February 22, 2020

NATO Isn't Brain-Dead, Macron

“When Mark Twain observed that rumors of his death had been “greatly exaggerated,” he left out the fact that those words would become true eventually, as they did in 1910 when the great American author died. Similarly, given the huge resources assigned to the greatest military alliance in the world, it is difficult to take at face value the words of Emmanuel Macron that we are “experiencing the brain death of NATO.” But could the comments of the French president portend the future?

It is true that Europe has witnessed some very bad defensive decisions in the past. A few military planners in the 1930s expected cavalry to have a combat role in the coming war. Others assumed that bomber aircraft would be decisive. Too much faith was placed in the Maginot Line, the robust concrete wall which defended against German tanks, until the panzers simply went around it. European defense is still vulnerable to strategic shocks today, and some of these have exposed flaws in earlier calculations by NATO. Take the Russian annexation of Crimea or the ongoing Russian use of hybrid attacks to destabilize neighbors and adversaries, including cybersecurity attacks and political meddling.

But like any credible military outfit, NATO has been industrious in its efforts to learn from these episodes and correct for the vulnerabilities they uncovered. Following Crimea, for example, NATO has made sure it can mobilize a well equipped force swiftly, ready to meet and match any Russian forces trying to enter the Baltic states. NATO exercises have adapted to make hybrid attacks center stage, forcing military minds to think through their response to a complicated challenge. NATO has also been working hard to counter Russian efforts to spread lies online.”

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