CYR: Biden’s Europe Trip Symbolizes Stability
President Joe Biden’s trip to Europe provides positive confirmation of collaboration and stability among nations on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. This contrasts markedly with the history of the twentieth century. Total wars of unprecedented destructiveness characterized that bloody era.
So far, the twenty-first century has avoided that fate. You would not know that if you relied on major media. Much of the coverage of President Biden’s trip has been a biased melodrama, celebrating the successor to his alarming, destructive, wicked predecessor in the White House.
At both the summit of the G7 leaders in Britain and the NATO summit in Brussels, Biden has emphasized the priority of alliance relations. This is a welcome return to customary U.S. leadership.
However, Donald Trump’s destructiveness fortunately was mainly rhetorical. His complaint that Europe should do more for NATO actually is a sustained theme of U.S. administrations dating back to the early 1950s. History is the antidote to superficial commentary.
NATO above all is a remarkably durable alliance. Nations led by the United States and Britain signed the NATO treaty in Washington D.C. in April 1949. The influential British weekly “The Economist” noted during NATO’s seventieth anniversary that alliances of the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s lasted on average only five years.
NATO is also growing. On March 27, 2020, North Macedonia became the latest member. Montenegro joined the durable organization in June 2017.
Atlantic area nations created the alliance in direct response to Soviet expansionism during and after World War II. By 1949, the Cold War had begun. Today, the organization pursues various diverse missions.
The collapse of East Europe communist regimes, followed by the Soviet Union, ended the Cold War but not conflict in Europe. In 2008, Russian troops invaded a portion of Georgia, following an attack by Georgian troops on South Ossetia. Russia encouraged and fostered these breakaway efforts. . In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed the territory of Crimea.
The end of the Cold War was a great victory for the policy of restraint and deterrence, termed “Containment.” Every United States president from Harry Truman, when the Cold War commenced, to George H.W. Bush when that conflict ended, supported this foundation security policy.
NATO endures for various reasons. Bureaucracies instinctively seek self-perpetuation, and modern militaries represent potent political lobbies. However, the strategic realities of an assertive, ominously effective Russia under President Vladimir Putin is the most important incentive.
Putin continually probes for ways to separate Germany from the U.S. Also present is the danger of renewed violence among ethnic groups in Southeastern Europe.
NATO today has a range of missions including but going beyond self-defense narrowly defined. Forces have operated well beyond the North Atlantic region, including notably Afghanistan. Humanitarian work includes deploying transport aircraft and other resources to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member amounts to an attack on all. The 9/11 terrorist strikes on New York and Washington D.C., and in the sky over Pennsylvania, triggered this clause, for the first time.
After the final defeat of Napoleon, Britain spearheaded cooperation with the other major powers of Europe to keep the peace. This effort in fact maintained general stability on the continent for a century.
Today, NATO performs roughly the same strategic role, plus humanitarian missions. The Cold War ended three decades ago; NATO remains important.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War” (Palgrave/Macmillan and NYU Press). Contact email@example.com.