NATO as an ‘Entangling Alliance’

There are many ugly aspects of Donald Trump’s candidacy, but Trump raises a legitimate question about the value of NATO, which represents the epitome of the “entangling alliances” that the Founders warned against, notes Ivan Eland.

By Ivan Eland

With populism running wild in Europe and in the United States — the Brexit and American presidential candidate Donald Trump questioning U.S. alliances being just two obvious examples — suddenly people are asking the big questions about the future of Western institutions that should have been asked after the Cold War ended.

Both the Brexit and Donald Trump seem to be driven by a nativist element, but that doesn’t diminish the value of the implicit questions that they are posing. Americans should listen to Donald Trump, while examining the Brexit, and ask themselves if the United States shouldn’t withdraw from NATO and other military alliances.

An artist's rendering of the Constitutional Convention in 1787

An artist’s rendering of the Constitutional Convention in 1787

Of course, such a U.S. withdrawal would be much more consequential for NATO and other U.S. alliances than is the Brexit for the European Union. Britain is not even the largest economy in the E.U. The United States accounts for three-quarters of the defense spending of NATO countries, and it is very unlikely that those allies — all much closer to zones of conflict than is the United States — will be defending the superpower rather than vice versa.

Since World War II, the United States has provided security, formally or informally, for an ever-widening number of ever more prosperous nations in Europe and East Asia, but has gotten few commercial or other considerations in return. Many of these nations or blocs have not ever fully opened their markets to U.S. trade, finance, and investment.

Such one-sided alliances were justified by American elites and the foreign beneficiaries of such security welfare as being in the American interest too. Really?

George Washington, who preferred neutrality as a foreign policy, warned against the United States forming “permanent alliances,” and Thomas Jefferson cautioned against getting bogged down in “entangling alliances.” In fact, Jefferson wrote in 1799, “I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment. And I am not for linking ourselves by new treaties with the quarrels of Europe.”

Outdated Warning?

But times have changed, right? Rapid advances in communication and transportation have led to a more interdependent world, which compels the United States, as an exceptional nation in world history, to monitor disturbances in faraway and even insignificant places, so that they don’t snowball into larger threats — for example, the rise of another Adolf Hitler to threaten Europe. Thus, shouldn’t the views of America’s founders on foreign policy go the way of the powdered wig?

No, the basic geography of the United States hasn’t changed from the time of the nation’s founders; they perceptively realized that the United States might just have the most favorable geography of any great power in world history. The United States has two large ocean moats and is far away from the zones of conflict in the world.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.

Today, the country actually might be even more secure than at the founding, because it no longer has foreign great powers prowling around its borders, but instead has weak and friendly neighbors, and now has the most capable nuclear arsenal on the planet — which should deter attacks, nuclear or conventional, from any nation with a home address vulnerable to cataclysmic retaliation.

As for interdependence, in the security realm, the advent of the nuclear age may have actually made the world less so; cross-border aggression — conflicts that have a greater potential to adversely affect U.S. security than do foreign internal civil wars — has dropped significantly in the post-World War II era.

Alliances are not ends in themselves; they are used by countries to increase their security by banding together against foreign threats. Yet, after World War II, the United States began to acquire the first permanent alliances in its history just when it began not to need them — it had just developed nuclear weapons and ever since has been the leader in such technology.

But what about guarding against what a future Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stain could do in Europe? Ever since World War II, America’s overly interventionist foreign policy has been based on avoiding another Munich 1938 disaster, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler, instead of confronting him, thus emboldening an attempted German takeover of Europe.

However, such a limited reading of history self-servingly absolves the United States (and Britain and France) from having created the Hitlerian monster in the first place. The United States entered World War I, tipped the balance to British and French allies that simply wanted to greedily expand their empires, declared that the Germans were guilty of starting the war, imposed harsh financial reparations on Germany that helped cause the bad economic conditions that brought Hitler to power, and demanded the abdication of the German king, thus clearing the way for Hitler’s rise and World War II.

One other important lesson from World War I is that alliances — even informal ones, such as the one Britain had with France and the biased U.S. “neutrality” of U.S. arms sales and financing credits sent to Britain but not Germany — can impede flexibility and drag countries into wars they don’t want. No one country desired World War I, but such webs made it spread and engulf the entire continent and beyond. And World War II was just World War I, Part II.

So with the Brexit and the Trump candidacy leading to an examination of the big questions, maybe the United States should ask whether its expensive alliances are really needed for security or are just to maintain an entangling and costly world empire based on vanity. Perhaps an Amerexit from them is in order.

Ivan Eland is senior fellow and director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute, Oakland, CA, and the author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.

