The transformation in the global strategic environment and realignment in Eurasia have not devitalized North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a pillar of global strategic order. The United States’ gradual declining of two-decades’ sole superpower stature, Russian Federation’s assertiveness in Europe and the Middle East, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and String of Pearls strategy, and India’s Indo-Pacific strategy has been reinvigorating the strategic alliance or partnership significance on the global political landscape.
The 29-nation transatlantic alliance summit was held in Brussels on July 11-12, 2018. The participants critically examined the current performance of the alliance and contemplated about its future. The NATO members “agreed to further strengthen NATO’s defence and deterrence, step up its role in the fight against terrorism and share the burden of security more fairly.” The members seriously deliberated over the alliance’s traditional focus on maintaining security against Russia due to President Putin’s expansionist agenda; more transparency in Russian force posture and military maneuvers; and increased its saber-rattling rhetoric, including the potential use of nuclear weapons. The 2018 communiqué “commits the alliance to a stronger deterrent against Russia, more efforts on cyber security, a strengthening of the alliance’s southern strategy and a new training program for Iraq, Tunisia and Libya. It also called for nations to devote at least 20 percent of their growing military budgets to equipment and modernization.”
The significance of a military alliance or partnership in the nation's security policies reveals the international politics in which sovereign states compete for advantage and militarily advantageous nations coerce the smaller/depending partners for maximizing their gains. The procurement of modernized high-tech military hardware to boost the readiness of armed forces, therefore, is inevitable to pursue goals in the competitive geopolitical affairs. Indeed, the demand for advanced military hardware necessitates increase in NATO’s defence budget.
Interestingly, instead of planning how to address security threats or Russia’s efforts to divide the West, the members wrangled over money. President Trump reiterated his mantra that “the Europeans are not spending enough on defence.” His demand for an increase in NATO’s defense budget seems timely to rationalize NATO Readiness Initiative (also called the “Four Thirties”) by 2020 so that alliance would have 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons, and 30 combat vessels ready within 30 days or less. This initiative ensures ‘a robust ability to deploy personnel and equipment within and beyond the European theater in times of peace, crisis, and conflict.’ But his continuous hectoring of European leadership during the summits is not promising for the NATO forces’ modernization.
The Europeans’ pacifist culture, which has been deliberately nurtured since the end of World War II, is refraining their leadership from responding positively to President Trump’s demand for contributing more in the alliance’s defence budget. The dovish approach of the European leadership is annoying for Trump. Judy Dempsey pointed out that: “He has lambasted German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May. During last week’s NATO summit, Trump dumbfounded his critics when he accused Germany of being controlled by Russia.” It was reported that in a breakfast meeting in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump claimed: “Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting from 60% to 70% of their energy from Russia, and a new pipeline, and you tell me if that’s appropriate because I think it’s not and I think it’s a very bad thing for NATO.”
Since the annexation of Crimea by Russians in February 2014, the Europeans are afraid of Russia’s interventionist approach. “In the last two years, Russia not only meddled into the electoral processes in the United States, France, Germany, and Spain, but also conducted a chemical weapon attack on a major NATO ally, the United Kingdom. Russia has continued to organize large-scale military exercises, including so-called snap drills, next to allied borders.” During the last of week of March 2018, the United States, Canada and other European nations expelled 150 Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain. On March 26, 2018, White House Press Release stated: “The United States takes this action in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world.” In a quid pro quo move Moscow ordered the Western bloc states’ diplomats to leave the Russian Federation.
Trump administration seems frustrated due to the United States paying 22 percent of NATO’s budget. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, “of the $603 billion that the United States spends on the military each year, about $31 billion goes to Europe.” Steven Erlanger pointed out: “Trump Administration regards Western European nations as free-riders on an American-funded, postwar peace that enabled them to build lavish social benefit systems because they spent so little on defending themselves. He has also made clear that he thinks the European Union, as a trading bloc, has taken advantage of American generosity.” It seems correct. Currently, Berlin is spending only 1.2 percent of GDP on defence which is too low in comparison to the size of Germany’s economy. That’s why; “on collective defence, during the NATO summit Trump spent most of the time haranguing the other 28 member states. Money was the issue, not protecting shared values; not projecting security; not deepening solidarity in an alliance that the United States founded.” He also issued a vague threat that the United States could go its own way, if the allies decide to not comply with his demand to spend 2 percent of G.D.P. on their armed forces by January 2019, which will gradually rise to 4 percent and 20 percent of military spending on equipment by 2024.
Importantly, increase in the European defence spending, especially on the advanced military hardware, will be profitable for American military industrial complex. It was reported that “this year, European allies are buying more than $35 billion of American products, such as F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, Poseidon P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Reaper drones, and billions of dollars in Patriot missile defense.” Last year, for boosting United States military industrial complex revenues, President Trump induced both Japan and South Korea to buy military hardware from American defence contractors. He called Tokyo to buy U.S. antimissile batteries and Seoul to buy nuclear submarine to counter the growing threat from North Korea and also to create more jobs for Americans. Trump stated in Japan: “It’s a lot of jobs for us, and a lot of safety for Japan, and other countries that are likewise purchasing military equipment from us.”
However, Trump’s mercantilist approach may distance United States from the leading European nations. For instance, on the economic chessboard, “Germany is a competitor because it makes good cars that Americans like to buy, runs a trade surplus, and is the strongest country in Europe, with a leader who doesn’t flatter Trump. France and other European countries are competitors, too.” Are Europeans stopping to delude themselves and realizing their own strong security and defence policy? Do they have the political will?
Though the expansionist Russia alarms the Europeans, yet they are disinclined to increase spending on their militaries. They are not comfortable with President Trump’s unconventional approach to diplomacy. Many European analysts believe that Trump has been bullying the Europeans, particularly Germany, to scuttle Nord Stream 2 pipeline project having the capacity of 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. It is similar to the one in operation. It will set up a direct link between Gazprom and the European consumers. In fact, Trump desires that European countries buy costlier American liquefied natural gas instead of cheaper Russian gas.
President Trump has criticized NATO’s European members for failing to spend enough on defence. Ironically, he fails to realize that NATO has played a significant role in the pursuit of America’s global agenda, i.e., the continuity of America’s hegemony on the global political landscape. The presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan is due to America’s unending Operation Enduring Freedom. “We are still very heavily involved in Afghanistan and thus we also defend the interests of the United States of America... and Germany was pleased to do it and did it out of conviction,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. Despite the dismantling of Al-Qaeda, the Americans are reluctant to leave Afghanistan because they consider it as a heartland in their Eurasian strategy. On July 12, 2018, the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the alliance would support its presence in Afghanistan. Perhaps, Stoltenberg’s statement has had a soothing effect on the American strategic enclave.
The Europeans also understand America’s limitations in the changing world order. Therefore, they have been bluntly reminding President Trump that United States needs the support of Europe in the current global politics. European Council President Donald Tusk stated: “Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many.” He added, “the EU spent more than Russia on defence, and as much as China.” He seems correct because since 2014, the level of non-American allied military spending has gone up some $87 billion and continues to grow.
To conclude, currently, the United States is paying the lion’s share of NATO’s budget. The NATO’s European allies have to tolerate Trump’s hectoring because they have nowhere else to turn for their defence or security in the wake of so-called expansionist agenda from the East.
The writer is Associate Professor at School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
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