Charting a New Path Forward for the US-NATO Relationship (Marcellus Policy Analysis)

By Jordan King, Spring 2022 Marcellus Policy Fellow

The United States no longer needs to act as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) primary security guarantor. After World War II, the United States recognized a unique opportunity to rebuild the economies of Western Europe, establish itself as a hegemonic power on the continent, and build a post-war order that would advance its economic and ideological interests throughout Europe. This was the beginning of the Bretton Woods System, the United Nations, and NATO. NATO specifically resolved three important security concerns for the United States; (U.S.) it resolved concerns about multipolarity and militant nationalism that had plagued Europe, it paved the way for U.S. investments into Western European economies via the Marshall Plan, and it provided a defensive balancing alliance against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). NATO acted as a stabilizing force throughout Europe that allowed NATO states to focus on economic development instead of defense spending. However, this relationship needs to be examined to understand if the U.S. relationship with NATO still satisfies present U.S. security needs.

This paper argues that the United States no longer needs to act as Europe’s primary security guarantor vis-a-vis NATO. In fact, doing so is no longer aligned with US security interests. The present relationship is a drain on U.S. resources and has demonstrated the inherent flaws within military alliances. Additionally, there are credible concerns about talks of another round of NATO expansion. Understating the dangers of expansion and the broad support for European security autonomy within Europe is an important consideration. The United States should pivot to a grand strategy of restraint that moves towards scaling back military hegemony on the continent and supporting European military independence to eliminate costs and reinvest domestically. This paper will analyze current NATO policy and its effects on U.S. security interests. I will then recommend that the U.S.:

  • Increase defense expenditures for European NATO members to 3%
  • Oppose a policy of NATO expansion in the short-term
  • Reassure allies of Article 5 commitments with rotational troop deployments
  • Transition Allied Command Transformation out of the U.S. and into Europe
  • Over time, relinquish NATO Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR) to a European member state

The criteria to evaluate the recommendations are below. Specifically, I will seek to answer the following questions:

  • Cost: How does the recommendation affect U.S. costs?
  • Effectiveness: How does the recommendation redistribute responsibility within the alliance?
  • Political feasibility: How likely is the recommendation to happen? What obstacles would be in the way?