What does it tell you about the New York Times op-ed page that they would publish a lengthy attack
on the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell by a former air force chief of staff,
which contains one obvious falsehood and another obvious omission?
The op-ed (by retired general Merrill A. McPeak) rehashes the
old argument that permitting gay Americans to serve openly in the armed forces
would undermine unit cohesion. He falsely claims that "advocates for gays in the service have by and
large avoided a discussion of unit cohesion." This assertion is simply untrue; in fact, advocates for repealing DADT have addressed this
issue repeatedly, as a thirty-second Google search would reveal. Indeed, a prize-winning article in the
DoD's own Joint Forces Quarterly
argued last year that "[T]he stated premise of the law -- to protect unit cohesion and
combat effectiveness -- is not supported by any scientific studies." (For more on this issue, go here.)
So much for the false information purveyed in this article. The glaring omission in McPeak's op-ed
was his failure to discuss any of the countries where gays do serve openly,
such as Israel, Australia, Canada, or Great Britain.
Have these states-all close U.S. allies and regarded as effective
military performers-suffered a catastrophic decline in "unit cohesion?" The answer is no. As the JFQ article cited above notes:
"In a survey of over 100 experts from Australia, Canada,
Israel, and the United Kingdom, it was found that all agreed the
decision to lift the ban on homosexuals had no impact on military
performance, readiness, cohesion, or ability to recruit or retain, nor did it increase the HIV rate among troops."
In short, McPeak doesn't know what he's talking about. And
though the experience of modern militaries where gay people serve
openly would seem to be
germane to any discussion of this issue here in the United States, the Times' editors do not appear to have
queried him about it.
I'm not surprised that a retired Air Force general has outdated
and poorly-informed views on sexuality. Nor am I bothered that the Times gave him
space to express them on their op-ed page, because it should be a platform for public debate and present a wide range of
views. What I don't understand is
why the Times' editors would let him
make obviously bogus or misleading claims, without any perceptible attempt to
verify them beforehand? Or maybe
all those budget cuts have eliminated the fact-checkers?
Recently in Washington, D.C., a group
of experts met as part of an ongoing review to develop a new "strategic
concept" for the NATO allies to approve at a heads-of-state summit to be held
in late 2010. Key speeches were
presented by the NATO Secretary General Fogh Rassmussen, Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The result, however, has been an exercise
in NATO "group think" with little relevance to real strategic thinking about
America and its core national security interes.
NATO review process is failing to account for three fundamental contradictions.
NATO Secretary General Rassmussen stated that: "We must face new
challenges. Terrorism, proliferation, cyber security or even climate change
will oblige us to seek new ways of operating. And in a time of financial and
budget constraints, we need to maximize our efficiency within limited
resources." However, all of these
issues are challenges far better suited for the European Union (EU) and a special
US-EU relationship to manage rather than NATO.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that: "This Alliance has endured because of the
skill of our diplomats, the strength of our soldiers, and - most importantly -
the power of its founding principles." Yet, one of NATO's core founding principles was to create a
circumstance in which Europe could stand on its own two feet. This is, effectively, NATO's last
unfulfilled mission after the Cold War and it is now hindered by an
institutional framework allowing Europeans to free-ride on American security
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated:
"The demilitarization of Europe - where large
swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force
and the risks that go with it - has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to
an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st." The demilitarization of Europe,
however, means that NATO has succeeded in its fundamental mission - that Europe
no longer fights wars is a good thing.
Moreover, Europe has no incentive to contribute to global security
missions so long as America takes the lead. Europe has every incentive to free-ride on American power
and NATO perpetuates that.
Gates did provide his audience with a dose of realism, noting that: "Right now, the alliance faces very
serious, long-term, systemic problems." What he fails to appreciate, however,
is that these problems are not going to be solved by berating European allies
for pursuing obvious benefit to their national interests. Rather, the solution is to change the strategic
dynamic by beginning to reduce American military commitments overseas and
realigning - including cutting - defense spending to reflect new security
Secretary of State Clinton testified to Congress that: We have to address this deficit and the
debt of the U.S. as a matter of national security, not only as a matter of
economics." Indeed, the most serious
threat to America's geostrategic position in the world is its $12 trillion
national debt. Yet, the United
States has increased its commitment to Afghanistan, seems unlikely to be able
to disengage from Iraq anytime soon, faces a growing confrontation with Iran,
and is simultaneously increasing its defense spending. Meanwhile, the American public is in
its most isolationist mood in decades.
It is in this context that NATO's "group of experts" seeks to add
missions to the alliance, rather than rethink the role of the alliance itself.
Department of Defense recently published its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)
which states rightly that the United States must "increasingly cooperate with
key allies and partners if it is to sustain peace and security" (interestingly
in a December 2009 draft version of the QDR, the language read "rely" on key
allies). Yet the QDR and the new
defense budget both show a United States seeking to hold onto a primacy in
global security that is no longer sustainable. The QDR notes that the US seeks to prevent and deter
conflict by: "Extending a global
defense posture comprised of joint, ready forces forward stationed and
rotationally deployed to prevail across all domains, prepositioned equipment
and overseas facilities, and international agreements." This is not a strategy that reflects
wise prioritization by a country $12 trillion in debt.
QDR typically emphasizes NATO as part of this global presence - and
understandably points to Afghanistan as an essential component of this global
partnership in a transformed alliance.
While it is increasingly said that Afghanistan is a crucial test for
NATO - the reality is that NATO has already failed in Afghanistan.
In his assessment from summer 2009, General Stanley McChrystal noted
that the operational culture of the NATO mission in Afghanistan would have to
be fundamentally transformed.
This critical step, however, is not happening. While the Europeans are contributing, there is nothing
inherent in the ISAF command structure that requires it to be a NATO-engaged
coalition. In fact, Brussels
currently has very little to do with operations in Afghanistan and Europeans
might contribute more if their reputation in Afghanistan was more closely
linked to the future of the European Union.
strategic concept for NATO need not be very complicated. There are basically two missions left
for the alliance.
First, NATO should be kept
as a reserve capacity built around the traditional Article 5 mission of
territorial collective defense as a hedge against future geopolitical rivalry
at the global or regional level.
This, however, need not require costly new initiatives to keep NATO busy,
but rather should be seen as a reserve fund of alliance power - political in
nature with operational doctrines available on the shelf. NATO should continue its process of
reaching out to engage Russia and abandon its provocative and self-defeating
discussion of further enlargement or "global NATO" operations which are not realistic
or sustainable but which create strategic costs in the US-Russian relationship.
Second, NATO's staff should
be given a clear mandate to work themselves out of a job - with their final
mission being to hand over full lead responsibility for regional security to
the European Union. The most
fundamental missions of NATO are achieved - Europe is integrated, whole, and
free. The challenge now is to
ensure that this is sustained via the European Union. By jealously hanging onto an irrelevant dominance over
European security policy, the United States hinders effective EU security
integration and ironically damages America's own interests. If the United States can't hand over
lead authority in Europe where can it?
Before committing to a
strategic concept driven by NATO groupthink, President Obama should convene a
policy review that brings into the process a broader range of strategic thinking
than a self-motivated Washington-Brussels network which habitually seeks new
missions, new budgets, and continues to drain the United States of scarce
resources. Europe is not yet capable
of standing alone - and these strategic shifts will not happen overnight. However, they certainly will never happen if the United States does
not make the building of the European Union, not NATO, its primary strategic
goal in the transatlantic security architecture. A fundamental and lasting alignment of the transatlantic
security dynamic can be a vital legacy for President Obama - but it will
require a much greater application of realism to the role of NATO than is
currently being considered.
Sean Kay is Chair,
International Studies and Professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. He is also a Mershon Associate at the
Mershon Center for International Security Studies and Non-Resident Fellow at
the Eisenhower Institute in Washington, D.C. He is the author of NATO
and the Future of European Security and Global
Security in the Twenty-first Century:
The Quest for Power and the Search for Peace.