Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Two cheers for NATO

As a citizen of the West, I know why NATO exists: It was created after World War II to prevent another round of war in Europe. And it has worked for seven decades. It was a good idea, and remains so.

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As a reporter, I never liked covering NATO meetings. It tended to mean sitting in the bar lobby of the NATO headquarters in Brussels, waiting all day while European reporters drank, chain smoked Gitanes and criticized American genetically modified food as terribly unhealthy. It was boring. It would be followed by a boring press conference at which “it is taken note of” and “modalities” were discussed.

As a reporter, I never liked covering NATO meetings. It tended to mean sitting in the bar lobby of the NATO headquarters in Brussels, waiting all day while European reporters drank, chain smoked Gitanes and criticized American genetically modified food as terribly unhealthy. It was boring. It would be followed by a boring press conference at which “it is taken note of” and “modalities” were discussed.

Yet as a citizen of the West, I know why NATO exists: It was created after World War II to prevent another round of war in Europe. And it has worked for seven decades. It was a good idea, and remains so. Anyone casually casting it aside, as President Donald Trump appears to be doing, should be asked, good and hard, if they were willing to see another world war start in Europe.

On a related subject: I was thinking over the weekend about the item I did on Friday about so many retired military officers joining the staff of the National Security Council. There is a good practical reason to be wary of this. That is, the military tends to naturally dominate decision making in places like Afghanistan, even outside its areas of expertise, such as police training and civil judicial functions. This is because it has three tools: resources, people and experience in planning. When the president has a problem, the military always has a solution — even if it not the one that should be used.

Photo credit: NATO

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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