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The Senate's Dereliction of Duty on NATO Expansion

Nikolas K. Gvosdev

Security, United States, Europe

Image: “Polish soldiers, assigned to the 34th Armor Cavalry Brigade, conduct a Vehicle Identification exercise on their Polish Leopard tank, as part of the Strong Europe Tank Challenge (SETC), at the 7th Army Joint Multinational Training Command’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, Grafenwoehr, Germany, May 10, 2016. The SETC is co-hosted by U.S. Army Europe and the German Bundeswehr, May 10-13, 2016. The competition is designed to foster military partnership while promoting NATO interoperability. Seven platoons fr

They failed to ask tough questions—and now we must live with the consequences.

Jim Webb, writing in these pages several years ago, castigated the U.S. Congress for its unwillingness to take up its Constitutionally-mandated responsibilities to conduct vigorous oversight of American foreign policy. Future historians are likely to add to his bill of particulars the Senate providing a rubber stamp to the several rounds of enlargement of the North Atlantic alliance, without weighing the costs and obligations of willy-nilly extending U.S. security guarantees.

When the Washington Treaty creating the NATO alliance was presented to the Senate in 1949 for ratification, there was a vigorous debate over its utility. As C. L. Sulzberger chronicled in his contemporaneous reporting for the New York Times, Senate approval of the pact was neither foreordained nor automatic. In the end, many Senators reluctantly cast votes in favor in order to send a clear signal to Josef Stalin that the United States would actively resist Soviet aggression, but the arguments marshalled by Senator Robert Taft nonetheless fell on sympathetic ears in the chamber (and convinced twelve others to join him in voting against the treaty).

Taft had argued that the U.S. should have extended unilateral security guarantees only, rather than sign a treaty of alliance, because “We could judge whether perhaps one of the countries had given cause for the attack. Only Congress could declare a war in pursuance of the doctrine.” Taft enunciated concerns that the new alliance might shift from defensive purposes to a more active encirclement of the Soviet Union, and so provoke the war it sought to prevent. He also raised a more prosaic concern: that of free-riding on the part of allies who might grow dependent on U.S. largesse rather than take more steps to secure their own defense.

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