Thursday, June 08, 2017

NATO in a new light in the Trump Era

Der Spiegel's most recent cover story about Trump's anti-European position on the Paris Accord on global warming is available in English, and it's quite an interesting one: Donald Trump's Triumph of Stupidity 06/02/2017.

This was the cover for the German version of the story:

There are a number of passages in the article that helps put the current state of relations between the EU and the United Statesss. Like these:

Merkel's verdict following Trump's visit to Europe could hardly be worse. There has never been an open break with America since the end of World War II; the alienation between Germany and the U.S. has never been so large as it is today. When Merkel's predecessor, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, refused to provide German backing for George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, his rebuff was limited to just one single issue. It was an extreme test of the trans-Atlantic relationship, to be sure, but in contrast to today, it was not a quarrel that called into question commonly held values like free trade, minority rights, press freedoms, the rule of law -- and climate policies. ...

Merkel, who grew up in the Soviet sphere of influence, never had much understanding for the anti-Americanism often found in western Germany. U.S. dependability is partly to thank for Eastern Europe's post-1989 freedom.

Merkel has shown a surprising amount of passion for the trans-Atlantic relationship over the years. She came perilously close to openly supporting the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and enjoyed a personal friendship with George W. Bush, despite the fact that most Germans had little sympathy for the U.S. president. Later, Merkel's response to the NSA's surveillance of her mobile phone was largely stoic and she also didn't react when Trump called her refugee policies "insane."

As such, Merkel's comments last Sunday about her loss of trust in America were eye-opening. It was a completely new tone and Merkel knew that it would generate attention. Indeed, that's what she wanted. ...

In the past, it had always been the British and the Eastern Europeans who stood in the way of the joint efforts promoted by Germany and France -- for the most part out of fear that an internal European competitor to NATO could result. But Britain's decision to leave the EU also means that it will no longer be able to block such efforts. The Eastern Europeans, meanwhile, who see themselves as being on the front against Russia, have lost faith in Trump's pledges to the alliance. [my emphasis]
This is a good reminder that the rift between the US and leading NATO allies like Germany and France over the Iraq War was dramatic and serious.

The current tensions in the NATO alliance continue that earlier confrontation in some important ways. Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer was an especially popular spokesperson for neoconservative advocates of war with Iraq. In the light of objections to preventive war in Iraq from NATO allies Germany and France, Krauthammer mocked NATO as essentially militarily useless to the United States (U.S. power rises as NATO fades into irrelevance Chicago Tribune/Washington Post wire 05/27/2017 05/27/2002)

NATO may still have a role in peacekeeping (especially in Europe's own Balkan backyard) but not in war-making. As a serious military alliance it is finished. But there is no need for a funeral. NATO can be usefully re-imagined. Its new role should be to serve as incubator for Russia's integration into Europe and the West.

It is precisely because NATO has turned from a military alliance into a trans-Atlantic club of advanced democracies that it can now safely invite Russia in--and why Russia has so reconciled itself to NATO. Russia recognizes NATO's shift from a military to a political organization. That is why it has so muted its objection to NATO's expansion into the former Soviet republics of the Baltic states.

That idea used to make the Russians apoplectic. But with NATO a hollow shell, they are relaxed about having us in, and we are relaxed about having them in. The unprecedented place at the NATO table recently offered Russia by the Bush administration is the correct next step in NATO's transformation. Join the club.

NATO is dead. Welcome, Russia, to the new NATO. [my emphasis]
Chris Patten, then the EU Commissioner for External Relations, reacted publicly to George W. Bush's use of the phrase "axis of evil" including Iraq in his 2002 State of the Union Address, a speech which seemed to signal a determination to go to war with Iraq (Jonathan Freedland, Patten lays into Bush's America The Guardian 02/08/2002):

Chris Patten, the EU commissioner in charge of Europe's international relations, has launched a scathing attack on American foreign policy - accusing the Bush administration of a dangerously "absolutist and simplistic" stance towards the rest of the world.

As EU officials warned of a rift opening up between Europe and the US wider than at any time for half a century, Mr Patten tells the Guardian it is time European governments spoke up and stopped Washington before it goes into "unilateralist overdrive".

"Gulliver can't go it alone, and I don't think it's helpful if we regard ourselves as so Lilliputian that we can't speak up and say it," he says in today's interview.
Those were the days when the national press was treating Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld like a rock star. Remember this? Defence Secy comments on Europe, France, Germany AP 07/30/2015:

Rummy didn't have no use for "Old Europe" (Outrage at 'old Europe' remarks BBC News 01/23/2003):

"Germany has been a problem and France has been a problem," Mr Rumsfeld told Washington's foreign press corps on Wednesday.

"But you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe, they're not with France and Germany... they're with the US.

"You're thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don't," he said. "I think that's old Europe."

On Thursday, the French and German leaders reiterated their opposition to war as they continued celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty between their two countries.

"We are both of the opinion... that one can never accept it when it is said that war is unavoidable," [SPD German] Chancellor [Gerhard] Schroeder said in an address to hundreds of French and German students in Berlin attended by Mr Chirac.

