NATO: Common security, common prosperity

NATO: Common security, common prosperity
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As this week’s NATO Summit demonstrated, nativism is growing globally. Many have articulated the troubling parallels to the rise of fascism nearly a century ago, so America has an opportunity now to lead the world back on track.  

An imperfect union, the U.S. at its aspirational best always recognizes that common security requires common prosperity among nations, even as the latter is a prerequisite to the former. 


When peace and prosperity exist, they create a virtuous cycle of rising living standards and growing peace, and when they do not, we have a vicious cycle of rising inequality and sub-national and international hostilities.


Attempting to preserve the nascent confederacy of newly independent states, our founders authored a new Constitution. It was designed to bind the former colonies in mutual assistance in the event of foreign or domestic aggression. They also understood that maintaining the union of states was a prerequisite to establishing the nation as a peer of the great colonial powers.

If we became the United States of America, the thinking went, the monarchies of Europe in particular would think longer and harder about satisfying their expansionary urges in North America.  Powerful nations would realize that as aggressors they were sure to face the combined military strength of the 13 states rather than a single state militia.

Similarly, foreign governments would be more likely to enter into and less likely to abrogate military, political, and commercial treaties with a large, diverse, and growing U.S. economy.

Since World War II,  America and its allies have forged a world order based on mutual economic and military security.  We have strayed periodically from the noble purposes inscribed in the founding documents, but those errors serve to sharpen our collective focus on our numerous successes and to call us back to those high ideals and aspirations.

One of those successes is the dramatic expansion of trade promoted by multilateral trade negotiations. The systematic elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers in the exchange of goods and services across national borders has raised standards of living everywhere. These gains are made possible by the shared commitment to mutual security embodied in NATO and other alliances born in the post-war era.

Marshall Plan assistance in rebuilding the war-torn economies of allies as well as former enemies in Europe was based on a clear-eyed understanding that a strong global economy would better support a strong, prosperous America. They would also better resist the growing threat of Soviet expansion. Roughly 10 percent of Marshall Plan expenditures through 1952 were directed to Germany.  Noble intent and idealism in treating the victims of that war played a significant part in the development of the Marshall Plan.

However, military and political leaders like deGaulle, Churchill and Roosevelt understood that countries that can meet the material needs and expand the scope of self-determination of their people are much less inclined to make war — on other nations or on their own populations.

America after WWII already saw itself as a leader in the world. We also recognized that our place in the world was not only unthreatened by prosperity elsewhere; that prosperity enhanced our position.

Today there is a growing sense that old alliances are obsolete or prohibitively expensive. I am reminded of the trope, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Indeed, we cannot afford ignorance any more in the realm of international affairs than in the realm of education.

The failure of the Doha Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the rise of bilateral preferential trade arrangements have undermined the multilateral approach. Rather than abandoning multilateralism and the widely dispersed benefits they bring, the U.S. should use its influence to reinvigorate the multilateral approach.

America should lead a discussion of the human, economic and security costs of breaking away from traditional alliances.

However, the experiences of the past 70 years should have taught us that the world’s best hope for peace and prosperity is an unshakable, shared commitment to time-honored alliances.

Brendan Cushing-Daniels is the Harold G. Evans chair of Eisenhower Leadership Studies at the Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College.