NATO’s Bitter Pill

To get a sense of just how badly things are going for NATO in Afghanistan, consider the following. Just over two weeks from now at the alliance’s summit in Budapest, about the only pieces of good news likely to be announced are that the French will deploy more boots on the ground to ease the strain on Canadian forces, and the Russians will allow logistical supplies to transit its air and ground space. You got that right: France and Russia are coming to NATO’s rescue.

Of course, it’s not the threat of a military defeat, but that of a political defeat that looms large. Afghanistan just has some sort of mojo that makes it the last meal of colonial empires, Socialist unions and very possibly trans-Atlantic alliances. And even if the weakened alliance should survive the shock, the medicine may prove more deadly than the disease. France is looking to leverage its NATO re-up to move European defense integration forward (and I’ve got a hunch that won’t be as difficult as the WSJ suggests), and Russia already seems to have succeeded in attaching a heightened regional role to the supply route deal.

If it looks like these are the kinds of consolidations that eventually make America the odd man out on the European continent, that’s because they are. As Europe looks ahead to the post-Bush era, about the only thing working in America’s favor is that the post-Putin era has yet to begin.

Of course, the disaffection cuts both ways. If all NATO can offer is already available through coalitions of the willing outside the alliance structure, the alliance boils down to a big Article 5 security blanket that’s not worth the miniscule European defense budgets it enables.

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