It's my personal soapbox, a place for me to express thoughts and feelings, musings and rants, reflections and recollections; to have fun with words -- about things spiritual, environmental, social, political, economic, and, from time to time, personal. And of course about peace. Soapboxes are in public places (as London's legendary Hyde Park) on purpose, and so I invite conversations with you, for it is through civil discourse that we can gain some perspective on the seeming chaos of these changing times and learn together how to shape a positive future for ourselves, our communities, and the generations to come.

Friday, May 3, 2013

NATO: Is It Obsolete?

Old ways, institutions, and relationships are crumbling to make way for the new. I have many personal acquaintances, colleagues, friends, and family who are experiencing, right now, major transitional events – marital crises, budding romances, health crises, new births, job losses, career launches, even death.

Similarly, businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations – even whole governmental and economic institutions – are in crisis, sensing the attendant dangers and seeking the attendant opportunities. Witness, for example, the Republican Party in the United States, which, in its existential angst since the last election, has been taking a serious look at itself and what (and whom) it stands for. And, if the Democratic Party, in smugness about what its arch rival is going through, fails to undertake its own self-reflection, it does so at its own peril.

And so we come to NATO.

An April 22 article in the New York Times reports on U.S. concerns about the decline in military expenditures of our NATO partners. Clearly written from a purely military perspective, the article quotes U.S. and European military and government leaders and experts faulting European countries for defaulting on their NATO obligations and letting the U.S. shoulder a greater and greater share of the burden for their own defense.

But what if we were to look at the issue more broadly than purely militarily? Might we not see that, after almost a quarter century since the demise of the Soviet Union, the Berlin Wall, the Cold War, and the Iron Curtain that had threatened Europe since World War II, this 65-year-old institution has served and even outlived its purpose? In this day and age of the Web, social networks, the Euro Zone, the European Union, global climate change, cell phones, and satellites, is there really a place in this world for the kind of archaic militaristic thinking and institutions that brought us over 200 million deaths (and by some accounts as many as 400 million) in the course of the 20th Century?

Maybe the Europeans are onto something. Maybe there are better ways to spend our money – both public and private – in the 21st Century. Maybe we need to have a hard look at the very concepts of national security and defense and the best way to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense” that would be more pragmatic for the times.

Holding on desperately to the past in times of crisis, whether out of fear of the unknown or merely force of habit or inertia – whether economic axioms or political conventional wisdoms or military alliances or organizational missions – could be a sure path to succumbing to the dangers and blowing the opportunities.


  1. You raise an important point, Mike, and one that should get an airing through the main stream media. On our trip to Germany last month, we were struck by the anachronism of having US military stationed on a number of bases there, almost 70 years after the end of WW II. According to Wikipedia, there were >45,000 US troops stationed in Germany at the end of 2012. These folks are needed back here by their families and communities; they could be working on rebuilding infrastructure, and we could certainly benefit as a nation, if we spent the hundreds of millions (billions) of $$ for constructive purposes.