NATO, Palestine, and Looking for a Silver Lining

NATO has problems—or rather, we have (or perhaps should have) problems with NATO countries. And those problems are not only about financing but also about identifying the main threat to civilized democracies.

While he was president, Trump made a big fuss about those NATO countries that weren’t paying their dues—2 percent of their GDPs. He was widely criticized by the usual suspects. But as a result of his criticism, many of the European laggards decided to pay up. And recently, the Secretary-General of NATO said, or implied, that, in fact, Trump had done a service by encouraging the Europeans to shape up.

“We have to listen and take note of the following,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “The criticism that we hear is not primarily about NATO. It’s about NATO Allies not spending enough on NATO. And that’s a valid point.”

But that’s not the only valid point, and possibly not the most important point, at least for the U.S. The real issue now is the extent to which the politics and goals of Americans and Europeans are aligned. In the end, even if all NATO countries pay their 2 percent dues, if they disagree with the U.S. (and among themselves) on what enemy should be fought and when, the whole NATO structure may prove to be outdated.

In the last few days, Norway, Spain, and Ireland have announced that they will formally recognize Palestine as a state, joining 143 of the 193 members of the United Nations (the U.S., England, and France do not recognize Palestine as a state). Immediately after the three countries did so, Israel recalled its ambassadors to the three nations. One immediate question is: what does the U.S. plan to do now?

Another question, and perhaps the other question, is: what should the U.S. do? Because no one really expects the Biden administration to do anything—or at least anything useful. Left on their own, the Biden crew would probably celebrate the three European countries’ recognition of Palestine, at least some of them thinking, perhaps, that “from the river to the sea, Palestine should be free.”

But recognizing Palestine as a state has, at least, a definitional problem. There are internationally agreed-upon criteria for statehood. At a minimum:

  • The entity must have a stable, permanent population;
  • It should control a specific territory;
  • The entity must have an organized government.

Palestine simply doesn’t meet those requirements. The countries recognizing Palestine are stealing a base, bending over backwards to award Palestine (Palestine!) a status to which it is not entitled. Why? And why now?

But wholly apart from the issues of funding NATO and preserving European security is the issue of maintaining the security of the United States. That, pace Trump haters and Biden lovers, is the country’s most important foreign policy consideration.

A key question is: can the United States fight a two-front war? Alas, a more distressing question may be: can the United States fight a one-front war—and win?

Pondering those questions helps put questions concerning the NATO alliance, which is focused primarily on Russia, in perspective and raises the essential question: Which country is the greater threat to the U.S.: Russia or China?

Answering that question ought to be easy—unless, perhaps, you have a lot of family business in China.

Yes, Russia is a pain. Yes, Russia could probably gobble up Estonia before lunch and Latvia and some additional small countries before tea. But Russia is not the Soviet Union. Russia’s GDP is less than $3 trillion. The combined GDP of the NATO countries (not including the U.S.) is about $20.5 trillion. They really should be able to deal with Russia without the help of the U.S., which has a GDP of about $28 trillion.

And Russia’s $3 trillion economy is dwarfed by China, which has a GDP of about $18 trillion.

China—Xi Jinping—has its eyes on Taiwan, which, not at all incidentally, currently spends only 2.5 percent of its GDP on defense. It is widely thought Xi would like to take Taiwan before he goes to his reward (which we can hope will be hot and uncomfortable). Although Xi is aging, he’s not as old or dysfunctional as America’s pathetic Joe Biden.

E.g.: Biden’s floating pier in the Mediterranean Sea designed to provide aid to Gaza, announced to great applause by Democrats in his State of the Union Speech, has proved to be a disaster (are you surprised?). Part of it peeled off in a storm, two US ships went aground trying to rescue it, two other ships also became disabled trying to rescue the first two ships; the cost has been huge, and when the trucks finally get on land to deliver aid, they get attacked and ransacked. According to CNN, “Pentagon says none of the aid unloaded from U.S. pier off coast of Gaza has been delivered to broader Palestinian population.” The whole sorry Biden mess makes Jimmy Carter look like the great Prussian military strategist Clausewitz.

But we digress. Or do we? The point is, the Biden administration is wholly incompetent. It knows neither which wars to fight nor how to win them.

America must change its focus and prioritize the threat from China—and especially China’s threat to Taiwan—over lesser threats. Losing Taiwan, given its strategic position, would be a disaster for the U.S. and the rest of the free world. A quick glance at a map shows that Taiwan is vital to the defense of Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. And as Elbridge Colby has written, “The United States should defend Taiwan because it is important to deny China hegemony over Asia, by far the world’s largest market area. If China could dominate Asia, as it has made increasingly clear it seeks to do, Beijing would determine the terms, tempo, and distribution of global economic power.”

Taming China’s ambition will take military muscle and willpower—both currently in short supply in the U.S. In March 2023, the Department of Defense requested $842.0 billion for 2024, around 3-plus percent of GDP. In 1953, U.S. defense spending was 11.3 percent of GDP.

The U.S. should be spending several times as much on defense as it is now. It should not be spending gazillions of dollars on forgiving student loans (current estimate: $167 billion). And it should not be infecting the military with absurd and insulting DEI requirements. Last year, the army, air force, and navy all failed to meet their recruiting goals. Who wants to join a woke military?

And the U.S. should not be spending gazillions of dollars trying to alleviate an illusory global warming threat. According to a 2022 estimate of the Rocky Mountain Institute (now “RMI”), the U.S. government will spend more than $500 billion on climate technology and clean energy over the next decade. Citizens who’ve mastered tenth-grade reading will know that all of that money will be wholly wasted.

America needs to change its course—and quickly—and get serious about its security.

If the three European countries’ recognition of Palestine as a state prods the U.S. into paying attention to its own security and to the real dangers threatening it in this dangerous new world, the European fecklessness may turn out to have had a silver lining after all.

Daniel Oliver is Chairman of the Board of the Education and Research Institute and a Director of Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was Executive Editor and subsequently Chairman of the Board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review.

Email Daniel Oliver at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com.

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About Daniel Oliver

Daniel Oliver is chairman of the board of the Education and Research Institute and a director of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy in San Francisco. In addition to serving as chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Reagan, he was executive editor and subsequently chairman of the board of William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review. Email him at Daniel.Oliver@TheCandidAmerican.com.

Photo: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken adresses journalists on the sidelines of a NATO foreign ministers meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, on April 3, 2024. On April 4, 2024 the NATO military alliance marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of it's founding treaty in Washington. (Photo by Johanna Geron / POOL / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNA GERON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

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