How Do We Save NATO? We Quit

The alliance has lost its sense of purpose. The way to get it back is for the U.S. to withdraw and let Europe be responsible for its own defense.

When he visits Strasbourg, France, this week to participate in
festivities marking NATO's 60th anniversary, President Obama should
deliver a valedictory address, announcing his intention to withdraw the
United States from the alliance. The U.S. has done its job. It's time
for Europe to assume full responsibility for its own security, freeing
the U.S. to attend to more urgent priorities.

The creation of
the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 remains a singular
example of enlightened statecraft. With Europe's democracies still
suffering from the ravages of World War II, and fearing the threat
posed by Stalinist Russia, the U.S. abandoned its aversion to
"entangling alliances" and committed itself to Europe's defense. Gen.
Dwight D. Eisenhower came out of retirement to serve as NATO's first
military chief. As U.S. forces arrived to take up their stations, the
alliance soon found its footing. In its heyday, NATO possessed
formidable capabilities and real (if never fully tested) cohesion. Its
safety ensured, Western Europe prospered and remained at peace.

time, the Soviet threat diminished and eventually disappeared. Since
then, however, an alliance once regarded as the most successful in all
of history has lost its way.

When the end of the Cold War left
Russia temporarily weakened, the United States and its allies wasted no
time in exploiting that weakness. NATO pressed eastward, incorporating
into its ranks nations that had previously formed part of the Soviet
empire and of the Soviet Union itself. American policymakers urged the
alliance to expand its reach, abandoning its defensive posture to
become an instrument of intervention. According to the conventional
wisdom of the 1990s, NATO needed to go "out of area" or it would surely
go "out of business."

This program of enlarging both NATO's
territorial expanse and its ambitions has now reached an impasse.
Through its military punishment of Georgia last year, Russia has
signaled it will not tolerate further encroachments into what the
Kremlin sees as its legitimate sphere of influence. Meanwhile, through
its ineffective performance in Afghanistan -- NATO's most ambitious
"out of area" contingency -- the alliance has revealed the extent to
which its capabilities and its cohesion have eroded.

NATO is a shadow of what it once was. Calling it a successful alliance
today is the equivalent of calling General Motors a successful car
company -- it privileges nostalgia over self-awareness.

with GM, so too with NATO: Fixing past mistakes will require painful
changes. Continuing along the existing trajectory is not an option. If
the alliance pursues any further eastward expansion (incorporating
Ukraine into its ranks, as some in Washington have advocated), it will
implode. If it persists in attempting to pacify Afghanistan (vainly
trying to prod the Germans and other reluctant allies into deploying
more troops with fewer strings attached), it will only further expose
its internal weakness. NATO won't survive by compounding its own recent

Salvation requires taking a different course. However
counterintuitive, the best prospect for restoring NATO's sense of
purpose and direction lies in having the U.S. announce its intention to
exit the alliance.

Salvaging NATO requires reorienting the
alliance back to its founding purpose: the defense of Europe. This
remains a worthy mission. Although Vladimir Putin's Russia hardly
compares with Josef Stalin's Soviet Union, and although current Russian
military capabilities pale in comparison with those of the old Red
Army, the fact is that Europe today does face a security threat to its
east. Having been subjected (in its own eyes at least) to two decades
of Western humiliation, authoritarian Russia is by no means committed
to the status quo. Given the opportunity, the Kremlin could well give
in to the temptation to do mischief. NATO's priority must be to ensure
that no such opportunity presents itself, which means demonstrating an
unquestioned capacity for self-defense.

The difference between
1949 and 2009 is that present-day Europe is more than capable of
addressing today's threat, without American assistance or supervision.
Collectively, the Europeans don't need U.S. troops or dollars, both of
which are in short supply anyway and needed elsewhere. Yet as long as
the United States sustains the pretense that Europe cannot manage its
own affairs, the Europeans will endorse that proposition, letting
Americans foot most of the bill. Only if Washington makes it clear that
the era of free-riding has ended will Europe grow up.

anniversary bash promises to be an historic event. As part of his
promise to promote change, Obama should make it a farewell party.

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