Culture At Large

A Christian defense of NATO

Brian J. Auten

What should Christians think of NATO?

This was the question that jumped out at me after reading Hollie Baker-Lutz’s Think Christian piece detailing her participation in the NATO protests last weekend in Chicago. Hearkening to Jesus’ “radical commitment to justice,” Baker-Lutz framed her protest activity as both an extension of her faith and a response to injustice – defined as NATO’s involvement in unjust wars, the negative impact United States military spending has on domestic commonwealth and an overall imperiousness despite the fact that the Cold War has ended.

I have never been on a march, but I agree with Baker-Lutz that, in some cases, marching may be a necessary part of one’s Christian commitment. In the case of NATO, however, I believe - as a Christian, a national-security practitioner and a trainer of young Christians wishing to enter intelligence-related careers - that there are solid reasons why one might wish to support the 63-year-old military alliance.

Other-interest, or caritas

Jean Bethke Elshtain has, over the course of her work on Just War theory, highlighted Augustine’s view of “neighbor-regard” (caritas), as well as that of “equal moral regard” – extensions in political life of Jesus’ summary of the law (loving God and loving neighbor as one’s self). Not only is collective defense a form of neighbor-regard – a covenant to come to the aid of another covenant member – but, as emphasized in the 2010 Strategic Concept, in NATO neighbor-regard extends to crisis management and cooperative, international security (including non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament).

Reiterating a point made by Robert Joustra in the comments to Baker-Lutz’s article, many NATO actions in these other two categories fall squarely into the area of responsibility to protect (R2P). Certainly Christians must evaluate current NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) military operations on the basis of Just War categories, but in light of Baker-Lutz’s advocacy against global poverty (UnPoverty), it’s worth pointing out that in Afghanistan it is the actions of ISAF-member-led Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) that facilitate the country’s Microfinance Investment Support Facility (MISFA).

I believe - as a Christian, a national-security practitioner and a trainer of young Christians wishing to enter intelligence-related careers - that there are solid reasons why one might wish to support the 63-year-old military alliance.

NATO also expresses neighbor-regard in the sense of strategic and financial burden-sharing. Strategy-wise, as described in NATO’s May 2012 Deterrence and Defence Posture Review, the “supreme guarantee” of the alliance’s security falls to just three of the 28 members - that is, to the strategic nuclear forces of the United States, with contributions from French and United Kingdom nuclear weapons. Financially, although contributions are not pegged directly to an alliance member’s Gross National Product, the United States nonetheless carries a 21-25% share in each of NATO’s Common Funds – civil budget, military budget and NATO Security Investment Program (NSIP).

Limiting the temptation of unilateral hubris

Governments, like the men and women who constitute them, are too easily tempted by power. Alliances serve as a brake or a bulwark in the face of, as Peter Leithart recently highlighted over at First Things, the inescapable political fact of power asymmetries. Despite oft-made claims to the contrary, NATO was not formed simply for countering the military threat posed by the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. As G. John Ikenberry explains in his book, After Victory, the Settlement of 1945 (NATO included) was in very large part about the Gulliver-like binding of American power after World War II.

Given Baker-Lutz’s concerns about the United States acting as if “might makes right” in the international realm, NATO may be one of the few multilateral instruments available to temper any future unconstrained impulses. The alliance one attempts to resist via protests today may be the very instrument God uses to check even more costly, unilateral temptations tomorrow.

None of this is to denigrate Baker-Lutz’s choice to express her Christian commitment through marching against NATO, but it is to demonstrate that there are alternative, Christian perspectives for supporting - rather than resisting - the alliance.

What Do You Think?

  • What is your opinion of NATO, and how has it been formed by Christian principles?
  • Should the commands Jesus gave to individuals be transferred to nation states?


Topics: Culture At Large, News & Politics, World, Justice, Politics