After Trump says he "would not protect" NATO allies that do not meet spending targets, German politicians who for years have failed to meet these targets have an entitled sad
On Saturday, Donald Trump again expressed his impatience with NATO members like Germany, who shirk defence spending because they can rely on American deterrence:
Speaking at a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump said that while president he told NATO leaders that he would “encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want” to alliance members that are “delinquent” in meeting the group’s spending targets.
“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?'” Trump recalled during the rally. “I said, ‘You didn’t pay. You’re delinquent.’ He said, ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”
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“Donald Trump’s misguided statements on America’s treaty obligations in the event of an attack on a NATO member prove once again how unpredictable, unscrupulous and unreliable he is,” the German government’s Transatlantic Coordinator, Michael Link (FDP), said... Former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that the statement was like an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to test the alliance: “He won’t test us in Germany, but perhaps in the Baltic states,” Gabriel said …
Somebody needs to tell Gabriel that the Baltic states all meet or exceed the proposed 2% spending target and that they have nothing to do with Trump’s statements.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier also had a clear response: “These remarks are irresponsible and they play into Russia’s hands,” … he said. “And nobody in our alliance can have any interest in that” …
… CDU foreign policy expert Norbert Röttgen warned … that Germany must “prepare for the possibility that Donald Trump will win the US election in the autumn.” This would plunge NATO into an existential crisis, because Trump sees the alliance in purely transactional terms, said the former chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag. “Anyone who he thinks does not pay enough will not be protected by the USA.” States that do not pay what Trump wants, he said, “are fair game. This primarily refers to us Germans.”
The press are also on the fainting couch. This morning, it was my pleasure to read this arrant whinery in the Süddeutsche Zeitung:
The popular English word “unhinged” has a good chance of being the adjective of the year to summarise the craziness of Donald Trump. The semantic spectrum ranges from “off the hinges” to “insane,” and it thus describes everything that can be said about the man. Donald Trump is off the chain, and there are still a miserable nine months to go until election day. If Trump is already capable of doing like this as a candidate, what will he do as president?
Trump’s remark about NATO, uttered flippantly during an election rally in countryside of South Carolina, just demonstrates the madness that clouds him. The former incumbent, presumed to be the next Republican presidential candidate and currently leading the polls, is not only discounting the idea behind NATO (all for one, one for all). He is also depriving all US allies, including South Korea, Japan and everybody else, of the security of promised protection and thus the deterrent power that has so far reliably prevented wars. The ropes that hold the American cosmos together are being loosened.
As if all this were not dramatic enough, Trump goes one step further and invites Russia to “do whatever the hell they want to do” if allied states do not pay their debts to America … [T]his statement surpasses all previous Trump insanity: a former US president invites Russia to attack its allies …
You would think that a majority of voters in the USA would recognise the danger that Trump is creating for their own country. In fact, Trump’s excesses are helping to sensitise and, above all, mobilise the electorate, and this also works against him. Trump, however, is also pandering to his base, whose simplistic view of the world – “we pay, you parasitise” – explains American isolationism …
Naturally, Germans are not the only ones having a butthurt. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has said that Trump’s statements “undermine all of our security.” The American political establishment is likewise very angry, as is Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who believes that “the last thing we ever want to do is side with Russia” and that NATO “allows us to prevent war.” Well okay then.
There are four points here:
1) For all this huffing and puffing, it’s amusing that nobody can articulate why America should care about NATO. Our SZ journalist suggests that US security depends on the alliance, but it obviously doesn’t, and otherwise there is only this vague idea that NATO “prevents wars” and is therefore in the American interest. That is far too vague to convince anybody but the faithful. The US does not care about preventing wars in general, which would be why it frequently starts them; and the thesis is at odds with recent history, given that post-Cold War NATO expansion bears heavy responsibility for the war in Ukraine. The real reason that America continues to prop up NATO appears to be some combination of institutional inertia and what Stephen M. Walt has called the “full-employment strategy” of the interventionist American foreign policy establishment. Were the United States to embrace isolationism, “the entire foreign policy community” would have “less to do” and their “status and prominence” would be reduced.1
2) Trump has been questioning the purpose of NATO, characterising the alliance as “obsolete” and demanding better relations with Russia since at least 2016. None of this ever came to anything. NATO actually expanded under Trump, and he even reversed Obama’s refusal to arm the Ukrainians. As John Mearsheimer has observed, “Trump was no match … for the foreign policy establishment,” and I very much doubt that things will be any different if he wins a second term in November. On the one side, you have Trump’s often-trenchant observations and his personal impatience with America’s entanglements abroad; on the other side, you have a powerful and well-organised bureaucratic system committed to its own perpetuation. It is no great mystery who will come out on top. This entire discussion is happening in a fantasy world and it has a very forced character.
3) About that discussion: A curious synergy has emerged between Trump’s NATO scepticism and the most deranged European warmongers. German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius, striving as always to steer more funding to his ministry, has been screeching that we need to be ready for war with Russia in five to eight years; because of Trump, he says, we can no longer rely on the United States for help. Nobody believes him, Vladimir Putin has denied that Russia has any interest in Poland or the Baltics, but we keep hearing this insane stuff anyway. On Saturday, CDU “defence expert” Roderich Kiesewetter said that Europe cannot depend on Trump, who he called a “tool of Putin” and a “wannabe dictator.” European countries must therefore “take on more responsibility for Ukraine”:
The war must be taken to Russia. Russian military facilities and headquarters must be destroyed. We must do everything we can to enable Ukraine to destroy not only oil refineries in Russia, but also ministries, command posts and headquarters. It is time for the Russian people to realise that they have a dictator who is sacrificing the future of Russia, who is sacrificing the future of Russian youth, including ethnic minorities, that this is a country that is basically bringing war to the world instead of becoming a force for peace.
What enables all of this ill-advised bellicosity from a country with an army as sad as Germany’s, is precisely the security that the NATO provides. This alliance is far from an unvarnished force for peace and harmony in the world, and honestly its most committed proponents scare the hell out of me.
4) NATO plays a crucial role in the Western progressive-left political ecosystem. American security guarantees are the driving force behind the demilitarisation of Western Europe. As our countries have been reduced to silly Disneyfied outposts on the edge of empire, we’ve developed a particularly deranged politics, distinguished by all manner of technocratic initiatives and de Jouvenelian scheming. The American left pays to further the cancer in Europe because they want to pursue similar strategies at home. The game is to normalise dumb ideas on the Continent and to leverage lingering European cultural prestige to market the very same insanity in the United States. Americans need more social entitlements, just like the sensible Europeans! Americans need to invest more heavily in the energy transition, just like the sensible Europeans! In truth, these are all extravagances that we can afford because we are in the highly unnatural and historically unprecedented position of having no immediate security concerns.
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Stephen M. Walt, The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy (2018) p. 111f.