Daniel Korski’s new article in Foreign Policy, “Partners in Decline,” calls for a renewed US-European relationship, as a way of staving off marginalization at least for a while. It’s kind of hard to discern his point – clearly at this point, Europe needs the US far more than the US needs Europe. True, NATO is a force of legitimacy right now, but if the demographic trends Korski points to as signs of decline continue, won’t it begin to lose that legitimacy as it becomes less and less representative of any significant proportion of global population?
Korski also misinterprets history. He asks us to
Imagine if the United States had in the past chosen its allies exclusively on whether they were willing to fight alongside the 82nd Airborne. That would have meant abandoning an alliance with Britain in 1966 after then-Prime Minister Harold Wilson refused to send British troops to the Vietnam War.
Is there some sort of treaty or piece of paper we would have torn up? Aside from the (predominantly cultural) Special Relationship – which certainly was damaged for most of the 70s until the Reagan-Thatcher revival – Britain’s refusal to commit troops to Vietnam was no more than a disagreement between longtime global partners. There was no real ‘alliance’ to end as a response but even that informal alliance was seriously damaged.
I wouldn’t go so far as to advocate an American withdrawal from NATO (as Andrew Bacevich does), but at the same time it is perhaps on an even steeper path to irrelevancy than Europe and the United States themselves. Korski’s argument is in itself contradictory, as his prescription for waning influence just reemphasizes the extent of Western decline. And like all other nation-states, it is an inevitable collapse.
World War I was more global in scope than is often realized.
World War I belligerents; Allies are green, Central Powers orange, and non-aligned are gray.
The colonial forces of both Britain and France were tried and tested in theaters throughout the globe, perhaps most surprisingly in India itself. Thanks to the Anglo-Japanese Pact of 1902 there was no direct threat across the frontier – as the Japanese would pose in World War II – but the fighting in the Middle Eastern theater often spilled over in the Punjab, and nationalist revolts there and in Bengal threatened to destabilize the Raj. In Mesopotamia, there were three mutinies by Muslim soldiers unwilling to fight their fellow believers, but for the most part native troops remained unwaveringly loyal. Even the horrific casualties in the various African campaigns did not dissuade colonial troops from fighting alongside their occupiers and preserving their own subjugation.
In September 2008 two Dutch army squad leaders and their soldiers refused to go out on what Radio Netherlands describes as “a risky reconnaissance patrol” in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. The platoon leader responsible for the mission was allegedly guilty of “excessively authoritarian behavior.” “[H]e was prepared to accept fatalities on the patrol,” Radio Netherlands reports.
On the surface, this is clearly ridiculous. Deeper down, it actually stays pretty ridiculous, but nevertheless there’s an argument to be made here. I’m not going to make it, but without conscription (as is the case in Holland), the point is moot.
I know, I know – I sound precisely like a member of the “101st Chairborne.” Then again, I haven’t joined the armed forces. My point is that if you sign up for a military willingly – and I emphasize willingly – you should be equally prepared to accept the risks inherent to combat. There’s a different between a ‘risky’ mission and one that’s ‘suicidal’, and according to the reports I’ve seen, this is a clear case of the former. It’s a warzone. There are enemies out there. And that’s why you’re there.
The worst part is the assumption of universality. The squad leaders “are worried for other soldiers who may have to serve with him in the future.” One can only hope that other soldiers take themselves more seriously. And professionally. I’m trying really hard to refrain from using this to condemn the European fighting spirit in toto, but it’s certainly one more nail in the coffin of a confident, vigorous West.