The future of NATO looms large in the Clinton administration’s attempt to create an autonomous zone of American military presence and political influence in the Balkans that would be independent of the ups and downs of Washington’s relations with its Western European partners. By imposing its own post-Yugoslav architecture, this administration hopes to ensure that its Balkan bridgehead will outlive the eventual demise of NATO.

While anti-traditionalist, “globalist” neo-imperialism provides the ideological underpinning for the obsessive anti-Serb bias of U.S. policy, the desire to establish an effectively irreversible Pax Americana in Southeast Europe is the “rational” basis of the strategy (which also has its Turkish, Russian, and Middle Eastern components). This unsubtle exercise in divide et impera creates instability that will demand the presence of its creator as the guarantor of the status quo. By creating a string of small, highly dependent, and inherently weak statelets and quasi-states — Dayton-Bosnia, “Kosova,” and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia today, with an “independent” Montenegro, an “autonomous” Sanjak, and a “cantonized” Vojvodina soon to follow—the United States is ensuring that Tuzla, Pristina, and Skopje will remain its assets even if it has to close its bases in Kaiserslautern, Frankfurt-Main, and Pirmasens.

One consequence of this approach, which culminated in the bombing campaign against Serbia last spring, is that the demise of NATO is now more likely. Despite the self-congratulatory rhetoric at the NAPO summit in Toronto last October, the writing is on the wall. Only a week later, on October 11, the New York Times reported that “a plan to create a defense arm for the 15-nation European Union is stirring fears among American civilian and military officials.” While couching their comments in the language of economic efficiency and prudent management, U.S. officials privately admit that the key issue concerns command-and-control structures that may eventually rob NATO of any meaning.

Intra-European military cooperation outside of NATO has been increasing for some years, initiated by a Franco-German program that created joint units. But last June, at a summit in Cologne, European Union leaders decided to take concrete steps by the end of 2000 to build up a capacity for “autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces” in future regional crises, even if the United States decides to stay out.

Senior NATO diplomats admit that the Cologne decisions created concern in Washington. In addition, high-ranking American officers at NATO headquarters are unhappy about a French plan for a European general staff and a military council of 15 European Union ambassadors. At the end of July, President Jacques Chirac sent all other E.U. countries—including four non-NATO members—an “action plan” proposing both civilian and military standing committees for a new European defense system. The plan also calls for “a European military staff progressively organized to assume the triple functions of oversight, analysis and planning.” Concerted efforts by U.S. officials to undermine the French initiative soon followed, with Britain predictably siding with the Clinton administration.

The French argue that it is unacceptable for Europe to spend 60 percent as much as America spends on defense, but get only a small fraction of the defense capability in return. The reply from Washington and London is that the Europeans ought to carry out a “defense capabilities initiative” within NATO to reshape the alliance’s fighting forces, rather than develop a defense structure parallel to the alliance. “I don’t think the debate will be resolved anywhere else but within NATO,” the new E.U. commissioner for external affairs, Christopher Patten of Great Britain, declared at the European Commission in Brussels last fall.

The U.S. initiative is hardly more popular with the Europeans than the French “action plan.” It would demand significant increases in military spending by NATO’s European members—in Germany’s ease, up to $22 billion more over the next ten years—without any major change in the political and military chains of command. The political price may prove even higher, especially in Germany, where the left remains deeply divided over the country’s role in NATO in general, and its participation in the war against Serbia in particular.

“NATO bombs that destroyed the economy and infrastructure in Serbia were aimed against the Serbian people,” declares Oskar Lafontaine, the former leader of the German Social Democratic Party, in his new book. The Heart Beats on the Left Side. In excerpts published by the Bonn daily Die Welt, Lafontaine accuses NATO of violating the U.N. Charter as well as its own, and of flouting international law. Condemning the “cynical, pretentiously moral lamenting” of Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping during the attack, Lafontaine calls it “the typical zeal of turncoats, of former fervent pacifists who are now even more fervent advocates of war.”

Similar sentiments abound among the new members of the alliance, particularly in Hungary and the Czech Republic, as well as along the southern flank, notably in Italy. The overwhelming unpopularity of NATO among most Greeks hardly needs restating; were it not for the (probably mistaken) belief that being a member of NATO offers protection against Turkey, Athens would have left a long time ago.

Only time will tell whether the unease on the European left will find its equivalent in a traditionalist backlash against the “new” NATO; but a reaction based on the desire to defend the last vestiges of the Westphalian order against the post-national, post-civilized ideologues of universal human rights and global free trade is necessary. Europe needs its own Buchanans, able to talk to the Lafontaines and willing to forge a common front with them to devise a strategy for the Old Continent’s survival in the coming century. Contrary to Chris Patten’s views, that strategy has to be outside NATO—indeed against it.

Once the Free World’s bulwark against communist aggression, NATO has now become an aggressive tool of the “benevolent global hegenionists” in Washington and their European quislings. It has lost more than every political and military reason to exist; it has lost the right to do so.