Pro-NATO politicians and pundits never tire of citing polls and studies showing that a majority of Americans continue to support the Alliance. Frequently, that argument is presented as part of the larger case that President Trump's periodic expressions of skepticism about NATO's relevance are out-of-touch with the views of the American public. However, the pro-NATO case is built on a fundamental deception.,
Few (if any) surveys of U.S. public opinion about NATO even hint about the extent of the risks Americans incur because of Washington's obligations under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which commits the signatories to consider an attack on any member as an attack on all. A typical poll question will ask respondents whether the United States should defend country X, if Russia attacks that country. A more honest question would be whether the United States should defend country X from a Russian attack, even if doing so might result in a nuclear war with Russia that could kill millions of Americans.
Granted, such an outcome is a worst-case scenario, but Washington’s Article 5 obligations bring it into play. The escalation risk is especially relevant with respect to defending Estonia and the other Baltic republics. A 2016 RAND Corporation study concluded that it would be nearly impossible for NATO to defend its Baltic members against a full-scale Russian invasion for more than a few days without an extensive upgrade of the Alliance’s existing force deployment. Even after such an upgrade, the outcome of a struggle waged solely with conventional weapons would be uncertain. Escalation to the nuclear level would remain an ever-present danger.
Even without a robust “truth in advertising” requirement, U.S. public support for NATO is slipping. Mark Hannah, a senior fellow at the Eurasia Group Foundation, concedes that point following a survey his organization recently conducted. He notes: “For a second year in a row, when faced with a hypothetical scenario in which Russia invaded Estonia, a NATO ally, Americans were roughly split on whether they wanted the United States to respond militarily. And that was after respondents were reminded of Article 5, the part of the NATO treaty that obligates the United States to respond to such aggression, and after they were told that U.S. action could be the only way to expel Russia.”
In other words, even with wording designed to elicit positive responses—and no disclosure of a potentially dire nuclear risk arising from America’s military obligation to a NATO ally—the survey showed no clear public mandate for defending that ally. Hannah concludes: “It’s not just President Donald Trump who is skeptical of the North Atlantic alliance, in other words. It’s the American people. To the extent that U.S. citizens think about NATO at all, they disagree about whether honoring its commitments would be worth the sacrifice.” He’s correct, and if they were explicitly told about the nuclear risk, it is highly probable that anti-NATO sentiment would surge.
Public skepticism about the wisdom of incurring such grave risks is entirely warranted. The first question that U.S. leaders should ask about any alliance commitment is whether the ally is even worth risking a sacrifice of American treasure and lives. Does that country have great strategic or economic significance to the United States? Risking war to defend another country ought to be no casual matter. A military alliance with such a profound obligation is not akin to an economic or social association. The obligations are deadly serious—and U.S. policymakers must never adopt the flippant attitude that because the United States is powerful, it can undertake virtually any commitment, confident that no adversary would ever be daring (or reckless) enough to challenge it. The history of international affairs is littered with examples of deterrence failures on the part of great powers attempting to protect allies and clients.
Washington's implicit assumption is that Russia would not dare challenge the Article 5 commitment. Foreign policy should never be based on a bluff, yet for the United States, the obligation to regard an attack on any NATO member (no matter how insignificant) as an attack on America itself potentially puts the very existence of the republic at risk. Smart great powers don't put themselves in such a position.
It is especially unwise to do so if the ally being defended is not essential to America's own security. Estonia and the other NATO members added since the late 1990s don't even come close to meeting that standard. During the Cold War, Western Europe was the main strategic and economic prize, and the United States faced not just a geopolitical challenger, but a messianic, totalitarian, expansionist power. Keeping democratic Europe out of Moscow's orbit arguably justified undertaking a high level of risk.
