NATO: An Alliance of Equals

Rocard In Project Syndicate, Michel Rocard:

The controversy that arose in France over the country’s return to NATO’s unified military command makes this abundantly clear. Was France losing its autonomy, perhaps even its sovereignty? Was it capitulating to American hegemony? These are real questions, yet at the NATO summit people spoke of them more in terms of symbols than as realities.

But what is the reality here? NATO is a military alliance composed of 28 countries. One of them, the United States, has a military budget that is more than three times that of all the other members combined. Hence, the US runs most NATO civilian and military commands with the consent of the others. Of course, there is a collective consultation and deliberative process that enables any member to be heard. But in reality a member’s actual power is what affects common decisions.

This structure harks back to the conditions of NATO’s birth, when it was forged to thwart the Soviet threat to Western civilization. At the time, no one ever doubted that American power – already endowed with nuclear weapons – was the only counterpart. For this reason, the US came to preside over the alliance.

During the 41 years of the Cold War, 14 of NATO’s 16 members strictly obeyed and complied with American decisions and policies. French President Charles de Gaulle was the only one to question whether an American president would actually ever be ready to launch a nuclear attack on the USSR in order to protect one or several Alliance members if vital US interests were not directly at stake.