If we’re to believe the recent NATO summit’s communique and the mainstream media’s commentaries about it, the alliance serves roughly the same essential purpose today as it did in 1948, and Americans had better heed European Council President Donald Tusk’s thinly veiled warning: rein in President Trump’s criticisms of NATO, because its members are about the only allies America has got.
But although the people who run today’s European and American societies are perhaps closer to each other than in 1948—which accounts for their dogged defense of “the alliance”—in fact, they themselves have changed in ways that obviate the purposes for which the alliance originally was formed.
The point of departure for understanding U.S.-European relations is that the relationship between “the people who count” on both sides of the Atlantic are so good precisely because they have become aliens to their own peoples. And, since all are in the process of being rejected by their own peoples, they are each others’ natural allies. But against whom are they allied?
What is the purpose of this alliance and what does it mean to us Americans?
Herewith, a summary of these moral and political changes, whose importance dwarfs the massive material transformations that the world has undergone in the past 70 years.
Defense of the West
In 1948, Europe faced the mighty Red Army, prostrate, poor, and penetrated by Communist organizations. But its principal figures—Konrad Adenauer, Charles De Gaulle, and Alcide De Gasperi—were devout Christians leading peoples who, chastened by war, were eager to safeguard and bolster what remained of their civilizations. All were conscious of their dependence on the United States of America for pretty much everything and grateful to us for it. That moral-political strength made up for a lot of material weakness.
It should be remembered, too, that keeping fellow Christians from succumbing to godless Communism moved that generation of Americans almost as much as the realization that the Soviet conquest of Europe would be very dangerous for us. Most came to believe that an alliance that reassured a weak-but-willing Europe was the best way to prevent it. Presidents Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, in tune as they were with ordinary Americans as well as with European leaders of their era, had no trouble forging a North Atlantic alliance based on the axiomatic commitment to nuke the Soviets were they to invade Europe.
NATO’s rot started in America. John F. Kennedy’s 1960 election brought to power progressives, who self-identified as “the best and the brightest.” Shaped intellectually and morally by the doctrines of (eventual Nobel laureates) Henry Kissinger and Thomas Schelling, they saw men like Adenauer and De Gaulle as of a piece with the American conservative persons and ideas they were displacing.
At the first NATO meeting after Kennedy’s inauguration, they removed the U.S. commitment to nuke the Soviets. They also removed the U.S. medium range missiles on the necessity of which that generation of European leaders had staked their legitimacy. Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, these American did their best to foster the rise of progressive Europeans, who would be partners in the grand pursuit of “detente” with Moscow. They got what they wished, and then some.
In retrospect the 1980s, dominated as they were by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl, were a brief anomaly.
Today, on both sides of the Atlantic, we have the opposite of 1948: political weakness born of the ruling class’s civilizational renunciation undermines vastly increased economic and (in the United States) military power. Russia’s army, backed by scarcely a tenth of the European Union’s GDP, would have little trouble making prisoners of NATO’s forward-deployed forces and reaching the Atlantic.
An Alliance to Protect the Ruling Class’s Power and Prestige
Today the transatlantic ruling class has its own civilizational agenda, manifested by its subsidies for constituencies both business and cultural, ranging from “renewable energy resources,” to education, the arts, and lifestyle. Far from allied to safeguard and promote Western civilization, this ruling class treats its cornerstone, Christianity, as unmentionable at best and usually as the main feature to be extirpated from people’s lives. This class also regards self-rule, the capacity of people in towns, regions, or nations to decide by vote how they shall live, as among the evils to be done away with. It treats as enemy anything—thoughts, practices, institutions—that limit its own its own power and prestige. For their power and prestige, after all, are what it is allied to protect.
Since ordinary people in each and all of NATO’s countries pose the clearest and most present danger to that power and prestige, whenever any country’s people have challenged the power or prestige of their local member of the club, the other countries’ ruling classes have treated it as an attack on themselves. Under this updated version of the famous Article 5, the allied transatlantic rulers have warned, on pain of horrid consequences, the people of Britain to stay in the EU, the peoples of France to elect anybody but Le Pen, the peoples of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and most recently of Italy, not to vote as they did.
Most of all, they warned Americans not to elect Donald Trump.
Nothing has equaled their fury against him. This, of course, has little to do with Trump himself. Rather, it is the transatlantic allies’ reaction to their inability to bend the American people to their ways. The American people’s adherence to Western civilization, our inflexible desire to rule ourselves, is the negation of everything for which this class stands. And because America is what it is, the election of an anti-ruling class candidate has inspired European peoples to do likewise.
As the transatlantic allies have lost election after election, they have retreated to their bastions in the supranational institutions, the banks, the corporations, the media, etc. Their objective seems to be to punish voters—psychologically if in no other way—to convince them to repent. Their hands will have to be pried off the levers of power.
Because such things as Russia’s power, the Third World’s physical occupation of the Europe and the United States, never mind the international military balance, do not threaten what the transatlantic ruling class is allied to protect, they cannot be bothered to take these questions seriously. Hence, for the American people, NATO as it exists today is yet one more ruling class institution to be overcome.
What good—and it may be considerable—that Americans might achieve by working with Europeans would have to be pursued with such peoples as have freed themselves from the transatlantic ruling class’s power.
Photo credit: DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images