Whatever the merits of doing so to shield major strategic and economic assets such as Britain, France, Italy, and (West) Germany, those considerations no longer apply. Russia is a conventional, regional power, not a totalitarian state with global expansionist ambitions. Moreover, the members of the European Union have more than sufficient populations and economic resources to build whatever forces they deem necessary to confront and deter Moscow. For America to risk national suicide to continue shielding Europe—especially small security clients in the Baltics and elsewhere in Eastern Europe—is the essence of foreign policy folly.
It is past time for pro-NATO figures among America's political and policy elites to come clean with the American people. Americans deserve to know what risks they and their loved ones are incurring because of Washington's obligations—especially obligations to trivial and vulnerable NATO members on Russia's border. Let's see how strong public support for the Alliance really is following full disclosure.Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow is security studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor to the National Interest, is the author of 12 books on international affairs, including several books on NATO. His latest book is NATO: The Dangerous Dinosaur (2019).
Corey A. DeAngelis and Tommy Schultz
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander — unless you’re talking about the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates and education policy. The majority of the front-runners either attended private schools themselves or sent their own children to private schools, yet they’re fighting hard against programs that would grant similar options to the less fortunate.,
Here’s their latest school choice hypocrisy.
For starters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren recently released an education plan that is radically anti-choice. It would ban many high-quality charter schools, end federal funding of charter schools, and make it even more difficult to open new charters. She also calls to end private school choice programs — programs that overwhelmingly serve low-income families.
But about a month ago, one of us uncovered that Warren sent her son, Alex, to expensive private schools starting in fifth grade when she was teaching at the University of Texas at Austin. Then, cellphone footage shows the senator lied about it to an African American woman, moments after giving a speech about the rights of black women, before her campaign finally admitted Warren's son attended private school.
Other Democratic candidates have also come out swinging against school choice. Sen. Bernie Sanders called for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools, Mayor Pete Buttigieg denounced for-profit charter schools and is against vouchers because "they take away funding from public schools,” and Sen. Kamala Harris, who just dropped out of the race, said she’s “particularly concerned with expansions of for-profit charter schools” and said “our country needs an administration that supports public education, not privatization.”
But our new discoveries suggest these candidates are just as hypocritical as Warren.
It’s well-known that Mayor Pete Buttigieg exclusively attended private schools and that his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, taught at the private Montessori Academy in Indiana. What isn’t well-known is that Chasten’s Montessori school accepts students who use the state's tax credit scholarship program. Unfortunately, Buttigieg opposes private school choice programs that provide disadvantaged children with financial resources to attend his husband’s private Montessori school.
To top it all off, although Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign did not respond to requests about where his four children went to school, his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, attended a Catholic private school in Brooklyn.
Even though she's not campaigning anymore, Harris could run for president again in the future, and she still has power over private school choice in her role as a senator. Thus, it's still worth pointing out her school-choice hypocrisy.
Harris’s stepchildren attended Wildwood School, an elite private school in Los Angeles that costs nearly $44,000 in tuition and fees a year and has a student-teacher ratio of only 4 to 1. While her stepson graduated in 2013, before Harris married Doug Emhoff in 2014, her stepdaughter didn't graduate until 2017. The children may just be on educational paths chosen by their birth parents, but it’s still hypocritical to denounce education “privatization” when her stepchildren attended elite private schools.
Harris’s campaign did not respond to our inquiries (sent before she dropped out) regarding where she went to school, where her stepchildren went to school, or why private schools were the best choices for them.
These politicians must deal with a huge dilemma: they claim to want to help disadvantaged populations but are fighting against giving those groups more educational options. This dilemma is only magnified by the hypocrisy of candidates who had the privilege to exercise school choice for their own families actively seeking to stop private school choice programs that give the less fortunate the ability to do the same.
It’s great politicians have the freedom and ability to attend private schools and send their kids to private schools. We are happy for each of them. But it’s far from progressive to exercise school choice for your own politically powerful families while fighting against extending those options to poor families who desperately need educational options.Corey DeAngelis is the director of school choice at Reason Foundation and an adjunct scholar at Cato Institute. Tommy Schultz is the national communications director at the American Federation for Children.