Why NATO at All?
Jude Wanniski
March 24, 1997


Memo To: John McLaughlin, "The McLaughlin Group," NBC TV
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: NATO expansion segment, Sunday show

Once again, I congratulate you on being a voice in the wilderness of the electronic media. Tom Friedman of the NYTimes is practically alone in the print media in questioning our NATO policy. I don't really know if we should expand NATO or not. Before we get to that question, it would be nice if our major political parties first had a national debate on whether or not to dissolve NATO. Because the Establishment has a tradition of bipartisanship on all matters relating to national security in times of war or the threat of war, it has somehow been allowed to get away with bypassing the primary question of the continued need for a military alliance in peacetime. I was astonished recently when a member of the President's cabinet told me, off the record, that "We still haven't figured out a role for NATO." What's going on here? The discussion about NATO expansion keeps our minds off the question which our ruling elite is afraid to address, because the answer might prove embarrassing: There is no useful role for a military alliance when there is no military threat. As Michael Mandelbaum of Johns Hopkins argues persuasively, the strengthening and extension of a military alliance in peacetime will inevitably goad the alliance's target into hostility. This is the history of the world, for goodness sakes. Did you ever read Daniel Yergin's book, Shattered Peace, about the origins of the Cold War? Defense buildups that begin with paranoia on both sides of an ideological or territorial division evolve into offensive buildups. I note Clarence Page, on your "McLaughlin Group" panel, dismisses Russian opposition to a NATO expansion to its borders as "paranoia." How blind can Clarence be? Ask him how he would feel if members of the KKK bought the homes on either side of his. Fred Barnes isn't happy expanding NATO to Russia's borders. He wants to somehow expand it to China's borders.

The problem is one of intellectual leadership, I think. There is a great leadership vacuum at the center of both major political parties. Unless there are leaders willing to break out of the conventional wisdom and challenge the center of gravity in the Establishment, we move ahead on its momentum. The only man with the standing to lead such a national debate is probably Colin Powell, but he shies away from that role, as it implies some considerable commitment of energy and personal political capital. The leaders of the Republican Party have all more or less given their proxy on this matter to a handful of intellectuals who are Cold Warriors without a war. The leaders of the Democratic Party are timid on these questions as long as the Commander-in-Chief wishes to present himself as a Commander-in-Chief, a man who knows how to manage the armed forces of this lone Superpower. Where can we get a NATO debate when he picks Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State, and right out of the box she wants to have NATO take over Albania because a few shots were fired at a U.S. helicopter. This is the role for NATO that will evolve as long as we are spending $60-$80 billion on the "defense of Europe," with 85,000 troops available for taking over all the Albanias of Europe, and maybe Africa and Asia too.