Conundrums of Transatlantic Collective Defense

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  • 03/02/2023

In the rush of a crisis, one is too pressed with attaining immediate objectives to consider the totality of the experience.  It is oft times only in hindsight one glimpses the critical event’s redolent irony and existential conundrums.  The execrable (and preventable) Russian invasion of the sovereign democracy of Ukraine – wherein the world witnessed the futility and failure of every institution established for the collective defense of the West – is such an instance, where one finds two deeply ironic, existential questions.  In a case of life imitating art (or at least politicians imitating artists), with the aid of my friend, Dan, and two excerpts from author Shawn Levy’s The Castle on Sunset: Life, Death, Love, Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont, let’s explore two festering questions.

Per Dan, the first festering question regarding the transatlantic partnership is: How can the U.S. care more about the freedom of Western Europe than does Western Europe?  As Dan writes: “The EU has chosen to anchor its existence on cheap Russian energy and the military protection of the US.  Is that a sustainable foundation?  For how long a time can a people who are unwilling to defend their interests retain control of their own affairs?”

In facing this collective security conundrum, the past U.S. administration took the stick approach; the current administration has taken the carrot approach.  

Wielding a rhetorical cudgel, the Trump administration strove to make our European allies honor to their NATO dues.  But they were largely rebuffed by those lagging transatlantic partners, and almost wholly derided by the European and American press.  Equally, the Trump administration opposed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will bring cheap Russian energy – and a reliance upon it – to Western Europe, notably Germany.  In their totality, these policies proved not wholly ineffective in persuading Western Europe to shoulder a more responsible burden in defending its strategic interests.

Opting for the “more flies with honey” strategy, the Biden Administration hoped a more servile and indulgent policy toward Western Europe would revise its penny-wise and pound-foolish stance.  Further, the Biden foreign policy team even withdrew American opposition to Russia’s NORD Stream 2 pipeline.  While this position has since been revisited by both the U.S. and Germany, the question is how long will Western Europe’s resolve last as energy prices soar?  

Consequently, prior to the immediate crisis, the Biden approach hadn’t born any more fruit than did its predecessor.  For, ultimately, the conditions for the collapse of Western Europe’s self-determination as democracies unfettered by the coercive, corruptive influence of Russia and other autocratic regimes remain firmly in place.

It is analogous to the quip Shawn Levy recounts by screenwriter and novelist Bruce Wagner: “I want to die in my sleep; not screaming like everyone else in the car.”  Western Europe is asleep at the wheel of their own self-defense; and, regrettably right now, the rest of the world is along for the ride.  That they have momentarily awakened and hit the brakes doesn’t mean there won’t be a recrudescence of their suicidal somnambulance regarding national and collective security.

The other festering question arises from the second of Dan’s musings, namely: “For how long a time can a people who are unwilling to defend their interests retain control of their own affairs?” Because, while Dan was referencing Western Europe, we can also glean the query’s pertinence to our own nation.

In his June 28, 2017, remarks to the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, then U.S. Secretary of Defense and retired General James N. Mattis reminded his European audience:

“To close the door to war, exercising your moral authority and your generation’s responsibility to protect freedom.  Western values, respect for a rules-based order and for national sovereignty, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the dignity of the human person – these are values worth defending.  Marshall said ideals have power to inspire and he also said discouraged people are in sore need of the inspiration of great principles – principles represented today by you in this room.”

Yet what happens when a significant and influential movement within the United States believes our nation is systemically racist – ergo, evil – and must be radically retconned?  What happens when this movement seeks to deconstruct and/or destroy the very principles Mattis emphasizes – the freedoms of speech and religion and the dignity of the human person – and, indeed, the entire concept and verity of unalienable human rights that cannot be abridged by any government?  Who will defend – let alone die for – an allegedly foundationally-flawed, racist, repressive, inequitable nation they believe must be fundamentally transformed beyond all recognition?  Indeed, how will the acolytes of the woke civil religion respond when a president asks them to defend our nation – as they believe it is, not as they wish it were?  When said president tries to rally Western Europe to help shoulder our collective defense, how will they react to this call from the leader of such an abysmally inequitable nation?

Likely, the response will be akin to the episode Levy recounts, wherein Jim Belushi, incensed over the pending, sordid depiction in a biopic of his late brother John, takes matters into his own hands: “Jim Belushi stormed into [producer Edward S. Feldman’s] office one day and trashed it, instructing a secretary to ‘tell Feldman who did this’; ‘I would,’ she replied, ‘but I don’t know who you are, Sir.’”

When the United States – the indispensable nation of the Pax Americana – can no longer muster the moral clarity and courage to believe in, let alone proclaim and proselytize, its foundational verities and principles of God-given, unalienable rights, liberty and equality and human dignity, our nation’s defense of its strategic interests, including the perpetuation and improved puissance of the transatlantic collective defense partnership known as NATO will prove ineffectual, if not impossible.  After all, what can one say to those whose extremist ideology produces such cognitive dissonance that they fear climate change more than a revanchist Russia?  (Or genocidal communist China, for that matter?)

Perhaps, then, we may have found the crux of the collective security conundrums for which the present crisis may provide an answer: specifically, regarding the domestic woke and the Western European global elitists, is the collective defense of Western civilization the one common good they won’t support? 

At present, with the imposition of stiff (if not exhaustive) sanctions upon Russia, funneling weaponry into Ukraine for its defense, and Germany reexamining its martial abilities, the trendline is positive for the collective security of the West.  But the conundrums of transatlantic collective defense cannot be answered in one crisis.  A marathon not a sprint, any improvements in collective defense must be nurtured, cemented, and expanded.  Because, as long as there are rogue regimes led by tyrants, terrorists, communists, and autocrats, the alarm bell sounding to mount the collective security of the West will always need answering by those devoted to the preservation of its peoples’ and principles’.   

As he describes himself:  The product of a misspent youth, the Hon. Thaddeus G. McCotter (M.C., Ret.) is a guitarist, author, occasional radio co-host, and recovering politician.  He is a former U.S. Congressman from Michigan having represented that state’s 11th Congressional district from 2003-2012.

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