Germany is a democratic country, and the German public is not enamored with the idea of being Europe’s cash machine. The German elite have things under control for now, but if things get worse, Germany has elections like any other country. Germany does not have to be a monster in order to be unwilling to underwrite Europe — certainly not without major political and economic concessions. The tension between the German elite and the German public is substantial, and if the German elite are broken in the political process of a democratic country, the European Union can change. Europe is democratic, and it is not clear that the European public has an unshakeable commitment to the European Union.
NATO is designed to come to the aid of Poland or the Baltics in the event of the unexpected and inconceivable, which would be Russia taking advantage of NATO weakness to create a new reality. For NATO to have any chance of working, it not only has to reach a unanimous agreement but it must also mobilize and move a multinational force while the Balts and Poles hold out. As in 1939, the issue is that they must remain effective fighting forces with the ability to resist and have a military capability of this generation and not the last. If the Russians are not going to attack, then there is no point in having NATO. Let it die and let the diplomats and bureaucrats go on to other careers. If there is a threat, it comes from Russia, so integrating Russia into NATO would make no sense, nor does the current NATO force structure.
A decision has to be made but it won’t be. It is too comforting to think of NATO as an effective military force than to do the work needed to make it one. And when the bill is presented, it is easier to dismiss the Russian threat. Yet none of these countries will take the logical leap and simply state that NATO has no function. That’s because they know better. But knowing better is not the same as going to the effort.
The problem is Germany. It is moving closer to the Russians and does not want a NATO focused on the Russians. It wants no part of a new Cold War. And no one in the countries I visited had any desire to challenge the Germans. And so the question of Russia is out there, but no one wants to state it too boldly.