The air raid sirens shattered the calm of the Warsaw afternoon.
What winged monsters would fly out of the clouds this day?
Fortunately this was only a drill and I’m writing this to you from my favorite coffee shop. All the buildings around me are intact.
Today’s emergency readiness drill, part of the 10-day Anaconda-2016 war game, is the largest such exercise in Europe since the end of the Cold War. Nearly half of the 31,000 troops participating are Americans. Paratroop jumps, tank movements, helicopter assaults and the construction of a temporary bridge over the Vistula, just north of Warsaw, are all part of the action.
What do you think when you hear the word NATO?
I think of the UN or EU, but with an American twist. A capable fighting force in limited conflicts, but with a soft, European, bureaucratic paunch.
Last week I went to hear a speech at the University of Warsaw Library, by Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of NATO.
There were no revelations. It included the standard lines about NATO being the strongest alliance in history and the need for increased military spending from member nations. He also emphasized that NATO is defensive, and seeks dialogue with Russia, their chief antagonist.
What was more interesting to me was reflecting on the fact that NATO would cease to exist without American funding and leadership. While NATO is characterized as the most successful alliance of all time, it’s quite one-sided, America covers 75% of its costs.
Donald Trump has called this situation “unfair, economically, to us” and that “we [US] will not be ripped off anymore.” Pat Buchanan reminds us that NATO was never meant to last longer than a decade. The fact that it has essentially become a massive welfare program for Europe is a failure of strategic vision.
An opinion piece by Graham Allison in the LA Times from a few years ago is still relevant today. The European Union, despite being having triple the population and eight times the economy of Russia, spends less than Moscow on defense relative to GDP.
I think analysts put too much emphasis on spending. Even if European nations increased their military budgets by $100 billion, raising the average spent on defense to the NATO target of 2% of GDP, would it matter?
France arguably had the best-equipped military in the world in 1940. They even had more tanks than Germany. What they lacked was initiative and a strategic mindset. If they had fulfilled their treaty obligations to Poland when she was attacked in 1939, World War II may have been over within a year. The bitter memory of World War I however, the most devastating conflict in French history, proved too high of a hurdle to action.
Many Poles that I meet believe that America is obligated to defend Poland because of the principle of collective defense enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. What’s on paper is one thing, once the bombs are dropping and the bullets start flying, it’s a whole different ball game.
Many Poles are afraid of what will happen if Donald Trump becomes president. The Polish media is no less skewed than its American counterparts, both being elements of the overall Mass Media . Thus the information most Poles receive is biased at the source and then skewed further through a local filter. Basically it’s like having a liberal translate CNN and the New York Times into your language.
Given the disparaging remarks by former President Bill Clinton against Poland, why would Poles think Hillary is better than Trump? See above, criticism of Hillary doesn’t reach the Polish media, Poles have to seek it out themselves through English-language media.
I believe that Trump will become the next president of the United States. I also think that Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe can’t afford to wait and see what his foreign policy will be towards NATO and Russia. It’s true that he has criticized NATO’s overreliance on American funding (rightly in my opinion) and that he has said favorable things about Vladimir Putin. This isn’t prima facie evidence that he will turn a blind eye to Russian aggression in the region.
Today is the day for Polish leaders and their allies in the region to reach out to the Donald Trump campaign. They should make it clear that they don’t believe they are owed anything by the United States, but that a stable Europe is in the interests of America. They should demonstrate that they don’t take the alliance with America for granted, and if, God-forbid, the bullets start flying and the bombs start dropping, they have no better ally than Poland