Vice-President Mike Pence delivered a speech to the Munich Security Conference in Germany last weekend. Pence focused on the shared history and values of the United States, Europe and the NATO alliance that binds them.
He noted that NATO is based on two fundamental aspects, Article 5 of the Washington Treaty (which established the alliance) in which an attack on any member of the alliance is considered an attack on the alliance as a whole, and Article 3, which calls on member states to “maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”
The latter point is understood to mean that member states will spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense, most recenty reaffirmed at the NATO Wales Summit in September 2014 and the NATO Warsaw Summit in July 2016.
Unfortunatel, only four members besides the United States (Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia and Poland) have answered the call for “shared sacrifice and shared commitment” with the appropriate level of military spending.
Certain European leaders seem not only indifferent towards increasing their defense budgets, but are openly hostile to doing so. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, made a statement to journalists at the conference that “I don’t like our American friends narrowing down this concept of security to the military,” arguing that developement and humanitarian aid are also part of a “modern stability policy”.
I’m not sure how he expects humanitarianism to deter or stop Russian MiG fighters and T-90 tanks.
Pence’s speech was preceded several days earlier by Secretary of Defense General James Mattis’s statement at the meetings of the NATO Ministers of Defense. His message was essentially the same as Pence’s, reaffirming the strong ties between America and its NATO allies, but calling for “sacrifice” to contribute a “fair share” to the alliance.
The question of what can be done to encourage European nations to start pulling their weight in defense was precisely the one I asked to Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, commander of the United States Army Europe last September. The event was called “Implementing Warsaw Summit Commitments” and was co-hosted by the German Marshall Fund and the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. Ambassador Paul Jones was also part of the panel.
My question and the general’s reply is at the 55:45 mark:
Europeans are understandably anxious about Donald Trump’s views towards NATO, given his criticism of the alliance as being out of date and disproportionately supported by the United States. After watching the speeches of Pence and Mattis however, I started feeling a sense of disgust towards the lackluster response of the European leaders at the Munich conference.
In Juncker’s statement above, he mentioned that if Germany spent 2% of its GDP on defense (up from 1.19%) it would eliminate its entire budget surplus. What went unsaid of course is that Germany is spending billions of euros on the migrant crisis which it encouraged, and will spend tens of billions more in the coming years.
Ironically, Germany is spending vast sums of money that could have gone for defense on a policy that undermines the security of Europe by encouraging millions of unvetted, unassimilable migrants into the heart of the continent.
As much attention as has been paid to Putin and the war in Ukraine, I think Germany has been a much more destablilizing force in Europe. A case can be made that the German migrant policy sealed the deal for Brexit to occur. Germany’s heavyhanded insistence on migrant quotas for EU countries, which were ultimately rejected, sowed further discord, especially in Eastern Europe, not far removed from the authoritarian dictates of a neighboring power.
If anything I think that the United States is by far the most trustworthy member of NATO and if there is cause for concern, it’s with the vast bulk countries that still don’t take defense spending seriously, even in the midst of the most heated security environment since the Cold War.
In his answer to my question above, General Hodges stated that he trusted the NATO allies to stand by their commitments to defense spending increases that were made in 2014. He didn’t however say how or if the U.S. was doing anything more to impress how important it was to do so.
I think candidate and now President Trump’s statements on NATO have been not only justified but necessary. Europe has been far too dependent on American military protection for generations and it has had the deleterious effect of fostering complacency. Western Europe was able to develop a vast welfare state while the U.S. taxpayer footed the bill for defense.
Fear is a powerful motivator, and while I don’t expect any dramatic moves from Trump in the short term, if he decides to take action in the form of troop withdrawals or other sanctions, it will be because of the continued intransigence of lackadaisical countries, Germany especially, to invest in European security.
Poland is doing the best that it can uphold its treaty obligations and demonstrate its dedication to a shared responsibility for Europe’s defense. Going forward it should continue to deepen ties with the United States as much as possible, not only militarily but academically, culturally and socially. It’s entirely possible, and even likely, that the West is in for much darker and more chaotic times ahead.
Europe’s sense of its own identity is at a low ebb and the largest EU member states also appear to have the most daunting problems. There are no guarantees, but President Trump has demonstrated time and again that he values loyalty above all else. Poland’s history with the United States stretches back to the latter’s founding. If there is a rock that can weather the gathering storm, the alliance with the United States (understood in a more broad and bilateral sense than only within confines of NATO) is Poland’s best hope.
As Poland’s painful history has demonstrated however, alliances are often not worth the paper they’re codified on. Poland’s governments, whether under the Civic Platform party previously, or the Law and Justice party currently, leave much to be desired. It will ultimately be up to the Polish people to demand that politicians enact effective policies that benefit Poland’s security both militarily and economically.
There’s an unfortunate tendency towards passivity among far too many Poles, but perhaps the younger generations, who are only now coming into their own, unencumbered by the baggage of the past and exposed to Western culture, can chart a new course. It may have to get much tougher before people are motivated to act, but as a favorite Polish saying goes, “It could always be worse.”
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