And so it begins…
From the Bloomberg reporting:
Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal.
Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade. For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild.
Repeating a criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it “has problems.”
“It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said in the Bild version of the interview. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.” The Times quoted Trump saying that only five NATO members are paying their fair share.
I’m going to quickly move past the NATO funding issue, as that is both solvable and is actually being resolved.
Of the 28 countries in the alliance, only five — the US, Greece, Poland, Estonia and the UK — meet the target. Many European members — including big economies like France and Germany — lag behind. Germany spent 1.19% of its GDP on defense last year and France forked out 1.78%.
All member countries that fall below the threshold committed in 2014 to gradually ramp up military spending to reach the target within the next decade.
For more on NATO funding, here’s NATO’s explanation of both direct and indirect funding.
Again, the funding issue isn’t really the issue – it’s an excuse. It is resolvable by bringing up the contributions of the member states that are in arrears to the 2% level. The issue here is what is the real purpose behind these two institutions. It is true that both NATO and the EU were created at a different time and for reasons that are only partially why they are important today. The real genius of both NATO and the EU, regardless of how they’ve developed and recognizing that no institution or organization ever develops perfectly and that reasonable, rational adjustments to both institutions should be made as needed, is that they knit Europe together. Despite what the populist-nationalist or national-populists or whatever they finally agree on calling themselves say, the purpose of NATO and the EU isn’t the destruction of sovereignty or national independence. Rather both organizations serve as a forcing function. They force the European member states of both organizations to work together, to cooperate, to recognize that sometimes there are bigger and more important issues than simply national interests.
The proof that NATO and the EU have been successful is that there has not been a war in Europe between European states over national interests, including national pride or economic disputes since the end of World War II. By stitching Britain and France and Germany and Belgium and Denmark and Spain and Portugal and France and Greece and Italy and Iceland and Norway and now all the member countries from Central and Eastern Europe together, NATO has made war in Europe among the Europeans less likely. The same for the EU. When Germany and France have a dispute they and their allies no longer spill blood and treasure across the fields of Belgium. Instead they meet in Belgium and talk it out. The forcing function, forcing these states and societies to work together, means that the uniformed and civilian personnel of all these countries have studied and travelled and worked and vacationed all over Europe. They all have counterparts and colleagues from the other European NATO and EU member states. Their children’s friends are the children of their colleagues from other countries. This is the real, tangible benefit of the EU and NATO. Its not a common market or a mutual defense pact. The real benefit is that the EU and NATO have broken the reality of over a thousand years of conflicts, capped off by World Wars I and II, in Europe and among the people of the nation-states that make up Europe.
Perhaps the biggest failure of the post Cold War period was the US and its allies losing sight of the real value of NATO and the EU. By doing so when NATO and the EU expanded they were unable for a number of reasons to expand to one crucial European nation-state: Russia. As is always the case the decision makers at the time believed they had good reasons for pursuing the policies and strategies they did after the end of the Cold War. Policies and strategies that jettisoned the idea of including Russia within NATO or the EU. And as is always the case, successfully implementing strategy to achieve one’s policy creates new opportunities, challenges, and threats. We are now facing one of those threats: a Russian led campaign to destabilize and break up NATO and the EU through the support of neo-nationalist and anti-EU parties and movements throughout Europe and the US. Regardless of what the foundational documents of NATO and the EU may say, the real purpose, whether explicitly or implicitly stated, has become to bind the nation-states and societies of Europe together to prevent future conflict. It has worked very, very well even as the leaders of NATO and the EU couldn’t bring Russia in from the cold. Now we have to see if it worked well enough for them to survive an active attempt to dismantle them.