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George Will thinks NATO’s dying. That’s what he thought in 1999 too.

George Will thinks NATO’s dying. That’s what he thought in 1999 too.

George Will has a gloomy column on NATO in today’s Washington Post that mostly mirrors former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ parting shot: Europeans don’t spend enough on their militaries for the alliance to be worth America’s while:

Since the Cold War’s end, the combined gross domestic product of NATO’s European members has grown 55 percent, yet their defense spending has declined almost 20 percent. Twenty years ago, those nations provided 33 percent of the alliance’s defense spending; today, they provide 21 percent. This is why Robert Gates, before resigning as U.S. defense secretary, warned that unless Europe’s disarmament is reversed, future U.S. leaders “may not consider the return on America’s investment in NATO worth the cost.” Born to counter the Soviet army on the plains of Northern Europe, NATO may be expiring in North Africa.

But before abandoning yourself to despondency, recall that George Will was declaring NATO in mortal peril back in 1999. During the dark moments of the Kosovo intervention, he had this to say: "On the eve of the April celebration of NATO’s 50th anniversary, the most successful alliance in world history may have died by suicide." Of course Kosovo turned out not to be an alliance-ending disaster but a qualified success. Five years later, the alliance was in the midst of its most ambitious operation ever, in Afghanistan.

There’s plenty of reason to be nervous about NATO’s future. But don’t be nervous just because George Will (or fellow realist Steve Walt) told you to be.