The American Interest
Whether we fully realize it or not, the West in general and NATO in particular face a new crisis—by far the most serious and dangerous of the post-Cold War era. It is not a crisis about the intricacies of NATO reform, the mechanisms of European security, the finer points of cyberwarfare, or the coordination and financing of Transatlantic defense policy. It is rather about something far deeper and far more fundamental. The fact that many seem not to realize it is both part of the problem and starkly symptomatic of it.
The crisis has a name—Ukraine—but the crisis is about more than one country, and it is even about more than Ukraine’s aggressor, Russia. It is, quite possibly, a foundational crisis in an early stage whose potential for menace is as great as the crises that enveloped our civilization in the century past: its two world wars and the Cold War, when the high civilization of the West trembled before the onslaught of totalitarian enemies. We have not yet reached a level of danger of the same magnitude as 1917 or 1941 or 1949, and strong, state-based totalitarian threats do no not properly define the crisis. But we are in some ways beyond the level of danger of most of the Cold War crises of the past century—Berlin 1961 or the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for example.
In the three great crises of the 20th century the United States ultimately stepped forward; as Churchill put it in a particularly dark moment, the New World came forth to rescue and liberate the Old. In part for that very reason, the United States is today as much the front line of crisis as Europe. Whether the United States will or indeed can do anything like that again remains to be seen. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. First we need to sort out how the new crisis resembles or echoes those of the past century, in what ways it is different, and how we should approach it going forward.
Picture: U.S. Army Europe Images [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons