Judy Asks: Is NATO Deterrence a Paper Tiger?
It increasingly seems so. Let’s leave the militarily weak Europeans aside for a moment. For NATO’s deterrence to be credible, only one question really matters: Is the United States fully behind its commitments? This depends on two factors. First, how much of a military footprint does the United States have in the countries it has vowed to defend? Only troops on the ground give real-life meaning to the stipulation that “an attack on one is an attack on all.” Second, how much confidence do the allies have in the U.S. president’s strategic reliability? The commander in chief matters because only he (or she) can commit troops to combat or trigger America’s nuclear arsenal.
The first metric is the smaller problem. America’s footprint in Europe is much smaller than it was twenty years ago. But Washington has recently reinvested in Europe; troop numbers are slightly up. It is the second factor that causes the headache. The current U.S. president has publicly questioned NATO’s usefulness and has had to be talked out of leaving the alliance altogether. Few people are convinced that he would go to war for Europe if need be. This lack of trust in Donald Trump is hugely corrosive for NATO’s credibility. It makes the allies nervous, and it emboldens the adversaries. Should Trump’s unreliability become a full certainty, NATO’s deterrent could soon look like a paper tiger indeed.