: American Interest: Demography and migration are reshaping the Transatlantic Alliance

13:48 Jun. 7, 2016

American Interest: Demography and migration are reshaping the Transatlantic Alliance

Members of the British Duke of Lancaster's Regiment prepare to move out for an operation while participating in the NATO 'Spring Storm' military exercises on May 18, 2014 near Sengaste, Estonia. (Getty Images)

If demographic projections hold, NATO is in even bigger trouble than we thought.

The NATO summit in Warsaw is a month away, yet in the United States the event is barely registering outside official government and military channels and specialized programs at DC think tanks.

Read also The Financial Times: NATO to raise defence costs as uncertainty rises

To be sure, the subject of NATO comes up tangentially in U.S. reports on the crisis in Europe, or as talking points in dueling Clinton/Trump campaign statements. But NATO issues rarely rise above the level of grace notes in the Transatlantic symphony.

We could chalk this neglect up to the general decline of Transatlanticism in the Obama era. Or maybe it reflects the larger identity crisis of an alliance that acquired the unmistakable flavor of a security organization in the post-Cold War years. Either way, the fundamental question confronting NATO today is whether it can in fact rise up to the challenge of confronting a resurgent Russia. Perhaps the principle obstacle to that goal is the lack of consensus among NATO leaders heading to Poland on what constitutes principal threats to the alliance.

Over the past decade NATO watchers have focused on the issue of miserly defense budgets, and the exercises and capabilities these funds can purchase. But there is a deeper undercurrent transforming both Europe and the United States in ways that make this discussion moot: the demographic transformation underway on both sides of the Atlantic.

Read also 'Anaconda 2016': Largest war game starts in Poland (photo gallery)

Larger population trends have not only shifted the center of gravity away from the Eurocentric world that dominated global security over the past two centuries; they are also bringing about an ethno-cultural transformation that demands a serious conversation about what common values Europe and the United States will share going forward.

An ancillary but an equally urgent question for military planners is whether in the coming decades NATO member-states will be able to raise the military-age cohort to staff their all-volunteer forces—provided, or course, that their governments decide to spend enough on defense.

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