8 comments for “NATO as an ‘Entangling Alliance’

  1. Cheryl Taylor
    July 13, 2016 at 05:55

    I would like to know Abe’s comments

  2. Erik
    July 12, 2016 at 08:30

    The article covers the bases well on the lost rationale for NATO and the cause for dropping the treaty. But the cause is not that mutual defense treaties are wrong, but that they are inferior to the UN as a means of preventing conflict, and NATO has become an excuse for warmonger aggression rather than an instrument of defense.

    The entangled WWI treaties of defense indeed formed two blocs that did not represent mutual threats as blocs, but rather clusters of small contentions without a regional forum for resolution and compulsory arbitration. WWII again showed that a United Nations was necessary, as well as the economic entanglements of the EU to overrule divisive movements.

    NATO is no more than a relic of the Cold War contentions in Europe, and should have been dissolved within a few years after the USSR dissolved.

    NATO is now no more than an excuse to organize aggression, which serves only the warmonger tyrants, especially those of the US, who as Aristotle warned must create foreign monsters to demand domestic power by posing falsely as protectors and accusing their moral superiors of disloyalty. NATO is the monster and must be dissolved.

    The US has descended into a tyranny beyond the speculations of its Founders, because there were no large economic concentrations or mass media then, and so in its Constitution they provided no protection at all of democratic institutions from economic power or information power. But money now controls elections and mass media, the tools of democracy, and democracy cannot be restored peacefully. The warmonger tyrants have destroyed democracy in a right-wing revolution and must be deposed.

    Steps forward would be rejection of NATO, elimination of the NSC as a MIC lobby, reduction of the fake “defense” budget to about twenty percent of its present size, devotion of those resources to international development and domestic infrastructure, establishment of a College of Policy Analysis to force nonpartisan debate of all policy issues and force Congress and the Executive and the Judiciary to explain their warmonger tyrant demands and their support of tyranny, and constitutional amendments to restrict funding of elections and mass media to limited individual contributions.

    Any of those steps would be progress, but None of them are likely because the tools of democracy are already lost to tyrants. There are only opportunities to show the people what they have lost, to contradict the mass media propaganda. But the solution will require real citizens, and we have few now who will stand up for democracy, very few real citizens. The tools of democracy are already lost.

  3. Daily
    July 11, 2016 at 18:06

    Can’t resist …. enjoy!
    from the above link ….

    “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.”

    and that’s just a small fraction of one paragraph. :)

  4. Daily
    July 11, 2016 at 18:01

    I still love John Q Adams famous speech about going abroad searching for monsters to slay. Its worth a read, as the whole section is good. Ie, its not a modern speech with just a throw-away one-liner, but a well-thought-out oration.

    He directly says that if we do make the mistake of going abroad to search for monsters to slay, that the price we will most certainly pay is the loss of the hard-earned liberties that at that time had only been recently won with a great deal of pain and loss and death.

    (be prepared to scroll, or to read a long but still good oration …. the more famous part about monsters and liberty is almost at the very end. :) )

  5. Waits
    July 11, 2016 at 17:57

    Are you willing to have your children die for Estonia?
    Is it really that important to you?
    To be honest, no body is actually threatening Estonia. Haven’t you learned not to trust the NYT yet!
    But even still, is the fate of Estonia worth the live of one American child?
    Is it worth billions of tax-payer dollars?
    You are spending at extra 2.5 Billion this year defending Estonia and a few other countries from ‘Russian aggression’ that was invented probably by the weapons industry then fed to the generals then fed finally to the NYT. Do you want your children to die on top of that?

  6. Dennis Merwood
    July 11, 2016 at 15:51

    Great article Mr. Eland
    Why am I, an American tax payer, paying for these prosperous European nation’s militarie’s?
    And don’t get me started on why we are giving Israel a bazillion dollars per year!
    Ron Paul has some goofy libertarian ideas, but he has always 100% right on this issue.
    Close all these overseas military bases. Get out of NATO.
    The average American’s daily life would be infinitely better, and just as secure.
    If not more secure.
    An Amerexit is most certainly in order.

    • July 15, 2016 at 05:11

      An Amerexit is most certainly in order.

      Revolutions may be started or planted in a day or overnight… but it takes a while for them to grow, mature and bear fruit. Usually an entire season. Go BREXIT!

      America is into its 200 something year and, although seemingly well rooted, and even putting out tentacles or dendrons to the rest of the world like crab grass, it still does not seem to have matured, blossomed, or appear to be ever going to bear fruit. Like Kudzu, growing and spreading like hell, but still a useless and strangulating, predatory weed.

      And it is. in fact, beginning to show evidence of root rot… beginning to wither dry up, and die in the soil in which it was planted.

      Perhaps it is time to replant and start over again. REVOLUTION BABY!

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