paying their fair share.’ Deputy Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci told the 1981 Munich Security Conference that ‘the United States cannot be expected to improve and strengthen U.S. forces in Europe, unless other allies increase their own contribution to the combined defense effort.’

The end of the Cold War didn’t help. NATO asserts that almost half its members won’t spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense this year, a decade after the alliance affirmed that baseline expectation. The war in Ukraine has spurred necessary but insufficient growth in those commitments.

Meanwhile, increasingly prominent voices in the U.S. think ‘the time has come for Europe to stand on its own feet,’ as Sen. J.D. Vance (R., Ohio) put it recently. The argument is that Europe doesn’t merely need to share equally in its defense burden; it must fend for itself. Elbridge Colby, a former deputy assistant defense secretary, has advanced a similar view: ‘Just because Europe can’t handle its security more doesn’t mean America shouldn’t pivot to Asia. If we have to leave Europe more exposed, so be it.’

Neither appears to be calling for America’s complete departure from Europe or for the dissolution of NATO. But their emphasis is unmistakable. Yet if we succeed in getting the Europeans to stand without using ‘America as a crutch,’ to quote Mr. Vance, would the U.S. benefit?

Hastings Ismay, NATO’s first secretary general, famously said that the alliance’s purpose is ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.’ The Russian leg of this stool gets the most attention, especially and understandably in light of Vladimir Putin’s aggression. But calls for greater European autonomy raise a second and more fundamental issue for American strategy—the German part of Ismay’s formula.

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A net consequence of American security policy since 1945 has been the suppression of European politics: the process by which armed states consider the full range of policy ends and means. The success of postwar liberal politics, the dominance of social-democratic domestic priorities, and the progress of supranational political union—each supported by the American military—have had a pacifying effect.

Looking to Europe, many Americans complain that our costly diplomatic and military strategies have made unseriousness on the Continent possible. But is that bad for America? Do we want European states to rearm, to achieve something closer to strategic self-sufficiency, perhaps including nuclear proliferation to the east?

It isn’t Germany, specifically, that need preoccupy us—though the contributions of a unified Germany to international security over the past 150 years have been mixed. Ismay’s comment ought to remind us of the possibility of European politics more broadly. Perhaps we forget the vast slaughterhouse into which the Continent transformed on two occasions in the first half of the last century. Its wealth and leadership did little to retard and much to accelerate the industrial and pitiless cruelty, the movements of populations, the murders of whole peoples, and the conscription and sacrifice of millions. Twice, reluctantly, America sent its own youth, many of them victims of the Minotaur of European ‘progress.’

Some European readers may find such observations far-fetched, offensive or condescending. They also might observe that the Alternative for Germany party is polling at 19%, France’s National Rally at 28%, and plenty of others outside the typical mainstream gaining public favor, not least because of the unseriousness of the mainstream parties. Today’s atavistic flirtations in any number of European countries could be tomorrow’s realities.

Mr. Vance, Mr. Colby and others argue that we need to make Europe a lower priority to face the greater threat posed by China. They’re right in part: Beijing is Washington’s greatest national-security foe, which we must address. Further, as nearly every American leader has said since NATO’s founding, European nations must share in the alliance’s goals for defense spending.

But we should give careful thought to the consequences of a more autonomous Europe. In the short run, the main risk is still that European nations will overfund their social priorities, underfund their security, and fail to deter further westward Russian expansion—which would likely drag America right back onto the Continent.

There is, however, a risk for a disengaged America even if Europe does rearm. Putting these countries on their own feet may merely be the prelude to their hands reaching for one another’s throats. The two possibilities aren’t mutually exclusive and could occur in complex interaction over time. In either case, America will question the wisdom of its departure.”

Time and the world always moves on. On occasion history does repeat, which means caution is always the byword.