United States President Donald Trump is a liability to the transatlantic defence cooperation that started with the US entry into World War 1 and evolved into a formal treaty after World War II. The US entry was the decisive factor in the victory of the allies.
Since the end of World War II and throughout the Cold War, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has been at the pivot of Europe’s defence to protect itself from the now defunct Soviet Union, though, at the same time, the alliance effectively served the US interest in containing the spread of Communism in Europe.
The organisation came into force in 1949 at a time when European nations were struggling to rebuild their economies and militaries. The end of World War II signalled the beginning of the Cold War, with the Soviet Union occupying much of Eastern Europe. The prevention of Soviet expansion into Europe and elsewhere was the main issue US policy makers confronted. If the economies of these war-ravaged European nations crumbled further, the US feared that the people would embrace communism.
To overcome the issue that was threatening the post-war US hegemony, the then US Secretary of State George Marshall proposed that the US offer billions in aid to Europe. Western European countries accepted the US aid and went on to record a remarkable economic recovery. In the meantime, a series of Soviet-led moves unsettled the US. The key among them was the blockade the Soviets imposed on West Berlin. Amidst fears of a major conflict, the US and its allies organised a massive airlift of supplies to Berlin. After 318 days, during which allied planes carried out 275,000 missions to transport 1.5 million tons of supplies, the Soviets relented and ended the siege, though Germany remained divided till October 1990. This was largely the backdrop that led to the formation of NATO.
Now for the first time in the seven decades since its formation, the alliance faces a threat from within. In what is seen as yet another point of contention between allies, Trump is asking NATO members to pay more for the protection that the US gives them through NATO.
Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has irritated US allies, first by withdrawing from the Paris climate deal and then Iran nuclear pact, then by starting a tariff war with allies including Canada and European Union nations, then by scuttling the G7 meeting in Canada and now by undermining the importance of NATO, a defence alliance which has served the US interest more than the interest of its other members.
But judging from Trump’s statements and tweets, it appears that he believes NATO largely serves Europe’s defence interests. He also believes that the US should stop looking at Russia as a foe. During the presidential campaign, he had said he would be able to get along with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump’s dismal view of the 29-member NATO probably brings out the business animal in him. He is looking at the alliance in terms of profits and losses. One who benefits more should pay more. This appears to be the logic. He said the alliance was obsolete and costing the US too much money.
“NATO was set up at a different time. NATO was set up when we were a richer country. We’re not a rich country anymore. We’re borrowing, we’re borrowing all of this money...NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO but we’re spending a lot of money. Number one, I think the distribution of costs has to be changed. I think NATO as a concept is good, but it is not as good as it was when it first evolved,” candidate Trump said in 2016, drawing much applause from his ’America first’ supporters.
In deference to Trump’s stance, NATO members, especially Germany, France, Spain and even Belgium, have agreed to increase their defence expenditure to 2 percent of the GDP by 2024. But Trump on Wednesday told the NATO summit in Brussels that Canada and European NATO members -- which last year spent 0.55 to 2.6 percent of their GDPs -- should increase the defence budget to 4 percent of the GDP – a 650 percent increase in the case of Luxemberg. This is while the US spends only 3.5 percent of its GDP on defence.
He is in Britain today amidst huge public protests before he will travel to Finland for a meeting on Monday with Putin, with whom Trump’s chemistry is bubblier than his chemistry with his European allies such as Germany’s Angela Merkel. He berated Germany, saying it was “totally controlled by Russia” and added in a tweet on Thursday saying, “On top of it all, Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia. Not acceptable! All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!”
Increasing the military expenditure is certainly a crime in a socio-economic sense. If this additional 2 percent Trump is seeking is spent on agriculture research aimed at increasing the world food supplies, health, education and eliminating poverty, the world will be certainly a better place to live in. But the Trump strategy is aimed at boosting the US arms industry. Additional money for defence means, more weapons purchases from US companies and more wars.
In this context, it is in the interest of world peace, we say that NATO should be disbanded now. It should have been dissolved when the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact were disbanded. The organisation has, since the collapse of the Cold War, intervened in many conflicts: the Balkan conflict that erupted with the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the 1991 Gulf War, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2011 Libyan war, to name a few.
During the last months of President Barack Obama, NATO undertook a massive military buildup in Russia’s neighbourhood. The move exacerbated Russia-NATO relations that had already been strained by Russia’s wars in Georgia and Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, the US threats to set up missile defence shields in Eastern Europe and NATO’s eastward expansion.
Against the backdrop of policy differences between the US and Europe, moves towards forming an exclusive European defence alliance have gained momentum in recent years. In the past, Germany and France had pushed for an EU defence arrangement but had abandoned their efforts following US objections.
With Trump flirting with Russia, which is said to have helped him to win the presidential election, an EU defence arrangement is in order. Last year, the EU nations formed the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) aimed at close defence cooperation through joint projects.