The Democrats Posture over NATO

The U.S. House passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2020 on July 12. It contained strong support for NATO as a deterrent to Russian aggression with some surprisingly tough language that went beyond the passage last January of the NATO Support Act (H.R. 676). That every Democrat voted for this earlier measure at the very start of the new session (including even "the Squad") smacked of a political stunt to reinforce the partisan narrative that President Donald Trump has “attacked” our allies while appeasing (if not actually acting as an agent of) Moscow.

The bill vows “to reject any efforts to withdraw the United States from NATO.” The NATO Support Act was prompted by media reports that President Trump had discussed a U.S. withdrawal from NATO. These reports were taken out of context of the President's effort to pressure America’s allies to contribute more to the joint defense. The campaign worked, not to weaken NATO, but to strengthen it. At its July 2018 summit, NATO pledged that its members would increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024 and claimed that this time they meant it. Though this is not as great an increase as President Trump wanted, it was a start. President Trump reportedly  told the NATO summit that he wanted an increase to 4 percent of GDP to match the military buildup he was implementing in the U.S. This was six months before the passage of the NATO Support Act.

NATO leaders have continued to praise President Trump for his leadership in pushing European politicians in the right direction. At his first meeting with U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper last month, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated, "I can report on the good progress on burden sharing. This is something which is of great importance for the United States. We have new figures now, showing that there is a real increase of 3.9% in defence spending across Europe and Canada... European Allies and Canada will have added much more than 100 billion since 2016."

The NDAA puts some teeth into the House support for NATO in language written for the Democratic majority. Section 1254: Statement of Policy on United States Military Investment in Europe reads, "It is the policy of the United States to develop, implement, and sustain a credible deterrent against aggression and long-term strategic competition by the Government of Russia in order to enhance regional and global security and stability, including by the following: (1) Increased United States presence in Europe, including additional permanently stationed forces, continued rotational deployments, increased pre-positioned military equipment, and sufficient and necessary infrastructure additions and improvements throughout Europe." The NDAA also explicitly "reaffirms its support for the principle of collective defense in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty" for Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. A separate Baltic Reassurance Act is included in the bill whose findings state that "(1) Russia seeks to diminish the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and recreate its sphere of influence in Europe using coercion, intimidation, and outright aggression, (2) Deterring Russia from such aggression is vital for transatlantic security, (3) The illegal occupation of Crimea by Russia and its continued engagement of destabilizing and subversive activities against independent and free states is of increasing concern."

Linking the Baltic states to Crimea implies that Moscow revanchist agenda may tempt it to invade, and unlike the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, such aggression will be opposed this time. Of course, President Barack Obama declared the Russian conquest of Crimea "would not stand" but it has. The difference will be the NATO membership of the targeted lands. To boost alliance credibility, the NDAA vows to increase "forward presence, improve the capabilities, and enhance the posture and response readiness of the United States or forces of NATO in the Baltic region."

The Trump administration is already engaged in such efforts. In June, the annual BALTOPS naval exercise was run by the U.S. Navy's Second Fleet. Some 8,600 American and European troops from 18 nations took part, employing naval, air, and ground units including 50 warships and submarines over an almost two-week period. Exercise Breeze, a similar albeit smaller allied naval operation kicked off July 12 in the Black Sea involving 2,000 troops from 12 NATO nations, including the U.S. Conducted in what Russia has long considered its lake, this and previous operations have drawn protests from Moscow in part because it demonstrates NATO support for Ukraine and an implied threat to Crimea. The NDAA extends the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (originally created in 2016) and the Open Skies agreement made with Kiev.
It has, however, been the Trump administration that has finally authorized the sale of "lethal" military equipment to Ukraine to combat Russian-armed separatists who have seized territory along the border. Though the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 provided for such aid, President Obama refused to send weapons to Kiev. He felt that actually helping Ukraine to defend its territory from attack would escalate the conflict. This is the old appeasement view that does not blame war on aggression, but on resistance to aggression. After all, it takes two to fight! 
Unaddressed in the NDAA is NATO operations outside Europe. Discussions are already being held in Brussels regarding what response should be made the rise of China. As Secretary-General Stoltenberg said in a July 18 interview, "NATO is a regional organisation, so we don’t have any plans of moving into the South China Sea, or to move into that part of the world. But, despite that, we need now to assess the consequences, the security consequences, for our Allies of the rise of China. Because China is coming closer to us. China in the Arctic, in Africa, in Europe, in cyberspace. So there is no way we cannot assess and respond to the rise of China. The challenge is to find the right balance between seeing the challenges, but also the opportunities."
If NATO expands its radius of action, the Trump administration rather than Congress will be in the lead. The UK and France have already joined joint exercises in Asia this year. Last January, a U.S. destroyer and a Royal Navy frigate conducted drills for six days in the South China Sea. A month earlier, the two Western powers were joined by Japanese warships for maneuvers further north. 
In May, warships from France, Japan, Australia and the U.S. held their first ever combined naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal. France had earlier conducted an exercise with Indian warships. What gave these exercises an extra punch was that they included the flagship of the French fleet, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. In April a French frigate sailed through the Taiwan Straits to angry protests from Beijing. 
With most of the Democratic candidates for president listing China as a major geopolitical threat to the U.S. during their first TV debate, there is hope for some bipartisanship on Asia as on Europe. The devil, of course, will always be in the details. Despite strong language in the NDAA about commitments to allies, there were also $17 billion in cuts made in requested Pentagon spending which could undermine the fulfillment of those commitments. Included in the cuts was a one-year delay in starting construction of our next aircraft carrier. This is a direct blow to President Trump's priority of rebuilding the fleet. So the question remains: are the Democrats merely posturing on national security as the 2020 elections loom, or will they back actions as well?
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former Republican staff member on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. 

The U.S. House passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2020 on July 12. It contained strong support for NATO as a deterrent to Russian aggression with some surprisingly tough language that went beyond the passage last January of the NATO Support Act (H.R. 676). That every Democrat voted for this earlier measure at the very start of the new session (including even "the Squad") smacked of a political stunt to reinforce the partisan narrative that President Donald Trump has “attacked” our allies while appeasing (if not actually acting as an agent of) Moscow.

The bill vows “to reject any efforts to withdraw the United States from NATO.” The NATO Support Act was prompted by media reports that President Trump had discussed a U.S. withdrawal from NATO. These reports were taken out of context of the President's effort to pressure America’s allies to contribute more to the joint defense. The campaign worked, not to weaken NATO, but to strengthen it. At its July 2018 summit, NATO pledged that its members would increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024 and claimed that this time they meant it. Though this is not as great an increase as President Trump wanted, it was a start. President Trump reportedly  told the NATO summit that he wanted an increase to 4 percent of GDP to match the military buildup he was implementing in the U.S. This was six months before the passage of the NATO Support Act.

NATO leaders have continued to praise President Trump for his leadership in pushing European politicians in the right direction. At his first meeting with U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper last month, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated, "I can report on the good progress on burden sharing. This is something which is of great importance for the United States. We have new figures now, showing that there is a real increase of 3.9% in defence spending across Europe and Canada... European Allies and Canada will have added much more than 100 billion since 2016."

The NDAA puts some teeth into the House support for NATO in language written for the Democratic majority. Section 1254: Statement of Policy on United States Military Investment in Europe reads, "It is the policy of the United States to develop, implement, and sustain a credible deterrent against aggression and long-term strategic competition by the Government of Russia in order to enhance regional and global security and stability, including by the following: (1) Increased United States presence in Europe, including additional permanently stationed forces, continued rotational deployments, increased pre-positioned military equipment, and sufficient and necessary infrastructure additions and improvements throughout Europe." The NDAA also explicitly "reaffirms its support for the principle of collective defense in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty" for Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. A separate Baltic Reassurance Act is included in the bill whose findings state that "(1) Russia seeks to diminish the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and recreate its sphere of influence in Europe using coercion, intimidation, and outright aggression, (2) Deterring Russia from such aggression is vital for transatlantic security, (3) The illegal occupation of Crimea by Russia and its continued engagement of destabilizing and subversive activities against independent and free states is of increasing concern."

Linking the Baltic states to Crimea implies that Moscow revanchist agenda may tempt it to invade, and unlike the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, such aggression will be opposed this time. Of course, President Barack Obama declared the Russian conquest of Crimea "would not stand" but it has. The difference will be the NATO membership of the targeted lands. To boost alliance credibility, the NDAA vows to increase "forward presence, improve the capabilities, and enhance the posture and response readiness of the United States or forces of NATO in the Baltic region."

The Trump administration is already engaged in such efforts. In June, the annual BALTOPS naval exercise was run by the U.S. Navy's Second Fleet. Some 8,600 American and European troops from 18 nations took part, employing naval, air, and ground units including 50 warships and submarines over an almost two-week period. Exercise Breeze, a similar albeit smaller allied naval operation kicked off July 12 in the Black Sea involving 2,000 troops from 12 NATO nations, including the U.S. Conducted in what Russia has long considered its lake, this and previous operations have drawn protests from Moscow in part because it demonstrates NATO support for Ukraine and an implied threat to Crimea. The NDAA extends the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (originally created in 2016) and the Open Skies agreement made with Kiev.
It has, however, been the Trump administration that has finally authorized the sale of "lethal" military equipment to Ukraine to combat Russian-armed separatists who have seized territory along the border. Though the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 provided for such aid, President Obama refused to send weapons to Kiev. He felt that actually helping Ukraine to defend its territory from attack would escalate the conflict. This is the old appeasement view that does not blame war on aggression, but on resistance to aggression. After all, it takes two to fight! 
Unaddressed in the NDAA is NATO operations outside Europe. Discussions are already being held in Brussels regarding what response should be made the rise of China. As Secretary-General Stoltenberg said in a July 18 interview, "NATO is a regional organisation, so we don’t have any plans of moving into the South China Sea, or to move into that part of the world. But, despite that, we need now to assess the consequences, the security consequences, for our Allies of the rise of China. Because China is coming closer to us. China in the Arctic, in Africa, in Europe, in cyberspace. So there is no way we cannot assess and respond to the rise of China. The challenge is to find the right balance between seeing the challenges, but also the opportunities."
If NATO expands its radius of action, the Trump administration rather than Congress will be in the lead. The UK and France have already joined joint exercises in Asia this year. Last January, a U.S. destroyer and a Royal Navy frigate conducted drills for six days in the South China Sea. A month earlier, the two Western powers were joined by Japanese warships for maneuvers further north. 
In May, warships from France, Japan, Australia and the U.S. held their first ever combined naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal. France had earlier conducted an exercise with Indian warships. What gave these exercises an extra punch was that they included the flagship of the French fleet, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. In April a French frigate sailed through the Taiwan Straits to angry protests from Beijing. 
With most of the Democratic candidates for president listing China as a major geopolitical threat to the U.S. during their first TV debate, there is hope for some bipartisanship on Asia as on Europe. The devil, of course, will always be in the details. Despite strong language in the NDAA about commitments to allies, there were also $17 billion in cuts made in requested Pentagon spending which could undermine the fulfillment of those commitments. Included in the cuts was a one-year delay in starting construction of our next aircraft carrier. This is a direct blow to President Trump's priority of rebuilding the fleet. So the question remains: are the Democrats merely posturing on national security as the 2020 elections loom, or will they back actions as well?
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former Republican staff member on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.