That burden falls on Eastern Europe. But the minimal support needed to secure the region – a few first-rate divisions and air wings – is not available. The U.S. is recovering and perhaps preparing for another round of conflict in the Middle East, and the rest of Europe lacks the minimal capabilities needed for extended deployment a few hundred miles from home.
Therefore, NATO’s core strategy cannot be implemented.
Something that is well within the brief of NATO, and ought to be well within the ability of countries like German, is undoable. NATO solidarity on protecting Eastern Europe isn’t nearly as strong as it could be, and all the commitment in the world will not create anti-tank capabilities designed to make an unlikely Russian attack scenario impossible
From a strategic point of view and regardless of internal politics, Poland and Hungary, as examples, are indispensable for deterring the Russians. While NATO’s brief includes this deterrence, the EU retains the right to lecture and condemn both countries even in the face of the political disorder in the rest of Europe. In other words, Eastern European countries have one relationship with NATO and another relationship with the EU. So at a NATO meeting the Germans speak one way, and at an EU meeting they speak another way. And the coalition that would protect Germany from far-fetched events (in a time when the farfetched has become routine) can’t take form.
The United States is a key member of NATO, and the U.S. is trying to figure out NATO’s usefulness. The answer is far from clear. In the one area where NATO can be helpful and can act within its mission, European members’ behavior is both contradictory and primarily theoretical. They simply have not built a military for a mission even clearly within NATO’s purview. To the extent the Russians have the ability to increase their influence on their western frontier, their European adversaries are inadvertently providing the opening.
In the end, there is no NATO problem. There is a European problem. A European consensus on defense does not exist any more than a consensus on economics does. Being in an alliance so unstable that a region the alliance must protect is under attack by the EU is too complicated for the simple and unsophisticated Americans. The sophisticated Europeans in the end are proving too much for the United States.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has laid down the price members must pay for NATO protection. The Europeans will assume it is just talk and continue as they were. Having opted out of collective responsibility in the Middle East, the Europeans are also opting out of collective responsibility in Europe. U.S. action in Europe will take place as needed, but it will not be constrained by the votes of those not incurring some of the risk.
This is not opinion, simply a rational analysis by the U.S.
Why submit to an organization that cannot share the risk?