Should the new Trump administration transform the Western military alliance?
By Joseph Puder
During the 2016 election campaign, candidate Donald Trump called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) irrelevant. Bloomberg reported on January 15, 2017, that “Repeating criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while Trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it has problems.” In an interview with the German Newspaper Bild, President Trump described NATO as “obsolete,” and added, “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should, and NATO didn’t deal with terrorism.” Trump is right on all three assertions.
Since the Cold War began in the late 1940’s, the Atlantic Alliance was instrumental in deterring Soviet expansionism in Europe. NATO kept the Soviets out of Western Europe, the U.S. Marshall Plan created economic stability, while hundreds of thousands of U.S. G.I.’s stationed in Europe, insured peace and security. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s put into question NATO’s mission, which was hitherto designed to block Soviet aggressive expansionism, and protecting European democracies.
At that juncture, there were a number of high powered voices calling for the dismantling of NATO, and it was thought that a weakened Russia no longer posed a threat. Others however suggested keeping the alliance as a safety net. The civil war in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s provided NATO and its advocates with a renewed purpose. NATO became a multinational force able to act on the periphery of the Continent, able to enforce relative peace among the warring parties. Peace enforcement then became the heart of NATO’s mission.
On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda’s attack on America compelled NATO to activate for the first time in its history Article 5, which is defined as ‘an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all members.’ The U.S. launched an attack on Al-Qaeda bases and its Taliban protectors in Afghanistan. Regretfully, with the exception of the British forces, the U.S. European allies didn’t possess the capabilities to be effective in an arena such as Afghanistan, and the U.S. carried the brunt of the burden, as it did in the 2003 Iraq war that toppled the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
In an article published in the British Telegraph newspaper (February 13, 2017) titled “NATO needs to reform into a global alliance against Islamic Terrorism – or become obsolete,” Col. Richard Kemp, commander of British forces in Afghanistan and Rafael Bardaji, former National Security adviser to the Spanish government, pointed out that, “NATO from 1989 to today has basically opted out of the major strategic issue of our time – Islamic terrorism, and generated mixed results at best in its out-of-area operations without becoming more efficient in its traditional mission to keep peace in Europe.” Kemp and Bardaji added, “NATO should accept that we are all under attack by Islamic extremist forces of all kinds. President Hollande said that France was at war, and the rest of the allies cannot sit idle by his side. NATO must make the fight against Islamic terrorism its core mission.”
Bardaji and Kemp recommended that “in order to reinforce our Western world, (NATO) must invite member countries that are alike in the defense of our values and with the willingness to share the burden in the civilizational struggle. NATO should invite Israel, Japan, India, and Singapore to become members.”
It has become apparent that Western democracies must now defend themselves against Islamic terrorists that have declared war on them. It is particularly true on the Western European turf. That also means that the West as a whole is in a global struggle rather than one limited to the defense of Europe. It implies moreover, that several actors who share the democratic values of the West as well as the threats could join the alliance. This would naturally apply to Israel, and India in particular.
President Trump argued that countries aren’t paying what they should, and he is absolutely correct. According to World Bank data, the EU countries spent on average 1.5% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defense in 2015. The U.S. spent 3.3% ($664.1 billion) of its GDP on defense at the same time. (Declining from a high of 5.6% in 1988.) Germany, the fourth largest economy in the world, spent 1.2% ($40.7 billion) of its GDP on defense. Britain spent 1.9% ($60.3 billion) on defense, France 2.1% ($43.6 billion), Spain 1.2%, and Italy 1.3%. Israel’s defense budget, according to the World Bank was at 5.4% of its GDP in 2015, and India’s was 2.4%. Clearly the EU countries in general, and Germany in particular, are not carrying their weight. Germany and other Western European states have relied on U.S. protection for too long without dipping into their own taxpayer pockets. While providing immigrants large welfare payments, the EU countries have done little to upgrade their defense budgets.
Israel is on the first line of defense against Islamic terrorism. Its long struggle with Palestinian (and Lebanese Hezbollah) terrorism has made the Jewish state an experienced and skilled combatant against terrorism. In fact, Israel provided the U.S. with expertise in fighting terror in Iraq. This reporter wrote a paper in 1999 which showed that Israel should rightly be a NATO ally, and receive American support from the U.S. Defense Department budget rather than from the State Department’s foreign assistance program. Israel, unlike its European NATO allies, does not require the stationing of U.S. troops. Israel defends itself with its own forces. Israel has moreover provided the U.S. with invaluable intelligence, and has demonstrated the superiority of U.S. weaponry over that of the Soviet Union, now Russia, in real combat situations. Israel, moreover, spends almost four times as much on defense from its GDP than the European NATO allies’ average. As Kemp and Bardaji suggested, Israel should be enlisted as a member of NATO.
India, facing Islamic terror, and being the largest democracy in the world, has similarly a place in the alliance. Islamic terror is no longer confined to the Atlantic Ocean and the lands on its shores. It is a global menace threatening democracies everywhere.
The European Union members of NATO must now focus on defending their own states. It is true for France and Germany, as well as Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Norway, to name a few. The influx of over a million immigrants from Islamic countries into Europe brought along the potential for ongoing Islamist terror. In addition, Iran’s development of long-range ballistic missiles on top of the certainty of the Islamic Republic becoming a nuclear power in a decade or less, must be of concern to the architects of a reshaped NATO.
The new U.S. President Trump and his administration, with vision and willpower, serves as an opportunity to transform and reshape the Western military alliance, making it larger, more resourceful, and above all strategically focused on the challenges of tomorrow.