Magazine | December 19, 2016, Issue


American Interests and Obligations

Mr. Nordlinger raises a legitimate question as to the extent to which Americans should be prepared to commit military resources, i.e., American lives, in furtherance of our treaty obligations (“Smaller Countries, Far Away,” October 24). Pursuant to realpolitik theory, the only time a state should commit its forces into any armed conflict is when its national interest is directly affected. That is the reason the Kremlin blinked during the Cuban missile crisis and why they never intervened directly during the Nicaraguan civil war on behalf of the Sandinistas. The Kremlin recognized correctly that these states were/are part of the American “sphere of influence” under the Monroe Doctrine, and not part of the Kremlin’s.

To be sure, in Westphalian parlance, the Baltics have always been within Russia’s “sphere of influence.” That being said, NATO and EU treaty obligations by member nations may have provided a deterrent against Russian aggression against these states. However, in an actual showdown with the Kremlin, neither the affected states nor the treaty organizations should expect American intervention if the area were ever to become “hot.” That is why the U.S. and Europe blinked when Russia annexed the Crimea. The Balkans have been in the Kremlin’s sphere for centuries. Humanitarian considerations alone should never be the determinative factor in making long-term, armed treaty commitments. Rather, the U.S. must limit the actual commitment of troops to those conflicts which directly affect America’s national interest.

David C. Frazier

Via e-mail

Jay Nordlinger responds: Three quick points. (1) I would be careful about using “sphere of influence,” the language of the Nazi–Soviet Pact. Their language need not be our language. The Baltic states, like Britain, France, and Germany, are sovereign nations. They do not belong to Moscow. (2) The North Atlantic Treaty says that an attack on one is an attack on all (Article 5). That is the heart of the treaty. If you are not going to defend certain members, you ought to expel them now. Anything else is a deception and a fraud. (3) The letter-writer brings up Crimea (though not the Donbass, which is equally relevant, at least). Ukraine, of course, is not a NATO member (sad for it).

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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