Published July 31, 2018 in The Hill
It has been said time and again that NATO is indispensable as a defense of the West. Even Trump accepts this assertion. What he doesn’t accept is the U.S. burden to sustain the treaty. A combative President Trump has made it clear member states must meet their obligation to spend at least two percent of GDP on defense. The U.S. currently spends 3.6 percent or about twice the average expenditure.
Trump noted as well the irony of Germany’s reliance on a new $11 billion pipeline to import Russian natural gas into Western Europe when a significant portion of NATO’s defense budget is to buttress against Russian ambitions. How odd to pay Russia for gas and at the same time defend against Russia.
Chancellor Angela Merkel – who grew up in East Germany when it was controlled by Russia – speaks passionately of a united and free Republic of Germany today, a sound debater’s point, but distraction from Germany’s defense spending.
It also appears as if Trump’s jaw-boning has had some effect since eight new nations are about to meet the two percent threshold. How this will unfold remains unclear. An alliance that is indispensable must be sustained. My guess is that NATO nations, including Germany, will be playing a more active defense role than has been the case heretofore. This will be a test of Merkel’s political skill with elections just over the horizon.
If NATO were to fail, the continental defense structure would be anarchic with one nation after another making the best possible deal. Many of the institutions in the West created to maintain global balance seem moribund, but NATO has the ability to resuscitate itself through advanced technology. Warfare of the future will be a cyber and space exercise. Hence NATO is evolving, and the budget must evolve with it.
Trump may be heavy handed in his approach, but it seems to me, he is right. The Europeans do not like this style, but a president is not aiming for style points. It would be wise for European leaders to concentrate on the content of Trump’s proposal.
There are many areas of collaboration with the Europeans that have not been explored. Dare I say it: there may be concerns both the Russians and U.S. share, including anti-terrorist activity that should be examined. In the present environment that may not be possible, yet history often moves in unpredictable directions. It is also true Merkel, Macron, even Putin may disappear from the public square, leaving leaders with an unconventional mind set.
NATO should see itself as a flexible organization capable of changing course rapidly. That stance invites the future. Now if only the Europeans can overcome the stultifying precedents of the past, a new day and a host of opportunities will emerge.