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Does Lloyd Austin understand the purpose of NATO?

Summary:
This tweet made me shake my head in disbelief: NATO is arguably the most successful peacekeeping alliance in all of world history.  Because NATO as a whole has far more military power than the rest of the world combined, any country would be crazy to invade a NATO member.  It has kept its members safe for more than 70 years. Some people suggest that NATO has nothing to do with this success, that post-WWII era aggressors have no interest in attacking European countries.  But that’s clearly false, as we’ve seen Serbia attack Bosnia and Russia attack Ukraine (both non-members).  Last time I looked, they were just as “European” as Latvia or Estonia. I wish NATO were even bigger. But if Ukraine were admitted to NATO right now then we’d have two options, both highly

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This tweet made me shake my head in disbelief:

Does Lloyd Austin understand the purpose of NATO?

NATO is arguably the most successful peacekeeping alliance in all of world history.  Because NATO as a whole has far more military power than the rest of the world combined, any country would be crazy to invade a NATO member.  It has kept its members safe for more than 70 years.

Some people suggest that NATO has nothing to do with this success, that post-WWII era aggressors have no interest in attacking European countries.  But that’s clearly false, as we’ve seen Serbia attack Bosnia and Russia attack Ukraine (both non-members).  Last time I looked, they were just as “European” as Latvia or Estonia. I wish NATO were even bigger.

But if Ukraine were admitted to NATO right now then we’d have two options, both highly undesirable:

1. Go to war with Russia.

2. Acquiesce to Russian troops occupying part of a NATO member.

In the latter case, NATO would lose its reputation of never allowing a member to be invaded.  Without credibility, the alliance would be much less effective.  Doubt would be created as to whether the US would defend Estonia from a Russian attack.  And uncertainty is one of the leading causes of war.  Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait precisely because it was unclear if the US would defend Kuwait.  Hussein guessed wrong, but US ambiguity turned out to be very costly to everyone involved.

I find it maddening when the press discusses US policy on Taiwan.  The policy is described as “strategic ambiguity”, the idea that we keep China guessing as to how we would respond.  That’s a recipe for WWIII.  I have no idea what policy the US should have in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, but one thing I know for sure is that whatever that policy is, it should be made crystal clear to the Chinese.  (Obviously I don’t mean specific tactics; rather whether we are willing to use our military to defend Taiwan.)

The most likely cause of a nuclear war between the US and Russia is an accidental missile launch.  But the second most likely cause is a small proxy war spinning out of control because one side miscalculated what the other would do.

PS.  In the past we could take some consolation from the fact that the US president is not mentally unstable.  I have no confidence in that claim regarding future presidents.  American voters no longer insist on “gravitas”.

PPS.   The military spending levels of NATO countries is a phony issue.  It doesn’t matter at all whether a NATO member spends slightly above or below 2% of GDP. NATO already spends several times as much as required to defend itself.

Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment". In May 2012, Chicago Fed President Charles L. Evans became the first sitting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to endorse the idea.

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