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NATO becomes a cost-benefit analysis

February 18, 2017

The Euro-Atlantic allies have started making a cost-benefit analysis of their NATO membership. That Alliance is no longer “a community” and that means it is less effective as a deterrent force.

Washington’s ultimatum

NATO’s Vice President, Mike Pence, told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that the US will “stand with Europe today and every day,” calling Washington’s commitment to NATO “unwavering.”

Pence echoed US Defense Secretary Mattis, who delivered the same ultimatum to NATO HQ on Wednesday. The 66-year old US Defense Secretary nicknamed “mad-dog” Mattis is a renowned marine with an understanding of NATO’s significance in Europe, but with distinct lack of diplomatic tact, often telling his counterparts around the world, he is ready to kill them all. He did not go as far in Brussels; but, his message was succinct.

“If your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense,” Mattis said. European member states of NATO have committed to a 2% GDP expenditure on defence, which so far only four states other than the United State adhere to: Britain, Poland, Estonia, and Greece.

That is still less than calling NATO “obsolete,” as President Trump put it during his campaign trail. And the recognition that NATO is “a fundamental bedrock” for the United States and for all the transatlantic community did release some tension. But, Europe no longer trusts Washington.

Europe reasons with Washington

It is true. Europe’s NATO members with the biggest economies are spending well below 2% of their GDP: France spends 1.78%, Germany 1.19%, and Italy 1.11%.

And European defence ministers, especially Germany, show some degree of understanding with Mattis and on Wednesday they were ready to unpack a whole barrage of goodwill gestures.

Germany and France are creating a joint fleet of Lockheed Martin Corp C-130J transport planes, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The integrated and transnational fleet will join a Dutch-led fleet of Airbus A330 tanker planes with the participation of Luxembourg. It is hoped Belgium and Norway will join.

That is a practical measure.

One of the lessons of the ISAF NATO mission in Afghanistan was the need for increased airborne military capacity. However, there are also political messages. First, Europe is still focusing on “niche capability” rather than an independent army. Secondly, Germany is making baby steps, bolstering military expenditure but in the frame of European cooperation.

But, these moves are about spending smart and retaining political cohesion, not necessarily about spending more.

Europe not too keen to spend more

Addressing the Munich Security Conference on Thursday, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker made clear that security is not only about defence and urged member states to resist.

Juncker was reacting to Washington’s ultimatum on more military spending.  “It has been the American message for many, many years {to increase expenditure}. I am very much against letting ourselves be pushed into this,” Juncker said.

President Juncker stated that foreign aid should be seen as part of the security spending equation, specifying that “if you look at what Europe is doing in defence, plus development aid, plus humanitarian aid, the comparison with the United States looks rather different.”

The reasoning is clear. True, the United States puts up 70% of alliance funds. But, although the US Defense budget roughly matches the defense spending of 14 biggest military powers in the world combined, President Trump has committed to a massive procurement expansion.Clearly, that is not where Europe wants to go.

Political Alliance breakdown

Europe will not follow in massive procurement expansion, especially not under the banner “America First.” If procurement did expand, it would be because there is not enough trust in Washington.

Reaching 2% of GDP expenditure is an objective that is hard for Europe. Italy can’t, Spain won’t, and Germany would be afraid to lose its budget surplus. More importantly, France and Poland would have mixed fillings about German military expansion by nearly 100%. But, the biggest driver for more defense expenditure is that no one really trusts Washington to lead the “free world.” That is why there is talk of EU’s “corporate membership” of NATO.

NATO is an Alliance, but not necessarily a community. All of NATO’s traditional prerogatives of keeping Russia out, Americans in, and Germans down are renegotiated. And Europe is no longer certain “Trump’s way” is Europe’s way forward.


Where is Britain seating in this “cost-benefit” analysis?

In January, before her visit to the United States, Theresa May set out a 12-point outline of Brexit. She went on to note that Britain is nonetheless not leaving Europe, with which it is bound with security ties. “We will continue to work closely with our European allies in foreign and defence policy even as we leave the EU itself,” May Twitted.

However, the issue at hand is that Europe is now moving toward the Defence Union, with or without the blessing of Defence Secretary Fallon. Britain is now forced in a position to review a strategic choice made two centuries ago, which says that Britain must engage with Europe and actively play a part in shaping the balance of power in the continent.

That role is now made a dependent variable to the future of transatlantic relations. And that it is a gamble.

Earlier in February, the leader of the ruling PiS party in Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, called for a European nuclear capability. In the EU, France is soon to be the last remaining nuclear power with 300 warheads. Kaczynski no longer trusts Europe can rely on US arsenal and may not count on the U.K’s 215 warheads. Theoretically, if Britain’s nuclear arsenal ever added leverage, it would be now. Except the U.K leaves the EU just as America turns into itself.