NATO will be obsolete unless it is a Euro-Atlantic Community

OLIVIER HOSLET

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the media during a news conference following a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, in Brussels, Belgium, 13 July 2016. Stoltenberg in various media was quoted as saying on Twitter, that NATO was not seeking confrontation but would defend its Allies.

NATO will be obsolete unless it is a Euro-Atlantic Community


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US Defense Secretary Mattis delivered an ultimatum to NATO Allies on Wednesday, presenting the choice between increased military expenditure or Washington’s “moderate” commitment to Europe.

He got two kinds of responses.

In NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, European defense minister showed some degree of understanding and unpacked a whole barrage of good will gestures. But, he also got a “no.”

Addressing the Munich Security Conference on Thursday, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker made clear that security is not only about defense and urged member states to resist.

Washington’s ultimatum

The 66-year old US Defense Secretary nicknamed “mad-dog” Mattis is a renowned marine with an understanding of NATO’s significance in Europe. He also has a distinct lack of diplomatic tact, often telling his counterparts around the world he is ready to kill them all.

He did not go as far in Brussels. But, his message was succinct.

“If your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense,” Mattis said. European member states of NATO have committed to a 2% GDP expenditure on defense, which so far only four states other than the United State adhere to: Britain, Poland, Estonia, and Greece.

That is still less than calling NATO “obsolete,” as President Trump did during his campaign trail. To the contrary, Mattis recognized that NATO is “a fundamental bedrock for the United States and for all the transatlantic community” and, in doing so, released some tension.

And heads were nodding. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the need for increased expenditure, while the German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, recognized that Washington was making a “fair point.” U.K’s Defense Secretary

U.K’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallon called for a commitment to an annual increase from each member as a sign of “good faith.”

After all, it is true that NATO members with the biggest economies spend well below 2% of their GDP: France spends 1.78%, Turkey 1.56%, Germany 1.19%, and Italy 1.11%. Canada spends below 1% but is not in Europe.

European response

Beyond nodding, there were commitments.

Asking Germany to increase military spending triggers fears that too strong in places like Warsaw. To address historical skepticism, Germany and France are creating a joint fleet of Lockheed Martin Corp C-130J transport planes, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The integrated and transnational fleet will join a Dutch-led fleet of Airbus A330 tanker planes with the participation of Luxembourg. It is hoped Belgium and Norway will join.  That is a fast and much-needed response, addressing a real need. One of the lessons of NATO’s ISAF mission in Afghanistan was the need for airborne military capacity.

However, there are also political messages. First, Europe is still focusing on “niche capability” rather than an independent army. Secondly, Germany is making political baby steps, bolstering military expenditure but in the frame of European cooperation. Berlin knows better than becoming searingly powerful. Still that is all about political cohesion and spending smarter, not about spending more.

Europe not keen to spend more

Addressing the annual Munich Security Conference on Thursday, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker rejected American ultimatum. “It has been the American message for many, many years {to increase expenditure}. I am very much against letting ourselves be pushed into this,” Juncker said.

President Juncker stated that foreign aid should be seen as part of the security spending equation, specifying that “if you look at what Europe is doing in defense, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different.”

In reality, increasing Europe’s military expenditure will make little difference in the US-EU balance of military capability. The US Defense budget roughly matches the defense spending of 14 biggest military powers in the world combined, And President Trump has just committed to massive expansion.

Europe never had and never will have Washington’s kind of power. President Juncker is making the point that Europe buys its security in all sorts of ways, not weapons alone.

Naturally, there is no consolidated view on how Europe should acquire its security in a Trump era. However, as Washington moves to embrace political forces that undermine political cohesion in Brussels, not least Brexit, not everyone is keen to play ball. The Euro-Atlantic Alliance will be strained, largely because it no longer looks like “a community.”

All of NATO’s traditional prerogatives of keeping Russia out, Americans in, and Germans down are renegotiated. And one cannot kill them all.

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