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NewbieOist

Is NATO a moral institution?

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Trump has been criticizing NATO, calling it "obsolete" and threatening to pull funding for it. This has rattled both liberal internationalists as well as "hawkish" American conservatives. I'm far from a Trump supporter, but I'm skeptical of the morality of NATO's purpose to say the least. It seems like pure collectivism: all these countries pool their military resources allegedly for everyone's benefit, but of course we as the country with the biggest defense budget end up pulling the most weight for the least benefit. Is that not a fair assessment of it? When I argue with NATO defenders that the U.S. military should only be for defending Americans and that other countries should have to rely on themselves, they claim I'm just ignorant of history, that without NATO Russia would invade and conquer all of Europe. Sounds highly far-fetched to me. The conservatives in particular talk about how NATO is critical to our "standing" as a "world power" (world power, world's policeman, potato, potAHto). They have this romanticized view of the purpose of our military, that we should use it to be "the good guys", fighting to defend innocents around the world (like we're Superman or something). And hey, what about all the non-U.S. NATO members who died fighting in Afghanistan because of 9/11? Yeah, I respond, it was immoral of them to sacrifice their troops when we were the ones who were attacked (and besides, we stayed way too long and lost sight of our mission in Afghanistan anyway). Liberals, of course, snarl at me that I'm "isolationist" and "cold-hearted", that we and Europe should be "united" in matters of war because, well, we just should.

Was there every any moral basis for NATO's existence? As a young person (32) I may be speaking from naivete, but it seems to me that even at the height of the Cold War NATO didn't serve our national self-interest (national self-interest defined as the self-defense of individual Americans as delegated to the U.S. government). Russia was never going to attack us because we always outpaced them on military spending, particularly on nuclear weapons development (Mutually Assured Destruction and all that), so we didn't need other countries to be prepared to come to our aid. It was all about preparing to sacrifice American troops to protect Europe from invasion, and I can't see any moral justification for that.

Tying this back to the present, there are those who fear that Putin is trying to bring back the Cold War (based on his buddying up with Assad in Syria, I'd say he's at least up to no good, that's for sure) and therefore, it's claimed, we must be prepared to defend our allies should he attack them. As one conservative on Twitter put it (paraphrasing), "The very reason to prevent the breakup of NATO is that Putin is for it." But I say we shouldn't play that game, that we should never have been in NATO to begin with. If Putin is scheming at rebuilding Russian power to its Cold War-era height, let him. As long as we don't fall behind on our own defense (and given our $500+ billion military budget, we'd have to fall a long way), we need not fear a direct attack, and we should just wait for his plans to inevitably collapse. Yes, he might invade Europe (although it's unlikely) and many innocents would die in that case (not to mention the destruction to the global economy, which WOULD hurt us, I don't doubt), but that would be on Putin's hands, not ours. Besides, I'm skeptical that Russia even has the resources to go back to the good ol' days of trying to take over the world what with oil prices plummeting and the ruble weakening.

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11 minutes ago, NewbieOist said:

(not to mention the destruction to the global economy, which WOULD hurt us, I don't doubt),

Doesn't this answer your question? Treaties are more or less trades related to geopolitics, and besides, if more people are on your side, the easier it is to overwhelm an enemy. Stopping an enemy early is better than waiting for that enemy to grow unopposed.

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NATO MOST CERTAINLY ISN'T a "pooling together of military resources". Far from it. The US military is in no way under NATO command. Here's what it really is:

1. NATO does have some, VERY LIMITED infrastructure, paid for through its budget, which, in 2015, amounted to $866 million, and serves to maintain a relationship between the member states' militaries. Million, with an "m". Who pays for this budget isn't based on the member country's defense budget, it's based on each country's GNI (gross national income). As such, the US pays 22% of NATO's budget.

So Trump is lying, when claiming that the US pays 70% of NATO's budget. It pays 22%, which amounts to about $200 million/year, or 0.05% of the US military budget, or 10% of the cost of a single B2 bomber.

Beyond that, NATO is:

2. a defense treaty (which costs nothing, unless the mutual defense clause is triggered...which never happened in NATO history, because the treaty is an excellent deterrent that serves to prevent war), and

3. a framework within which member states can collaborate on a voluntary basis, to achieve various military goals (be it exercises, infrastructure building, or actual war). These projects are, again, VOLUNTARY, and, if Trump doesn't want to, he doesn't have to participate in any of them, for the duration of his four years in charge of the US military. It won't affect NATO in any way.

Most importantly, in the US, treaties ratified by Congress are considered laws. The President doesn't have the power to repeal laws without a vote in Congress. And the vast majority of Congress supports NATO.

Same with funding: the President isn't in charge of funding things, Congress is.

Edited by Nicky

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As for the morality of defense treaties, when done to act as an effective deterrent, they are the ultimate non-zero sum game: you gain value, and literally lose nothing from them. NATO is costing the US NOTHING, beyond the $200M/year contribution to its budget.

So the only possible objection here is: the various members of NATO are gaining more than others...because not everybody is equally strong. For instance, the Baltic states are gaining their independence from Russia, and possibly even their existence. Which is literally EVERYTHING. Meanwhile, the US is gaining less than that. Still a lot (both economically and militarily), but not quite the "everything" that Lithuania is getting out of it.

But, of course, that kind of thinking would make all non-zero sum games impossible, including economic trade. Rational actors shouldn't care about who's "winning" a non-zero sum game, the only thing that matters is that everybody gains from it.

Edited by Nicky

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