Visiting London, Rudy Giuliani suggested yesterday to the New York Times that Israel should be invited to join NATO: “They are a democracy,” he said. “They are an ally of the United States. They would have to decide whether that would be in their own national interest.” And in a speech that night to conservative trans-Atlanticists, he added Japan, Australia, and India to his list of prospective allies, all of whom he claims meet the tests of “good governance, military readiness” and “global responsibility”.
Apart from the infeasibility of this proposal — how many European countries will want to find themselves obligated to fight on Israel’s side the next time it gets attacked by terrorists? — it does at least highlight just how odd a creature NATO has become. The alliance was formed to ward off the very specific threat of a Soviet invasion of western Europe. In this, it served its purpose. But instead of being praised and then put respectfully away, since the end of the Cold War it has been re-defined and re-scoped into a global alliance against All Things Bad, whether that be defined as post-Communist instability in eastern Europe or post-Taliban instability in Afghanistan.
Worse, it is increasingly being perceived as a proxy arm of U.S. foreign policy. In a sense, of course, it always has been, inasmuch as it served to cover the European front against Communism while other American allies (less formally) covered the Asian front. But NATO maintained public support in its European base by being clearly aimed at the defense of the territory of the European countries themselves. As the alliance expanded its geographic scope in the 1990s, it managed to carry its public with it in good faith, portraying itself as just another good-deeds organization like the UN or the OECD.
But though the Afghanistan mission started out as a more-or-less peaceful reconstruction project, a way for NATO countries to show good will towards the United States without committing to ground combat operations, it has quickly deteriorated into just that: a full-scale counter-insurgency operation of no fixed duration, in which countries like Canada and Britain are sustaining casualty rates that they haven’t seen in half a century. This, in turn, has led their publics (along with the publics of the other NATO countries, who worry about the same thing happening to their own troops) to reconsider their support for the campaign — a phenomenon that has deeply discomfited the alliance’s military and political elites.
But it is those elites who should reconsider things, including the nature and purpose of the alliance itself. Public support for war cannot be sustained on altruistic motives like the extension of human rights to foreign peoples, nor, even less, on the thin virtue of “supporting” a NATO member who is twenty times more powerful than any of the others and who only requires help in Afghanistan because it chose to deploy the bulk of its army to the invasion of an unrelated country, and because it chooses not to institute a draft or to increase taxes.
If that’s what allies are for, then Giuliani is right: the United States can always use more of them.