As US President Donald Trump’s meetings with NATO leaders is in the news this week, I thought this would be a timely subject on which to post. As I’m sure most readers realize, President Trump is putting intense pressure on NATO nations to live up to their commitments to spend 3% of their national GNP’s on defense spending to strengthen their commitment to the NATO alliance. As the first link notes, only five NATO nations (the USA, UK, Poland, Estonia and Greece) currently are living up to their defense commitments. Given that so few NATO nations are carrying their share of the burden, Trump is right to put pressure on NATO nations to act with sufficient concern for their own collective national security. The first link also reports on some of the stresses that are building up within the NATO alliance, as well as an embedded link with comments by American NATO Ambassador Key Bailey Hutchison, that US pressure is starting to cause NATO nations to boost their defense spending. It does need to be pointed out that the defense spending increases need to include new spending on modern weaponry. Nations could boost their defense spending percentages merely by giving a big pay raise to their military personnel. If that is all they do, they have done nothing to boost their actual military strength.
Let’s look at two NATO nations for a contrast in their very divergent attitudes toward national defense. These nations are Germany and Poland. Germany barely has a military worth mentioning, as the second and third links indicate. The second link reports that Germany’s air force is in a terrible state of readiness. Its front-line warplanes are aging and obsolescent. It is bad enough that Germany has not upgraded its air force with truly modern warplanes, but even the warplanes it has are so poorly maintained that the vast majority of them are not combat-ready due to parts shortages. The third link adds that Germany’s army is so unready for combat that it uses civilian vehicles to fill in for armored vehicles in military exercises and that German soldiers have even had to simulate guns with broomsticks painted black. It also adds that none of Germany’s six submarines are currently ready for operational duty. Is it any wonder that President Trump is frustrated with Germany’s foot-dragging on maintaining a military force worthy of one of NATO’s major nations? Germany is an industrial powerhouse so it could easily have a military that would meet its NATO obligations. It simply chooses not to do so. Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany has gone pacifist.
Now consider Poland, Poland is at the 3% percentage goal already, but they are offering to boost their military spending in a way that proves the Poles are serious about their national defense. The fourth link and fifth link offer information on Poland’s offer to spend $2 billion (US) of their own money to build a permanent military base for US troops and armored forces that could be given to US forces relocating to Poland. That should be a most attractive offer to President Trump and the US military. My own reaction is that the USA should accept the offer and relocate US troops from German bases to Polish facilities when they are ready. I wonder if Germany has ever paid billions of dollars to the USA for the protection the US military has given Germany ever since the Cold War began. They surely should have done so, but I do not know the answer to that question. As part of an upgraded NATO deployment plan which considers that fact that East European and Baltic nations are now in NATO, not the Warsaw Pact, it would make sense to forward-deploy some American troops eastward. Doing so would upset Russia, but then Russia never asked NATO’s approval for their invasion and annexation of the Crimea or their support of the war in Eastern Ukraine.
Why is Germany so derelict in meeting its own defense needs? Do they have a secret desire to commit new defense spending allocations to a new EU military force instead of NATO? Germany and France have periodically called for an EU military force, which would be commanded by unelected EU bureaucrats in Brussels rather than NATO commanders I suppose. That does not sounds like good option to me.
We are at a critical juncture in NATO’s history. Like the EU, NATO is experiencing growing internal stresses. Besides military budget conflicts, another major internal stress is the fact that Turkey, the NATO nation with the biggest army in the European theater, is increasingly “going rogue.” It’s leader, President Recep Erdogan, is steadily turning Turkey into an autocratic and Islamist nation controlled by Erdogan. Turkey has also ordered a modern Russian air defense system instead of an American/European air defense system. Turkey seems to not know who its friends are any more. Turkey was slated to receive a large number of modern F-35 warplanes from the USA, but Turkey’s odd behavior has caused the US Senate to act to exclude Turkey from receiving F-35s (sixth link). I hope that Turkey will reaffirm its allegiance to the NATO nations and not drift further into Russia’s orbit, but who knows what the future might hold. Turkey ought to consider that nations which enter into an embrace with the Russian bear find it very hard to escape that “embrace.” Ask the Eastern European and the Baltic nations–it took them approximately 45 years to escape Russia’s domination after World War II ended. They escaped Russian domination only due to the aggressive geopolitical actions of US President Ronald Reagan.
As we watch the growing stresses inside the EU, we also need to watch the growing stresses inside NATO. Some unexpected realignments and developments may be occurring in our foreseeable future.
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