What would a break-up of the European Union mean for NATO?
If this happens, the focus in Germany, France, and elsewhere in the north will likely shift from saving Greece to preventing contagion and saving their banks. If Greece enjoys a relatively successful return to the drachma, it will encourage Portugal, Italy, and Spain to consider the same escape route from their troubles. The result would be the end of the European Union in its current form. It would also inflict damage on Europe's financial system that would take years to repair.
The consequences for NATO would be profound. Economic dislocation and financial austerity would mean more downward pressure on European defense spending. Manpower cuts could make a long-lasting NATO stabilization effort such as the one in Afghanistan, requiring the constant rotation of ground combat forces, out of the question.
Cutbacks in equipment inventories and modernization would make it more difficult and risky to sustain an air and naval operation such as the one recently completed in Libya. If, in the future, NATO had to replicate a Libya-type operation with fewer and older aircraft, its pilots could be at greater risk going up against a challenging enemy air defense system. And fewer aircraft would mean fewer missions per day, which would likely extend the campaign, perhaps beyond the bounds of political patience. Less money for modernization in Europe would further widen the technical gap between European and U.S. military capabilities, making defense cooperation across the Atlantic more difficult.
At a cultural level, a bust-up of the European Union would cripple the long-standing dream of greater European solidarity. Instead of greater European cooperation and cohesion, the recession and resulting possible crack-up of the European Union has instead revealed perceptions of selfish scheming, manipulation, broken promises, brinkmanship, and arrogant domineering. Those perceptions will not help the differing cultures in Europe sustain an effective military alliance.
The unity of NATO was breached early in its history, with a crisis occurring during Charles de Gaulle's presidency of France from 1958 onwards. De Gaulle protested at the United States' strong role in the organization and what he perceived as a special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom. In a memorandum sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 17 September 1958, he argued for the creation of a tripartite directorate that would put France on an equal footing with the United States and the United Kingdom, and also for the expansion of NATO's coverage to include geographical areas of interest to France, most notably French Algeria, where France was waging a counter-insurgency and sought NATO assistance.
Considering the response given to be unsatisfactory, de Gaulle began to build an independent defence for his country. He also wanted to give France, in the event of an East German incursion into West Germany, the option of coming to a separate peace with the Eastern bloc instead of being drawn into a NATO-Warsaw Pact global war. On 11 March 1959, France withdrew its Mediterranean Fleet from NATO command; three months later, in June 1959, de Gaulle banned the stationing of foreign nuclear weapons on French soil. This caused the United States to transfer two hundred military aircraft out of France and return control of the ten major air force bases that had operated in France since 1950 to the French by 1967.