"War may never be considered unavoidable."

A spokeswoman for Mr [conservative French President Jacques] Chirac called for calm in the dispute.
Joachim Fritz-Vannahme discussed how Rummy and the Cheney-Bush Administration differentiated between Old and New Europe in that context (“Falke, Hahn, Taube. Washingtons Schmähung trifft die Europäer im Augenblick der größten Uneinigkeit” Die Zeit 6 Feb 2003; translation by Allison Brown at GHDI, accessed 06/08/2017):

How quickly a banality can turn into an insult! Donald Rumsfeld’s apt expression “New Europe,” meaning a Europe whose focus is shifting from Western to Central Europe, already enjoyed great popularity as a key geostrategic term years ago. This was especially true in Paris, the stronghold of “Old Europe,” where, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, many worried about the role they would play.

Rumsfeld’s invective hit Europeans at the moment of their greatest discord. The common foreign policy that they so readily invoke still remains a Cloud Cuckoo Land where everyone can build his or her own nest, whether he be a British hawk, a German dove, or a French rooster. This could be seen on Monday, when the EU foreign ministers were able to muster only a minimum of unity at their meeting in Brussels. The inspectors,* they demanded, should be given more time. But not even behind closed doors did they discuss what would happen when time ran out, or how Great Britain, France, Spain, and Germany – the four EU members on the UN Security Council – would vote: individually or (as virtually no one in Brussels believes) in concert for Europe?

Everything seems crystal clear from Rumsfeld’s perspective. His reference to Old Europe is an attack on the insubordinate German-French entente. Spain, Portugal, and Italy, on the other hand, are being entered on the map of well-behaved New Europe by the Pentagon surveyor.
What that translated into is that a few long-time NATO members with conservative governments, along with "Bush's Poodle" Tony Blair of British New Labour, wanted to kiss up to the Cheney-Bush Administration over invading Iraq.

But Rummy was also favoring newer NATO members who also wanted to do so. Fritz-Vannahme quotes Le Monde from that time, "A large internal market with the protection of NATO. That is the image of the EU that people have in Prague, Warsaw, or, say, Budapest. That is opportune for the United States, since that's its idea of Europe as well."

That last point is important. The United States historically favored European unity, which now takes the form of the European Union. But the US has also favored a broader but relatively weak EU, one that in particular would not be able to unite around a common foreign policy or form a significant central EU military force of its own. So under the three previous administrations, the US encouraged the US to expand EU membership to former Warsaw Pact countries sooner rather than later. On the one hand, this provided EU aid for their development. But it also expanded the number of countries that had to be brought into unison for major decisions in the EU, thus making the prospects for greater unity dimmer and more distant.

Something similar was taking place in NATO, an alliance that in reality has always been under American direction despite considerable time and effort placed on consultation. The alliance undertook and enlargement of its membership after the fall of the Berlin Wall. German unification added the former East Germany to NATO. The NATO website conveniently provides this historical sketch (Enlargement 06/07/2017):

Based on the findings of the Study on Enlargement, the Alliance invited the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland to begin accession talks at the Alliance’s Madrid Summit in 1997. These three countries became the first former members of the Warsaw Pact to join NATO in 1999.

At the 1999 Washington Summit, the Membership Action Plan was launched to help other aspirant countries prepare for possible membership.

Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were invited to begin accession talks at the Alliance’s Prague Summit in 2002 and joined NATO in 2004. All seven countries had participated in the MAP.
NATO's website says of the process, "The new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe were eager to guarantee their freedom by becoming integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions."

The Cheney-Bush Administration used the desire of those Central and Eastern European countries to be part of NATO, in significant part out of continuing fear of future Russian aggression, as a way to exert counterbalancing influence to German and French dissent within the alliance. And those new members were particularly interested in having American guarantees against outside aggression.

What the Spiegel article cited at the start of this post brings out significantly changes that situation. "The Eastern Europeans, meanwhile, who see themselves as being on the front against Russia, have lost faith in Trump's pledges to the alliance." (my emphasis)

Britain is now leaving the EU, as well. Britain has what is fondly called the "special relationship" with the United States, which means that since the Suez Crisis of 1956, British policymakers have tried to avoid being in opposition to the US on any major foreign policy issue, though they tended not to be thrilled by the US war in Vietnam. But this gave the US a major way to influence decisions of the EU, since Britain was more likely to side with the US on major issues than France or Germany, which was also the case with the invasion of Iraq.

Now Britain is out of the EU. And the Eastern European countries will have to look more to their European partners now for assurances of assistance against military threats from Russia. Which has become more urgent over the last 15 years as Russia has pushed back hard in Georgia and Ukraine against the prospects of those countries aligning more formally with the EU and NATO.

This creates a significantly new situation, in which the EU countries are now likely to perceive much greater urgency in cooperation with each other. Including in opposition to policies from Washington that they find undesirable.

And the EU's principal leader, Angela Merkel, isn't feeling inclined to make things easier for Washington this time around. On the contrary, she's rallying other European countries to create a major effective counterbalance to US power.

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