As a military alliance, NATO is overrated. Contrary to a popular misconception, NATO did not keep the peace in Europe during the Cold War. American troops did. Although for political reasons no American president could say so publicly, American troops were in Western Europe to die. Only the deaths of American soldiers in a Soviet conventional invasion of Western Europe would justify an American nuclear strike on the Soviet Union, which was a contingency sufficiently frightening to Soviet leaders — who unlike the mullahs in Iran today wanted to live — for them to refrain from any such invasion. It is true that American troops in Western Europe were there under NATO auspices. But during the Cold War West European governments were so afraid of the Soviet Union, which in World War II had defeated Nazi armies far larger than those the Western powers faced, that in the absence of NATO they almost certainly would have signed bilateral agreements allowing deployment of American forces on their territory.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO became an anachronism. While in the 1990s Russia’s interests, as the Yeltsin government defined them, often clashed with those of the NATO countries, there was no longer any ideological imperative for Russia to expand its influence and power, as was the case for the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And now Vladimir Putin’s foremost objective is to recreate the Soviet Union under Russian auspices – an objective that by its very nature is self-limiting. Indeed, because Putin’s vision of Russia lacks the rationale for expansion that Soviet ideology once conferred, his foreign policy resembles that of the tsars more than it does the Soviets’.
President Obama’s recent invocation of NATO for the legitimacy he thinks it confers on American involvement in Libya might seem to suggest that whatever its limitations during the Cold War, NATO can play a useful role today in the formulation and execution of American foreign policy. But because of the way NATO is constructed, its effect on American military operations will be to constrict them or even to prevent them. According to NATO’s decision-making procedure, if just one member objects, a course of action the remaining twenty-seven members favor cannot be carried out (though abstentions, which are allowed, lack the same veto power). What makes this scenario likely when the Middle East is where NATO intervention is contemplated is that one member of NATO, Turkey, is now governed by an Islamist regime that regards the United States as its enemy and may very well be transmitting to Iran — the most dangerous enemy the United States faces in the world today– secret information NATO members have access to about American military capabilities. But even when NATO considers intervention in other parts of the world, member-states favoring no action or only minimal action will probably cause more ambitious proposals to be watered down to the point where their effectiveness will be seriously impaired.
This state of affairs, in which any one of twenty-seven countries can exercise a veto power over American foreign policy, is the logical consequence, and the ultimate absurdity, of President Obama’s view of America itself, a view which is traceable ultimately to the “multiculturalism” he was exposed to and readily absorbed while attending Columbia University and Harvard Law School; regrettably it remains the conventional wisdom on American college campuses today. Multiculturalism is the belief that there exist no objective and absolute standards of truth and morality. As a result, the moral principles of one country or culture are no more correct or valid than those of any other, and thus the only occasion when a country’s actions can be considered ethical is when they are deemed to be ethical by all countries.
What this means for American foreign policy, especially when it involves the application of military power, is that it must be approved by all the countries in the world. The United States, far from being exceptional, is just one nation among many, and has no business acting unilaterally, not even for humanitarian purposes. Instead, American actions require the approval of the United Nations, which is the closest embodiment of the collective morality of humanity. Hence President Obama’s obsession with gaining UN approval for American involvement in Libya, and his disregard for the constitutional requirement of seeking Congressional approval. To “a citizen of the world,” as the president fancies himself – and his doing so is another example of his multiculturalism – abiding by the oath of office he took to obey the laws of the United States is evidently little more than a triviality.