Emily Miller Jocham, March 31, 2017
First, let me qualify this article with the following statement: In Libertarian Utopia, there is no NATO, or, at the very least, Libertarian Utopia is not a party to NATO. But this is not Libertarian Utopia; this is the United States. And unfortunately, the United States is very much an active party to NATO.
NATO is not something anyone addresses very often, and if its attempt to add Montenegro to the club hadn’t been briefly mentioned in recent headlines, you probably would not be reading this article. So let’s have a very quick and oversimplified review. NATO–the North Atlantic Treaty Association–goes all the way back to 1949. Western European countries had major concerns about the threats Communism posed to their societies, so the Treaty of Brussels was organized among Belgium, The United Kingdom, France, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The Treaty of Brussels was an agreement of obligation among those countries to provide defense services to each other in the event it became necessary. Shortly afterward, the fearless leaders of those countries realized the world superpower at the time–the United States–would be an invaluable member of such an agreement (because of course). Thus, the North Atlantic Treaty was born. By affixing his signature to the agreement, President Truman committed unlimited future generations to the defense of other nations’ wars, and the United States officially became a member of NATO. By virtue of its membership, the United States has guaranteed a measure of military support and assistance to other countries who are members of NATO, if any of those countries light up the skies with their Bat Signals.
Fast forward almost 70 years, several internationally-cooperative conflicts, and the addition of 20+ members, and you find our current debacle. Montenegro has been invited to become a member of the super exclusive Defense Charity Club that is NATO, and the Unites States Congress has recently addressed the issue (and by “address”, I mean demand that everyone affirm their support for Montenegro and ratify its admission to NATO or risk being called a Putin operative). It makes a lot of sense for Montenegro. Montenegro is a small country. Its military has a total headcount of less than 2,000 people, and its long, bloody history of having to fight for its independence makes Montenegro feel vulnerable to countries that may want to undo the decades-long pursuit of that independence. Even I will admit there is a very legitimate concern about Russia’s objectives for the small country. So I get it.
But here’s the problem. The United States has already vastly overextended itself in foreign conflicts. The “War on Terror”, patrolling various international borders around the world, and maintaining heavily-staffed military bases in just about every country you can think of–just to name a few things–has not only stretched the United States’ military thin, it has involved the United States in conflicts that are not its own. It has also negatively affected the United States’ ability to maintain an atmosphere of peace with the rest of the world. Don’t get me wrong. As a libertarian, I favor a robust military with well-established defense strategies. However, I do not believe national defense is characterized by maintaining an offensive presence in other countries, and I am certain national defense does not include carrying out military operations in other countries just so we can be good friends with countries that can’t handle their own conflicts. Libertarians favor a foreign policy that puts actual defense first–that is, the ability to defend our country only in the event it is attacked, as opposed to preemptively fighting wars and establishing guard in countries whose conflicts do not arise from attacks directly perpetrated against the United States.
The cost of war is high–not just financially, but even more importantly for the men and women charged with fighting in those wars. Death, dismemberment, and permanent physical and/or mental incapacities are the prices paid by our military personnel. The responsibility our government has to its military personnel is immense. To drop them into an obligatory war without due consideration is unconscionable. Yet, that is the web of entanglement which NATO creates for its members. Ideally, the United States would withdraw from NATO entirely, but since that is definitely not on the table, the best we can expect now is for the United States to put a stop to issuing new membership cards.
Because in the end, adding more countries to NATO means being obligated to engage in more wars and international conflicts, which also means irresponsibly putting even more of our armed forces on other countries’ frontlines, forcing them to fight and/or die and/or become permanently injured in a war in which the United States has no interest. That should be unacceptable not just to libertarians, but to everyone.
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