NATO and the Trump Administration

Alone together, beyond the crowd, above the world, to cling together, we're strong as we're together. 

On December 3–4, 2019, the 70th anniversary of NATO, the collective military self-defense alliance of 29 countries, will be held outside London.  It remains to be seen if this gathering will be of one of celebration or of feuding and tension, whether it is an organization that is obsolete or still relevant.  Differences over this have been expressed in the last month as a result of a strong negative statement by French president Emmanuel Macron on November 7, 2019 and a series of rebuttals by others. 

The very existence of NATO has in 2019 become a heated subject as a result of Macron's comments.  In unusually blunt remarks, Macron, the modern-day version of the Athenian Alcibiades, strategic adviser, politician, proponent, of an aggressive foreign policy, said NATO is "brain dead."  What is needed, he said, is a wakeup call and for questions to be asked.  The original intent of NATO was to protect Europe against the possible Russian menace.  Macron explained in the present there are various factors to be considered: peace in Europe, the post-intermediate-range nuclear forces, the relationship with Russia, the possible withdrawal of U.S. forces from Germany, the Turkish Kurd issue and military operations.  So who is or who are the enemies?

Europeans have to reassess not only these factors, but also the degree of commitment of the U.S. to the alliance.  They wonder if Washington is turning its back on NATO, as evidenced by President Donald Trump's sudden decision to pull troops out of Syria.  Macron argues that Europe must stop acting as a junior ally of the U.S.  Europe must develop a military and political bloc, having greater influence on policy.

Not surprisingly, criticism of Macron was immediate.  U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo responded, "I think NATO remains an important, critically, perhaps historically one of the most critical, strategic partnerships in all of recorded history."  German chancellor Angela Merkel rejected Macron's view, saying he has used "drastic words" that were "not my view" of cooperation in NATO.  Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of NATO, replied that the U.S. and Europe are working together more than they had for decades.  Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on November 29, 2019 was particularly bitter, telling Macron to "have your own brain death checked."  Macron has a "sick and shallow" understanding of NATO. 

The key element of NATO is the principle of collective defense.  Article 5 of the alliance states that members are bound to protect each other and an armed attack on one is considered as an attack on all members.  Article 5 has been invoked only once, by the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks.  On November 16, 2015, after the terrorist attack in Paris, France did not invoke Article 5, but wanted to act on its own.

Is President Trump committed to NATO?  It is true that Trump proclaimed that NATO was obsolete, but on April 12, 2017, he changed his mind, stating then and later that he was committing the U.S. to Article 5.  Yet doubt remains.  Trump is uncertain whether to fight for Montenegro and thus honor Article 5.  He has also remarked that the U.S. might defend only NATO allies that meet their military spending obligations.  Trump pulled out of the atomic weapon control treaty with Russia and opposes the nuclear accord with Iran.

Yet the U.S. is not the only country to warn members of the alliance that they cannot expect support from allies.  Macron has announced that France will not support Turkey if it continues to carry out military operations in Syria without coordination.  Similarly, Turkey says it will not accept NATO defense plans unless other members agree that the YPG Kurdish militia is a terrorist group.

The acute differences over the strategy and the funding of NATO will be on the agenda on December 3, 2019. Macron is annoyed with Merkel's slow pragmatism and coalition government.  He wants longer-term strategic proposals, a new strategic review of NATO's mission; the last one was in 2010.

It is well to consider the positive role that NATO has been playing.  NATO aircraft helped patrol the skies over the U.S. for several months 2001–2 after 9/11.  Naval forces were sent for counter-terrorism purposes in eastern Mediterranean.  Missiles were deployed on the border of Turkey and Syria in 2012.

