View from USA: Pulling the plug on NATO

11:25 19.03.2024 •

Pic.: Chronicles

“Trump Will Abandon NATO” heralded a headline in the January-February 2024 issue of The Atlantic. “If reelected, he would end our commitment to the European alliance, reshaping the international order and hobbling American influence in the world,” warned the subheading, writes ‘The Chronicles Magazine’.

Anne Applebaum, the author of the article, quotes with an air of stunned disbelief  Donald Trump saying at various times that he doesn’t “give a s***” about NATO, that European conflicts are not worth American lives, and that pulling back from Europe would save the U.S. lots of money. “NATO, founded in 1949 and supported for three-quarters of a century by Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike, has long been a particular focus of Trump’s ire,” she writes.

It is absurd that almost 80 years after the end of World War II and a quarter-century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the American Kaiserslautern Military Community (KMC) in Germany remains the largest U.S. military establishment abroad. This complex sprawls over 16,000 acres and houses 54,000 U.S. military personnel and their families. The Ramstein Air Base contained within the KMC alone employs 16,000 personnel.

That closing bases like the KMC and pulling out of Europe would save billions of dollars for the American taxpayer is beyond dispute. It is equally evident that the continued presence of U.S. forces in the Old Continent encourages continued free-riding by European members of NATO, most notably Germany. It has been known for decades that the longer U.S. forces remain, the less European NATO members will be motivated to invest in their own defense. Two years after the conflict in Ukraine erupted, this has not changed, notwithstanding the often hysterical rhetoric about the alleged Russian threat to NATO’s eastern borders.

Regarding money, it is noteworthy that the gross domestic product of NATO’s European members (i.e. the EU without Austria, Cyprus, Malta, and Ireland, but including  non-EU member Britain) was worth just under $20 trillion in 2022. That same year, the GDP of the United States was just 25 percent higher at $25 trillion, but America accounted for over two-thirds of NATO’s military spending. As far back as 2014, NATO members each agreed to increase their military budgets to two percent of their GDP; by 2023, just 11, mostly minor Eastern European members, had done so.

The list of NATO members who met that minimum 2 percent threshold doesn’t include any of the four major European NATO powers of Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Nor does it include any of NATO’s wealthy smaller members, such as Benelux, Denmark, and Norway. In 2023, military spending of the 31 NATO member states (plus soon-to-be member Sweden) amounted to almost $1.4 trillion, but the U.S. accounted for — let me repeat — more than two-thirds of that total expenditure. Without America, the median defense spending of all other members would only reach 1.8 percent of their collective GDP.

It is true that two years after the dangerous Russian bear started its “unprovoked aggression” in Ukraine, the Europeans still have not developed alternative leadership or command-and-control systems, nor have they addressed their lack of ammunition supply. Thus, it stands to reason that we can assume one of two scenarios.

First, it might be possible that Europeans deliberately continue to place the burden of their own defense on America, assuming that the ongoing absence of alternative defense capabilities — such as those mentioned by Goldgeier — will force the U.S. to provide them on an open-ended basis and foot the bill. If so, they are acting in cahoots with the neocon-neolib global-hegemonic clique across the Atlantic, which invokes Europe’s powerlessness as an argument for America’s eternal “engagement.”

More likely, the Europeans who matter (never mind the eastern fringe) don’t really believe that in a post-NATO world they would be exposed to a Russian attack, either immediately or in the long term, and that therefore they see no real need to prepare for such a contingency. If this view didn’t represent European thinking, then after the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, European countries would have acted resolutely to prepare for war, no matter the cost.

The failure of the Europeans to be as alarmed about Russia as neoconservatives would like them to be, their undeclared yet evident decision to remain unprepared for a possible Russian attack, indicates that there may be another sort of deep state at work in Paris, Berlin, Rome, and Madrid. There is still a class of European senior civil servants on the scene, especially in France and Italy, which is aware that the agenda of the American neoconservative/neoliberal consensus is ruinous to their countries’ fundamental interests. They realize, but cannot say so aloud, that it is impossible to divorce the striving for continued American hegemony in Europe — which is inherently harmful to their countries’ core identity and core interests — from the continued existence of NATO.

Applebaum ends her article with what she sees as an apocalyptic prediction. If Trump in a second term declares that he no longer supports NATO, all of America’s other security alliances would be in jeopardy as well. “Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and even Israel would figure they can no longer count on automatic American support.” The demise of NATO would signal to all that the United States is no longer a reliable ally, and all of America’s allies would begin to hedge. Many European countries would cozy up to Russia diplomatically (horror!), and America would be in retreat from the European stage. By the time we realize how much has changed, it will be too late.

What is an end-of-the-world scenario for a neoconservative is a new dawn for a realist. Not just Europe, but Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and even Israel should never have been made to rely upon automatic American military support, and it would be an excellent idea to disabuse them — or, indeed, any other foreign country — of any such expectation in the future.

Just as there is today a visceral Russophobia among the American elite class, in the aftermath of World War II the dislike of the United States morphed into a cultural mentality common among European traditionalists. They feared and resented what they saw as the new hegemon. Like the Russophobia of today, this sentiment was not necessarily correlated to any specific acts of policy emanating from Washington. On the contrary, it treated each policy act as a reflection and reaffirmation of the actor’s nefarious motives — the founding of NATO included.

In its early years NATO was truly a defensive alliance based on the strategy of containment. Notably, the U.S. did not act to prevent French President Charles de Gaulle from pulling France out of NATO’s military structure in 1966, while the Soviets a decade earlier had destroyed much of Budapest to prevent Hungary from exiting the Warsaw Pact. It is also noteworthy that, largely thanks to NATO, Europe managed to avoid yet another war in the crisis-laden decades following 1945. Many wars were fought on the periphery of the bipolar divide, but none in its center.

NATO went rogue after the collapse of the USSR and its shaky military alliance. Its eastward expansion, which George Kennan termed the biggest strategic mistake in American history, was due entirely to the pathology of Washington’s post-Cold War global-hegemonic regime. The Western alliance today is an anachronism, a chronic threat to peace, and above all, the iron fist of American wokedom. The vision of an America and a world free of NATO’s pathologies is nevertheless elusive for now.

It is no longer possible to talk of “America,” a real country of 336 million souls, as a discrete actor in world affairs. What we have instead is a regime that will give up on NATO only if there is regime change in Washington, D.C. Not a temporary change, like the ephemeral one in January 2017, but a revolutionary change that would sweep away neoliberals and neoconservatives alike, the globalist heads and hegemonist tails of the same coin, ‘The Chronicles Magazine’ concludes.


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