PJMedia picked up a piece I wrote the other day. Go there and read the whole thing. [Edited: Below is an excerpt from the pre-edited version I wrote. I think that it is a little more clear on a few points.]
The irony of NATO’s past quarter-century is that its most recent entrants are its most enthusiastically pro-NATO, and yet they offer the least reason to the other members to justify a united response in their defense. They know the danger of Russian expansion. They’ve lived it. But the further east NATO expands, the less immediate the danger that the fall of those regions represents to the more western members. More simply put: Is there anybody who really thinks that Californians want to risk a nuclear war with Russia in order to save the likes of Albania?
For twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, until the Russian invasion of Georgia reminded them of what a mutual defense treaty really means, Americans forgot that NATO wasn’t a clubhouse; it was an actual club—the kind with which you beat an opponent to death. And by admitting new members you agreed to swing that club if any one of the members was attacked.
Today, NATO is not a club; it’s a glass bat. The power of a glass bat is in the threat of its swinging. But once it makes contact it shatters into 28 pieces and loses all its power. This is true of any large coalition, but especially one so culturally and geographically far-flung that it can’t seem to agree that Russia even is an enemy.
Arguably, NATO is already shattered, the fault of which lies at the feet of America’s last President, who short-sightedly used its one-time-use power against a non-existential threat in Afghanistan. (The truth is that President Bush could have received the help of most NATO nations in Afghanistan even without the NATO imprimatur and without swinging the glass bat. After all, he did so in Iraq.) Most of the 28 NATO nations gave all that they could give over the last 13 years in Afghanistan. There is no more that they can reasonably expect to extract from their populaces.
Knowing all too well the real costs of warfare makes countries less inclined to intercede when there appears to be no real immediate importance to the threat. It was because the memory of World War One was so fresh in the minds of the Allies, that Hitler was allowed to re-arm Germany, march into the Palatinate, annex Austria, and forcibly annex a portion of sovereign Czechoslovakia, all without Western Europeans lifting a finger to stop him. And that was two decades after a war that the Allies won. Immediately on the heels of the thirteen-year muddle of Afghanistan, there is even less likelihood that all 28 nations are going to sign on to the task of poking a Russian bear unless they really see that the bear is bearing down on them.
So when un-uniformed Russians appear in military formations in tiny Narva and say that they are there to protect Russian lives from Estonian transgressions (and there will be just enough merit to the claim to cloud the argument), how will NATO react? Will it rush headlong into war, obeying its mutual defense obligations just as the Central Powers did after the assassination of a minor royalty in 1914? Or will NATO react with a shrug, just as war-weary Europeans did when Hitler marched unopposed into Vienna?
I’m guessing that Russia thinks that NATO is an already-shattered glass bat and that it will pursue the latter course. And if he’s right, Vladimir Putin can finally record the hour of NATO’s death. Then Europe’s only Emperor will go about exercising greater authority over European affairs without American interference.
But if Putin is wrong in his calculation of NATO resolve . . .