After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its support of a separatist uprising in east Ukraine, NATO decided to suspend cooperation with the Russian Federation.  Over 4,000 troops are stationed in Poland and the Baltic countries as a deterrent against potential Russian aggression.  NATO helped the U.S. in the Afghanistan war from August 2003 to December 2014; at one point it deployed 130,000 troops there.  But it does not intervene in civil wars of members or internal coups.  It did not intervene in the cast of the attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016.  Yet it did consider intervening when Russia invaded Ukraine, which had worked with NATO, in light of Putin's threat to create a new Russia out of the eastern Ukraine region.

If Trump is uncertain on NATO strategic issues, he is clear on, even obsessed with, funding of NATO, and with the fact that the U.S. has been paying a disproportionate share of defense costs.  In agreement, in 2014, members pledged to increase their defense spending to 2% of their GDP by 2024.  In 2019, only the U.S., the U.K., Greece, Estonia, Romania, Poland, and Latvia have met or surpassed the 2% target.  Moreover, this 2% does not in itself increase NATO's funding.

Funding is both direct and indirect.  The indirect or national contributions are the largest and come from a member contributing deployment of troops to a military operation.  Direct contributions are for the alliance as a whole, such as NATO-wide air defense or command and control systems, and not the responsibility of any single member.  Costs for this are borne collectively.

The common funding budget is divided into three main categories: civil (NATO headquarters), military, the integrated command structure, and the NATO security investment program for capital expenditures.

The civil budget provides for personnel expenses, operating costs, and expenditure of the international staff at NATO headquarters in Brussels.  It is calculated for 2019 to be $286 million.  The military budget, which funds the NATO command structure, for 2019 is $1.54 million.  It is financed with contributions from national defense budgets according to agreed cost shares. 

The NATO security investment program covers major construction and command and control system investments, beyond the requirements of individual members, such as air defense communication and information systems.  It is financed by the ministries of defense of each member-country.

NATO has focused primarily on territorial defense.  Important other issues remain: a common policy toward Russia; agreement on Kosovo; and the NATO military commander, who so far has always been American.  A key issue for the December meeting is whether NATO is prepared to tackle other problems such as terrorism and mass migration.  Perhaps Trump will start a discussion on the China issue.

Alone together, beyond the crowd, above the world, to cling together, we're strong as we're together. 

On December 3–4, 2019, the 70th anniversary of NATO, the collective military self-defense alliance of 29 countries, will be held outside London.  It remains to be seen if this gathering will be of one of celebration or of feuding and tension, whether it is an organization that is obsolete or still relevant.  Differences over this have been expressed in the last month as a result of a strong negative statement by French president Emmanuel Macron on November 7, 2019 and a series of rebuttals by others. 

The very existence of NATO has in 2019 become a heated subject as a result of Macron's comments.  In unusually blunt remarks, Macron, the modern-day version of the Athenian Alcibiades, strategic adviser, politician, proponent, of an aggressive foreign policy, said NATO is "brain dead."  What is needed, he said, is a wakeup call and for questions to be asked.  The original intent of NATO was to protect Europe against the possible Russian menace.  Macron explained in the present there are various factors to be considered: peace in Europe, the post-intermediate-range nuclear forces, the relationship with Russia, the possible withdrawal of U.S. forces from Germany, the Turkish Kurd issue and military operations.  So who is or who are the enemies?

Europeans have to reassess not only these factors, but also the degree of commitment of the U.S. to the alliance.  They wonder if Washington is turning its back on NATO, as evidenced by President Donald Trump's sudden decision to pull troops out of Syria.  Macron argues that Europe must stop acting as a junior ally of the U.S.  Europe must develop a military and political bloc, having greater influence on policy.

Not surprisingly, criticism of Macron was immediate.  U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo responded, "I think NATO remains an important, critically, perhaps historically one of the most critical, strategic partnerships in all of recorded history."  German chancellor Angela Merkel rejected Macron's view, saying he has used "drastic words" that were "not my view" of cooperation in NATO.  Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of NATO, replied that the U.S. and Europe are working together more than they had for decades.  Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on November 29, 2019 was particularly bitter, telling Macron to "have your own brain death checked."  Macron has a "sick and shallow" understanding of NATO. 

The key element of NATO is the principle of collective defense.  Article 5 of the alliance states that members are bound to protect each other and an armed attack on one is considered as an attack on all members.  Article 5 has been invoked only once, by the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks.  On November 16, 2015, after the terrorist attack in Paris, France did not invoke Article 5, but wanted to act on its own.

Is President Trump committed to NATO?  It is true that Trump proclaimed that NATO was obsolete, but on April 12, 2017, he changed his mind, stating then and later that he was committing the U.S. to Article 5.  Yet doubt remains.  Trump is uncertain whether to fight for Montenegro and thus honor Article 5.  He has also remarked that the U.S. might defend only NATO allies that meet their military spending obligations.  Trump pulled out of the atomic weapon control treaty with Russia and opposes the nuclear accord with Iran.

Yet the U.S. is not the only country to warn members of the alliance that they cannot expect support from allies.  Macron has announced that France will not support Turkey if it continues to carry out military operations in Syria without coordination.  Similarly, Turkey says it will not accept NATO defense plans unless other members agree that the YPG Kurdish militia is a terrorist group.

The acute differences over the strategy and the funding of NATO will be on the agenda on December 3, 2019. Macron is annoyed with Merkel's slow pragmatism and coalition government.  He wants longer-term strategic proposals, a new strategic review of NATO's mission; the last one was in 2010.

It is well to consider the positive role that NATO has been playing.  NATO aircraft helped patrol the skies over the U.S. for several months 2001–2 after 9/11.  Naval forces were sent for counter-terrorism purposes in eastern Mediterranean.  Missiles were deployed on the border of Turkey and Syria in 2012.

After the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, and its support of a separatist uprising in east Ukraine, NATO decided to suspend cooperation with the Russian Federation.  Over 4,000 troops are stationed in Poland and the Baltic countries as a deterrent against potential Russian aggression.  NATO helped the U.S. in the Afghanistan war from August 2003 to December 2014; at one point it deployed 130,000 troops there.  But it does not intervene in civil wars of members or internal coups.  It did not intervene in the cast of the attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016.  Yet it did consider intervening when Russia invaded Ukraine, which had worked with NATO, in light of Putin's threat to create a new Russia out of the eastern Ukraine region.

If Trump is uncertain on NATO strategic issues, he is clear on, even obsessed with, funding of NATO, and with the fact that the U.S. has been paying a disproportionate share of defense costs.  In agreement, in 2014, members pledged to increase their defense spending to 2% of their GDP by 2024.  In 2019, only the U.S., the U.K., Greece, Estonia, Romania, Poland, and Latvia have met or surpassed the 2% target.  Moreover, this 2% does not in itself increase NATO's funding.

Funding is both direct and indirect.  The indirect or national contributions are the largest and come from a member contributing deployment of troops to a military operation.  Direct contributions are for the alliance as a whole, such as NATO-wide air defense or command and control systems, and not the responsibility of any single member.  Costs for this are borne collectively.

The common funding budget is divided into three main categories: civil (NATO headquarters), military, the integrated command structure, and the NATO security investment program for capital expenditures.

The civil budget provides for personnel expenses, operating costs, and expenditure of the international staff at NATO headquarters in Brussels.  It is calculated for 2019 to be $286 million.  The military budget, which funds the NATO command structure, for 2019 is $1.54 million.  It is financed with contributions from national defense budgets according to agreed cost shares. 

The NATO security investment program covers major construction and command and control system investments, beyond the requirements of individual members, such as air defense communication and information systems.  It is financed by the ministries of defense of each member-country.

NATO has focused primarily on territorial defense.  Important other issues remain: a common policy toward Russia; agreement on Kosovo; and the NATO military commander, who so far has always been American.  A key issue for the December meeting is whether NATO is prepared to tackle other problems such as terrorism and mass migration.  Perhaps Trump will start a discussion on the China issue.