The U.S. Can't Save the World Unless NATO Allies Step Up | Opinion

The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by Jim Hanson during a Newsweek podcast debate about when the United States should get involved in foreign conflicts. You can listen to the podcast here:

The problem we face is that I could name two dozen places where awful things are happening and we should intervene right now. People are dying, genocide is happening. China is doing horrific things to the Uighurs. And yet we do nothing right now, because of the interest we have in not having China cause us bigger problems elsewhere. So the Uighurs get thrown under the bus. I think looking at NATO as it relates to Ukraine right now, NATO was one of the factors that helped us defeat the Soviet Union and, and stop the encroachment of communism across Europe — along with Reagan, Maggie Thatcher, Pope John Paul, and Lech Walesa of Poland, to bring him up too. Those were the deciding, biggest factors, and the economic might that, combined, we forced the Soviet Union to face in trying to stare us down.

Resident comforted by a rescue staff
An evacuated resident is comforted by a rescue staff outside a burning apartment building in Kyiv on March 15, 2022, after strikes on residential areas killed at least two people, Ukraine emergency services said as Russian troops intensified their attacks on the Ukrainian capital. Getty Images

So I think when you look at that, it served and still serves a purpose. Except now, up until Ukraine, NATO has been toothless, absent the United States being essentially NATO. NATO is a collection of people who've been possuming a ride on the back of the United States for their security, without contributing their fair share, which is not how an alliance should work. It's why both Washington and Jefferson talked about foreign entanglements and entangling alliances as dangerous. We didn't do many until NATO, when it made a whole ton of sense against a communist juggernaut that we saw coming toward the Western world. So now we look at Ukraine and say, okay, Ukraine's not NATO, but Poland is. Step a foot in Poland and we'll kick your butt. But unfortunately, we're not going to start a bigger war just over Ukraine.

And I think if you take the long view on that, we can't decide that any place Russia or China or someone else decides to encroach on is our responsibility — unless we've got a previous reason, or a very compelling strategic interest. And NATO is a both compelling strategic interest and a promise that we've made. Now all the NATO countries, all of a sudden — Germany's like, "maybe we should contribute more than our 2 percent. Maybe we should start being part of this," because they see the value again. Because there's a danger that is on their doorstep. And I think we have to look at not broadening our promise to save the world to people who aren't pulling their weight. We just can't do that. There's too many places where things suck for us to fix all of it.

Jim Hanson is Executive Director for America Matters, and former US Army Special Forces

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.