Friday, August 3, 2018

The Fate of the Atlantic Alliance

For all the caterwauling over Donald Trump’s disdain for the sacrosanct Atlantic alliance, few thinkers have given the matter any serious thought. For our part, we have noted on this blog that Europe, and especially Germany has hardly been siding with the United States on the world stage. After all, Chancellor Merkel’s Russian gas deal has made it a leading supporter of Vladimir Putin. About that salient point, raised over and over again by Trump, American commentators have nothing to say.

Now George Friedman takes a dispassionate look at the German-American strategic alliance. He does not deal in personalities or in political leaders. Yet, his analysis shows the problem that the Trump administration is facing. How can you have a strategic alliance with a nation that serves no important strategic purpose?

Friedman writes:

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have deployed in the wars of the past 17 years. In none of these conflicts, or potential conflicts, did the Germans serve a strategic role. It’s true that more than 50 German soldiers have died in Afghanistan, but the German deployment there, which consists of relatively small detachments under rules of engagement that limit their role severely, is an exception. German rotations to Poland or Romania do not constitute a strategic capability. Should a conflict occur, Germany does not have the ability to make a strategic contribution.

Since NATO was founded, the situation on the ground in Europe has changed. The result is that NATO has lost its relevance:

American indifference to Germany does not arise from domestic politics but from an understanding that it has been a quarter of a century since the fall of the Soviet Union. Europe’s strategic situation has changed utterly. It clings to an institutional framework, NATO, that has lost its relevance. The continued existence of NATO since the Cold War has enabled the Europeans to dedicate more resources to economic development – something they are loathed to give up and Trump is determined to end.

But, you will think… the United States must lead the world toward a more cosmopolitan future. Friedman replies, can we really count on Germany for anything? It does not have a military and might not even allow American troops to use German bases in case of conflict:

[Distinguished German scholar Christian] Hacke argues that the United States is abandoning its long-standing internationalist commitment to Europe. But NATO is a military alliance. To have a military alliance, you must have a military. Germany doesn’t really have one, as Hacke points out. What’s more, it isn’t clear that Germany’s commitment to the alliance is unconditional. I was recently in conversation with national security experts from Europe and the United States. I bought up that if the United States had to rush forces to the Eastern European frontier, they would have to pass through military bases in Germany. I asked if the Germans would permit the free passage of U.S. military forces. The answers ranged from “probably” to “I don’t know.” I assume they would, but the idea that the question would even come up and be answered with less than an absolute “of course” indicates a lack of trust in Germany.

America’s intellectual elites wildly excoriated President Trump for questioning why we should need to defend Montenegro. Friedman explains that, as with most NATO operations, America is bearing the burden and paying the price:

When NATO admitted Montenegro in June 2017, the U.S. became legally obligated to guarantee the security of a country in a region where conflict is always possible. This obligation applies to every NATO member, but the U.S. would shoulder most of the cost. Given all the other interests of the United States, is it unwise to have treaty-based exposure in the Balkans as well, particularly as most of the rest of Europe, especially Germany, would be incapable of honoring its treaty obligations. Europe, on the other hand, hears any call for an adjustment of NATO as a betrayal of the American commitment to European security.

We should perhaps cast a cold eye on Angela Merkel’s Germany and try to evaluate the international situation clearly and objectively. Friedman does so, and he does not resort to partisanship:

The question is not just America’s relationship to Germany, but Germany’s relationship to America. If what Germany wants is American guarantees and capabilities without German capabilities – and therefore without the ability on the part of Germany to fulfill its own guarantees – the relationship will atrophy and ultimately collapse. If Germany wants the strategic partnership to continue, it must become a strategic partner. It must to some extent assist the U.S. globally, and have the force to do so. What is not clear is that this is in German’s interest.

All of this has little to do with the personalities or desires of Trump or German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The United States has burst forth from its continent, while Germany has burrowed down. This makes for very different worldviews.


Sam L. said...

I suspect that Mr. Trump is going to (have to) tell the Germans that American forces in Germany will return to the US, starting in 2019. Germany will have to stand up and be responsible for themselves.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

I’d like to know what NATO is a military alliance for. Alliances form to have military/diplomatic leverage gagainst a mutual threat or foe. Who is NATO’s foe?

Afghanistan showed mostly paltry unified resolve in NATO’s ISAF. Scroll through this article and you’ll see the countries’ individual contributions:

Germany’s Gas deal with the Russians creates strategic weakness, if not outright dependency on the most likely “foe” anyone can point to. So Merkel gets upset with Trump. Ridiculous.

Friedman is correct that the Balkans is an unnecessary strategic risk (though I wonder... is it a “shithole” country?).

And then there’s Turkey, also a member of the grand NATO alliance. Does anyone trust Edrogan’s Turkey?

NATO became irrelevant in 1991. It’s been a freeloading social club ever since, and the Europeans get all the “just” desserts in their social-democratic spending. I guess that’s the USA’s responsibility, too, eh?

It all fits the Core Credo of Leftism: “I get to do whatever I want, and you have to pay for it.”

trigger warning said...

From the LA Times [5/2018]:

"There are so few German army helicopters available for the troops that pilots have been forced to train in bright yellow civilian choppers leased from the German Automobile Club.
A chronic shortage of spare parts and assorted technical woes have grounded 29 of the Bundeswehr's 130 camouflage-green helicopters. Acute shortages of parts have also left only 39 of the Luftwaffe's 128 Eurofighter jets combat-ready — idled along with nearly half of the armed forces' 224 Leopard tanks and five of its six submarines."

I could personally care less about the "readiness" of the German sitzpinkler "military", but I care deeply about the use of American soldiers serving as a tripwire in Germany. It's time to dump NATO. If the strategists believe we need a military alliance in that part of the world, we should at least insist on an alliance with actual allies. Enough with the participation trophies.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

No doubt Jim Acosta is really, really concerned about the NATO alliance. His life is threatened by Trump and his supporters, and now they’re conspiring to wreck the alliance. It’s all Trump’s fault! Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!

Gee, I thought Climate Change was our biggest national security issue.

dfordoom said...

Who is NATO’s foe?

The Europeans. NATO exists to ensure that the Europeans remain obedient American vassals. That's why imperial powers station troops in conquered nations. To make sure those conquered nations stay conquered.

Sam L. said...

dford, it was to protect western Europe from the Russian army. Europeans have never been obedient or American vassals.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

dfordoom @April 3, 2018 at 5:26 PM:

Not sure what you’re getting at here. Have you met Ares Olympus? You two have much in common.

Imperial powers station troops in conquered nations to control them. We clearly don’t control them these days. They’re freeloaders. Conquered nations give booty back to the imperial master. We don’t get any. We give them military capacity, and they use their excess money to expand their social welfare states.

If you want to say we conquered Germany and now they’re cowed, we can have that conversation. But they ain’t conquered. They demand we pay for their defense. It’s crazy talk.

Besides, the European elites think average Americans are pond scum. Then again, they feel that way aobout their own average citizens. Tells you everything you need to know.

Strange comment.

dfordoom said...

@Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD
they demand we pay for their defence. It’s crazy talk.

But do they actually need defending? And are the Europeans the ones who want NATO? If the US really thought NATO was a bad deal they could just pull the plug on it. Obviously the US elites think the US is getting something out of the deal.

Since it's blindingly obvious that Europe does not face any military threat and hasn't faced such a threat for at least a quarter of a century then it's equally obvious that the purpose of NATO cannot be to defend Europe from a non-existent threat. So what is the purpose of NATO?

Of course the purpose of NATO might be to keep American defence contractors happy. But that doesn't benefit Europe. So again we come back to the obvious truth that NATO does not exist for Europe's benefit.

It's possible that the reason that the Europeans spend so little on defence is that they can clearly see that it would be a waste of money when there's no actual threat. So they're not freeloading.

dfordoom said...

dford, it was to protect western Europe from the Russian army.

If that were true then NATO would have been wound up a quarter of a century ago when that threat disappeared. The fact that NATO was not wound up then suggests that maybe the Americans never were honest about its actual purpose. The story doesn't add up.

trigger warning said...

dfd: "what is the purpose of NATO?

Why ask in a comment thread? The NATO Mission Statement is here:

Pity you're experiencing cognitive vapor lock. My condolences. Anyway, current and terminated NATO operations are described here...

And, as it happens, I agree with your conclusion, despite your childish, "even a blind pig..." thinking. The US should dump the EU-niks. Many of us are tired of paying for being the fist in the soft power glove of the Sitzpinkler Union.

Anonymous said...

The EU is a mutual trade and political integration club; defended by NATO(ie USA).
Change NATO to a mutual trade(ie zero tariffs across the board) and mutual defence club (ie 2% GDP or you're out) with no political integration and voila, USA gets the best countries for mutual trade and the best countries for mutual defence.
Effectively an Anglo-American mutual trade and defence bloc.
Dump the Russia/EU problem on the French and Germans.

backo said...

NATO has always been an Anglo-American alliance. Only the Canadians and possibly the Danes were to be trusted. We often discussed who would turn up on "the Day". We being the Brits and Americans.