The North Atlantic Treaty Organization turns 70 this year. NATO is an old man looking for a mission and befuddled by the fact that only nine of its 29 member states pay their agreed dues—up from five last year, thanks to President Trump’s pestering. Not that he gets any credit for it.
Nevertheless, that is $130 billion more for NATO’s collective defense! Which is both more money than one can fathom, and simultaneously a pitiful fraction (around 20 percent) of America’s defense spending.
NATO’s membership is paying more thanks to constant hammering by President Trump. But many have not yet reached the treaty’s required 2 percent threshold, including the richest countries, like Germany. So long as Angela Merkel remains in power with the votes of left-wing socialists (called the “Grand Coalition”) in the Bundestag, the chance is near zilch of this issue being dealt with. For her part, Merkel has promised Germany will hit the 2 percent target sometime in the “early 2030s.”
But Trump is turning it around. Give him credit.
In the meantime, the world has changed a great deal in the 70 years since the Washington Treaty was first signed and the North Atlantic Charter was put into force. American soldiers held the line on the free side of the Iron Curtain long enough for Moscow to trip on its own contradictions.
But 1989 was 30 years ago and the triumph that was the 50th anniversary celebrations (1999) is a distant memory. Today NATO is fully benefiting from nostalgia for the 1990s, despite the Balkan wars awkwardly underscoring the limitations of collective security in the new world order.
But this week’s NATO summit is less of a celebration of the military achievements and the collapse of the Soviet empire than it is a day of reckoning.
Does NATO have a future or is it, as French President Emmanuel Macron recently called it, “brain dead”? Merkel herself famously criticized NATO in the months after President Trump’s inauguration in 2017 and backed Macron’s version of a European army, widely seen as a threat to the alliance.
Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the enfant terrible of the alliance (whose rough neighborhood includes long borders with Iran, Syria, Iraq, all unstable war zones) has also come out swinging, this time against Macron. It is Macron who’s brain dead, the Turkish president said. His ambassador in Paris was called in for a stern dressing down.
Today in London at an anniversary summit of its members, President Trump who has long thought the collective security arrangement “obsolete,” has reiterated his demand that Europe pay more (South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Japan, as well) for their defense.
He suggested NATO should refocus on terrorism, Syria, cybersecurity, and most critically, China, the number one adversary NATO countries face. Oddly enough, Turkey is on the same page on the terrorism issue.
Can NATO adapt fast enough?
The Russians are in no state to take over Ukraine, much less Germany. The 21st century—about to enter its third decade—presents challenges very different to those NATO stared down in the Cold War. Out of area operations like the Bosnian wars and Afghanistan have failed to provide a strategic rationale for the commitment required of America and even some European states.
The organization has certainly proven to be resilient—but is it relevant any longer? Witness the differences in implementing nuclear sanctions on Iran—Europe has set up INSTEX, a sanctions-dodging mechanism for blockade-running. Iran’s regime, currently wracked by the worst protests in 40 years, when the mullahs came to power, is being thrown a lifeline by Paris, Brussels, and Berlin.
As the strongest and most successful military alliance in history—at least it is according to its own secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg of Norway—the crux of the matter on this birthday is, does NATO have an ability to change significantly? He certainly thinks so.
In our new book Trump’s World, Felipe J. Cuello and I argue that the “dog fight” over NATO is in a critical stage and the disruptor-in-chief, Geo Deus Donald Trump, may give it a second breath—but only if the alliance pays and it shifts.
In his America First paradigm, but not alone, there is a new taskmaster in town and he plays by new rules not old ways and ideologies of globalism. NATO survives and grows in strength thanks to one Donald J. Trump.