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NATO’s Dirty Little Secret Is Out

December 4, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

Pro-NATO politicians and pundits never tire of citing polls and studies showing that a majority of Americans continue to support the Alliance. Frequently, that argument is presented as part of the larger case that President Trump’s periodic expressions of skepticism about NATO’s relevance are out-of-touch with the views of the American public. However, the pro-NATO case is built on a fundamental deception.

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Few (if any) surveys of U.S. public opinion about NATO even hint about the extent of the risks Americans incur because of Washington’s obligations under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which commits the signatories to consider an attack on any member as an attack on all. A typical poll question will ask respondents whether the United States should defend country X, if Russia attacks that country. A more honest question would be whether the United States should defend country X from a Russian attack, even if doing so might result in a nuclear war with Russia that could kill millions of Americans.

Granted, such an outcome is a worst-case scenario, but Washington’s Article 5 obligations bring it into play. The escalation risk is especially relevant with respect to defending Estonia and the other Baltic republics. A 2016 RAND Corporation study concluded that it would be nearly impossible for NATO to defend its Baltic members against a full-scale Russian invasion for more than a few days without an extensive upgrade of the Alliance’s existing force deployment. Even after such an upgrade, the outcome of a struggle waged solely with conventional weapons would be uncertain. Escalation to the nuclear level would remain an ever-present danger.

Even without a robust “truth in advertising” requirement, U.S. public support for NATO is slipping. Mark Hannah, a senior fellow at the Eurasia Group Foundation, concedes that point following a survey his organization recently conducted. He notes: “For a second year in a row, when faced with a hypothetical scenario in which Russia invaded Estonia, a NATO ally, Americans were roughly split on whether they wanted the United States to respond militarily. And that was after respondents were reminded of Article 5, the part of the NATO treaty that obligates the United States to respond to such aggression, and after they were told that U.S. action could be the only way to expel Russia.”

In other words, even with wording designed to elicit …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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