A Christian defense of NATO

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).

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?


Comments (2)

Leave a Comment

Brian, thank you for taking the time to write this out. While I hesitate on how effective the ballast of NATO is for American foreign policy, I nonetheless share your overall argument that its existence is important if only for the potential of such a balance, and as an effective arm for international action beyond the more rhetorically strategic work of the U.N.

Thank you Brian for your well thought and researched reflection on what Christians should think of NATO. It is a nice piece of educated and informed work, but your post was unsettling to me. At first I was ready to respond mirroring your scholarly and researched positions complete with corrective reflections and links to articles amending some of your understandings and points about just war theory, specifically Augustine’s idea of caritas as it relates to collective defense. But I’m not going to because the thing about your article that unsettled me was much more simple.
NATO is an organization of a small number of people in powerful positions who make decisions of neighbor regard that effect countless numbers of people. The power NATO holds is a problem along with its arrogance to think its decisions are the best for poor and oppressed people to whom they seek to respond.  You write, “Governments…are too easily tempted by power. Alliances serve as a break or a bulwark in the face of…the inescapable political fact of power asymmetries.” Sure a collective defense may be a form of neighbor regard and better than a unilateral response, but the alliance is still a small group of people who hold a large amount of power and force it upon a vastly larger group that has no say in the matter. Though NATO has a variety of responses (thank you for speaking about MISFA—this is good work) its primary tool for response and action is military force and violence. When the only tool you use is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.
Can probability of success really be measured and neighbor regard really be calculated without diminishing the value of human life? There is no man or woman, no nation, no mortal power on earth capable of ridding the world of evil. The desire is preposterous. To act upon preposterousness with vast military might (it is a military alliance, correct?) is evil. To acquiesce in such evil is somnolence. No man, woman or mortal power can rid the world of evil: only Christ can. God is a God who fights against suffering and wants to show solidarity with human beings who suffer and God fights against suffering in a human way: the cross. So what should a Christian think of NATO? Whatever they think, their thoughts should begin from the foot of the cross and include the voices of crucified peoples-not the voices of the powerful.

Loading More Comments


Leave a comment, Guest

You are welcome to leave a comment, guest. Please note, all comments are moderated by our staff. Your name and email address are required fields.
You are encouraged to create an account for additional benefits.

Why create an account?
* denotes required field.
Image Type: jpg, gif, or png.
Max file size: 50kb. Max dimensions: 100px by 100px.

See the latest in: