Nicholas Clairmont

Nicholas Clairmont
Nicholas Clairmont is a former editorial fellow at The Atlantic. More +
  • Is America Getting a Bargain With NATO?

    A reader of ours, Ira Straus, has been pushing an unpopular idea about NATO for decades now, but his idea may have never been more unpopular than right now. After all, as an American pro-NATO advocate and the founder of the Committee for Eastern Europe and Russia in NATO (CEERN) who was a Fulbright Scholar and taught in Russia, Straus is so convinced of the benefits of NATO that he thinks the alliance or something in its image should expand infinitely, to include all of Eastern Europe, Russia, and eventually the whole world. Yet the Republican Party’s nominee for President of the United States, who could take office in six short months, recently caused what passes for an uproar in the navel-gazing community of foreign policy commentators by mentioning that he might not honor the alliance’s obligations.

    When Trump’s comment blew up, we at The Atlantic examined the issue from several sides: Jeffrey Goldberg looked at how identical to Putin’s outlook the Trump foreign policy platform had become; Uri Friedman spoke to a former general about what would happen if Russia invaded and a Commander-in-Chief Trump followed through on his suggestion of doing nothing; I interviewed Michael Mandelbaum, a foreign policy luminary and NATO expert, about the history of the alliance and its function; and Jeffrey Tayler wrote in an article and a a follow-up note that Trump’s position contains more than a kernel of wisdom: NATO is outdated, outmoded, and counterproductive, and many of the worst foreign policy outcomes of the past several years could have been avoided if it hadn’t been for the aggressive posture of the American-led alliance and its policy of expansion.

    Now Straus has written in via to challenge what he says are a set of misconceptions about the costs and benefits of NATO, arguing, in effect, that the Trump take has things precisely backwards—the alliance is, on Straus’s view, a strategic and financial bargain. While taking a best-case view about what Trump’s intentions may have been in making anti-NATO comments, Straus bears that out below, in his “Four points on why NATO is the Greater America and saves us money”:

    1. It is pure myth that NATO is costing America money.

    a. The U.S. actually pays a meager 22% of NATO’s (very small) budget—far less than America’s proportionate share. The allies are paying disproportionately much for NATO. So NATO gets us a net gain in the form of their spending; but again, it is a small budget.

    b. The European allies provide and pay for more than 90% of the allied troops that are in Europe and defending Europe, while the U.S., less than 10%. In earlier years we had put up a slightly more respectable fraction of the troops defending Europe, but Europe always put up more than 80% of them. None of these troops are NATO-hired forces; they are all national forces, so NATO isn’t costing either America or Europe any money for these forces. They are our own expenditures, by our own choice. What NATO does, however, is to make sure these forces are never directed against us, and to give us some actual use of all these European forces. It does this by putting them under our joint training and coordination and planning. Thanks to this, they lack plans or practical capabilities for acting against us, and they are instead fairly well prepared to be commanded by our U.S. Commander—who is also the NATO SACEUR—whenever we’re attacked or whenever it’s agreed to take a joint action. In this respect, NATO gets us some big things for free.

    Some people might prefer to have a real empire instead of NATO (even while they incongruously attack NATO as an “empire”), and to be able to call up European troops at will and tax Europeans as much as we want. I won’t argue with the goal that someday in the future we should have an Atlantic union where we have a joint army and joint taxation to pay for it with complete burden sharing. I insist on only one thing:

  • Visar Kryeziu / AP

    What's NATO for, Anyway?

    Why Donald Trump’s recent comments on the alliance caused such an uproar

  • Should Women Register for the Draft?

    A female soldier in the Israeli military, which conscripts both men and women, mans a gun. (Sebastian Scheiner / AP)

    Over the past few months, Congress has been in the middle of a debate over whether to expand the Selective Service registration requirement to include women in any future military draft. In the latest development, the full House just voted on the idea for the first time after Ohio Representative Warren Davidson attached an amendment to a major government funding bill that would bar the government from paying for the expansion. It passed, causing another setback for supporters of women joining Selective Service:

    Some background: Proponents of gender equality when it comes to the draft hold that after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in December 2015 opened up all combat jobs to women, it’s only logical—and only fair—that women should be conscripted alongside men if the draft is ever resurrected. After all, the Supreme Court case in 1981 that upheld the male-only draft did so on the basis that women weren’t eligible for combat roles, and now women are. Plus, there’s a symbolic issue at play: While no one particularly wants to be drafted, supporters argue that there’s value in making clear that women have the same duty to protect their country as men do.

    Not everyone in Congress agrees. As Duncan Hunter, a Republican representative from California, said during an Armed Services Committee hearing in April:

    I’ve talked to coffeehouse liberals in San Fransisco and conservative families who pray three times a day. And neither group wants their daughter to be drafted. [...] The draft is there to get more people to rip the enemy’s throats and kill them for our nation, sanctioned by the U.S. government. That’s what a draft is for.

    Hunter is getting at something that runs culturally deep. It’s why the issue of women in combat is so fraught. The moral stakes of conscripting women to fight and die are high, and this cuts right to some of the themes that drive America’s bitter culture wars: gender roles, patriotism, support for the military, support for actual wars.

    Hunter’s quote comes from his ill-conceived attempt to prove that America couldn’t support drafting women. In early May, I wrote about how the amendment to expand the draft came about: Hunter himself proposed it to the House Armed Services Committee—as a bluff, sure that his opponents were all talk. He was convinced that when they faced the gritty reality of women being drafted, they’d see what Hunter regards as reason and vote against what they claimed to believe.

    The vote didn’t break his way, and that’s when things went through the legislative looking glass. Hunter’s powerful ally from Texas, Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, used his position to go against the will of his committee’s members, killing the measure before it got to a vote on the House floor, where it was predicted to pass. Meanwhile, it passed in the Senate despite some loud protestations from, among others, Ted Cruz, recently back from the campaign trail. As it stands, the two chambers are conferring about how to bring their respective versions of the bills into agreement so that they can send it on to the president.


    One of the reasons the debate has been so bitter is that each side assumes the other isn’t playing in good faith, and in a sense the two opponents aren’t talking about the same thing.

  • Jonathan Ernst

    The Edge: Trump Campaign's Got 99 Problems, and Cash Is Definitely One

    FEC filings revealed that Donald Trump’s campaign came into June running on financial fumes.

  • Jim Young / Reuters

    The Edge: Trump: You’re Fired! No, Really, You’re Actually Fired

    Corey Lewandowski will no longer work for the Trump campaign.

  • Chris O'Meara / AP

    The Edge: Florida's Jolly Good Fellow

    Republican Representative David Jolly announced he is dropping out of the Senate race.

  • Joshua Roberts / Reuters

    Presume for Yourself

    The scandal over the AP calling Hillary Clinton the “presumptive nominee” says more about how people consume media than the media itself.

  • Noah Berger / AP

    The Edge: Bernie Isn't Jumping Out of a Plane

    Reports that the Vermont senator would skydive into a campaign event turned out to be wishful thinking.

  • There's No Such Thing as Free Will and Determinism

    It’s no surprise that Stephen Cave’s story in our current issue, “There’s No Such Thing as Free Will,” is one of the most read and hotly debated Atlantic pieces this month. The galaxy of philosophical issues called “free will and determinism” is where morals and physics come together. In other words, it’s a subject that genuinely matters, and one that’s a hell of a lot of fun to argue about.

    The relationship between physical laws and moral laws is intuitive to most people. If the rules that govern the universe that exist outside of ourselves and before we’re born apply to our actions, how can we be responsible for those actions?

    But it’s worth taking a closer look at this, as some readers are already doing. This one states the case that a purely deterministic universe rules out the possibility of free will:

    Conscious or sub-conscious, if our choices are governed by chemical interactions in the brain, then they are not choices or free will at all—just the result of inherently predictable and deterministic interactions governed by laws of classical physics. The only potential for free will is quantum interactions in the brain, which may or may not exist (no proof yet either way).

    According to this line, the jury is out on whether we have free will, because it depends on the forthcoming findings of physics as to whether there is randomness in the decision-making processes in our brains. At its core, the claim here is that in order to be responsible for doing something—in order to have done it freely—we need to have been able to do something else. We need multiple options, or alternative possibilities.

    But the following reader looks critically at why indeterminism would justify moral responsibility:

    How does randomness lead to free will? Let’s say at every possible decision point in my day—coffee or no coffee, take the freeway or surface streets, place a comma or don’t place a comma—that instead of making a choice (or being causally forced into a choice), I instead have to stop and flip a coin. Heads I do one of the things, tails the other, and it’s perfectly random.

    Is this anything like free will? If I landed heads and had coffee, tails and took surface streets, and tails and placed the comma, did I choose those things in any meaningful sense of the word?

    Taken together, we can see the germ of an odd but appealing idea here: Perhaps neither determinism nor indeterminism leads to the kind of moral responsibility and free will we have such a strong intuitions towards. Maybe if we can be morally responsible, it’s for some other reason entirely.

    I wrote my dissertation a few years ago arguing for this idea, which is called “semicompatibilism.” It’s gaining ground in philosophy circles due largely to its greatest champion, a California philosopher named John Martin Fischer. For now, it’s still a fringe view that hopes to overturn millennia of accepted wisdom about one of the oldest and most important issues in philosophy.

  • Brennan Linsley / AP

    The Unseemly Death of an Amendment to Draft Women

    How a fight against social progress in the U.S. military collapsed in on itself.

  • Tami Chappell / Reuters

    A Twist in the Fight for Women in the Military

    One Republican’s attempt stop the integration of women into the military might end up making them eligible for the draft.