Europe, the old continent, is suffering from a multiple crisis. Its economy, culture and security have been compromised. As the European Union (EU) is being increasingly rejected by European citizens and the dislocation of the euro area seems more and more possible, the military architecture of Europe backed mainly by NATO – and thus the United States – is also being questioned. Costly and inadequate, the Atlantic alliance was sharply criticized by the Republican nominee and subsequently President-elect of the United States, Donald Trump. Many European politicians called for the building of a “European defense” something that has been talked about for 30 years without resulting in anything deemed conclusive.
As the only independent strategic nuclear military power in Europe, France is once again at the forefront of the NATO dispute, although it has become again a full member of the integrated military command at the request of former President Nicolas Sarkozy in April 2008. Marine Le Pen, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Arnaud Montebourg have demanded more or less France’s exit from NATO. Following the election of Trump and the misunderstanding over his alleged intention to disengage the United States from Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel would now be thinking about an autonomous European defense backed by the increase in Germany’s military budget.
The murderous attacks carried out throughout Europe and especially in France have demonstrated NATO’s inability to address new threats, those which aren’t military but transnational, hybrid and terrorist. Even if NATO has been built on a stricto sensu military vocation that was to fight against any invasion waged by a third country, the observation of its limited effectiveness against today’s most serious threat has put its legitimacy into question, in addition to Europe’s dependence on the United States. If NATO is being politically challenged, the state of European countries’ national militaries makes a real European military independence quite impossible for at least the next fifteen years at best.
Diverse interests, divergent assessments and the necessary duration of rearmament programs are all pitfalls on the long road toward Europe’s defense by Europe itself. Finally, believing that the United States would abandon NATO as easily as Europe would decide to do so overnight originates from an erroneous analysis. The United States wants Europe to increase its military spending as much as it considers Europe essential to its future as a superpower within the framework of global geopolitics of which the center of gravity has moved to Asia.
Apart from France to some extent, challenging NATO’s existence should remain mostly political without fundamentally disrupting the Euro-American defense architecture in the short and medium term. One may introduce as good evidence that Germany will probably never fully entrust its vital interests to French nuclear deterrence, while France will probably never incite its German neighbor to acquire nuclear weapons. NATO will therefore continue to exist in a different way (or shape) over the long term, but its complete disappearance looks rather unlikely.