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NATO’s Reluctant 2 Percenters

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According to the 2014 US-NATO declaration of confrontation with Russia, all member countries are supposed to commit 2 percent of their GDP to military expenditure.  But as with most NATO plans and endeavours, this one has failed to meet expectations.

Following dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 there ceased to be any reason for existence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.  The Pact had been formed in 1955 in response to inclusion of a rearmed West Germany in the US-NATO military alliance whose main objective was to:

“settle any international dispute in which they may be involved by peaceful means . . . and to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.”

By the end of 1991 all disputes between the US-European alliance and the Soviet Union had indeed been settled by peaceful means.  There had been a diplomatically-facilitated, non-violent end to the Cold War, and this was the ideal time for NATO members to begin to withdraw their offensively-tasked troops, missiles and aircraft from the hundreds of bases surrounding the borders of the former Soviet Union.  Politically, socially, militarily — and especially economically — the disbandment of NATO made sense.  It was a clumsy grouping that, for all the propaganda, was almost entirely dependent on the US for offensive capability.

But nothing of the sort happened, and the US encouraged expansion of NATO to include countries as close to Russia’s borders as could be managed.  These countries were anxious to be included in the Club, but there continues to be a problem about their reluctance to pay for the doubtful and decidedly expensive privilege of NATO membership.  As pointed out by US presidential candidate Donald Trump on 27 April :  apart from the US “only 4 of 28 other member countries . . . are spending the minimum required 2% of GDP on defence” that is required by membership of the US-NATO anti-Russia military alliance.

And why should they spend more? NATO is an expensive circus that achieves nothing.  It A History of the Pakistani Army by Brian Cloughleyfailed in Afghanistan, which is now in chaos, and was humiliated by the catastrophic result of its absurd and totally counter-productive war on Libya in 2011.

Mr Trump’s four countries claiming to allocate 2 percent of their GDP to military spending include Greece, which the New York Times reported  on 3 May 2016 “could default on its debts this summer unless it receives more bailout aid” and whose military budget has 70 percent allocated to pay and pensions;  Estonia, which has a military budget allocation of 449 million euros (505 million dollars, which would pay for five US F-35 fighter aircraft); and Poland, whose “ultra-conservative . . . nationalist government,” as described by the Financial Times of London, is frantically trying to justify its lurch to right wing extremism.

Last of the these four charging horsemen is the United Kingdom, which has fiddled its military expenditure figures to obtain the answer wanted by its transatlantic master. As stated by Britain’s independent and objective House of Commons Library research staff :

“According to figures published by NATO on 22 June 2015, the UK is projected to spend 2.08% of its estimated GDP on defence during 2015/16. However, when reporting this figure to NATO, the UK included several items of expenditure which had not been included in previous years, including provisions for war pensions, assessed contributions to UN peacekeeping missions, pensions for retired civilian MoD personnel, and much of MoD’s £1.4 billion income . . .”

This was a confidence trick. The British government’s officials and their political masters approved a contemptible deception involving a shabby bookkeeping swindle. They were disgraceful, but that’s the way they are.  The bonus barons of Wall Street and the City of London would applaud their ingenuity. (British civil servants were given 23 million pounds (33 million dollars) in bonuses in 2014-2015.)

Mr Trump is quite as unscrupulous as any British politician or bonus-basking civil servant, although perhaps more vulgar than most of them, but he’s struck the right note with his observations about the uselessness of NATO and its mini-spending members.  He promised to “call for a summit with our NATO allies” in which “we will not only discuss a rebalancing of financial commitments, but take a fresh look at how we can adopt new strategies for tackling our common challenges.”

Then came Mr Trump’s killer blow to the aspirations of the leaders of US-NATO alliance when he said “we will discuss how we can upgrade NATO’s outdated mission and structure – grown out of the Cold War – to confront our shared challenges, including migration and Islamic terrorism.”

The phrase “outdated mission and structure” has not as yet produced a response from the senior management of NATO in Washington or Brussels, and this is not surprising, because Mr Trump has torn away the façade of fabrication that cloaked the fundamental lack of reason for the group’s existence.  He has shown, as in the Hans Andersen fable, that the Emperor has no clothes.

Mr Trump realises that Russia has no reason whatever to go to war with its neighbours.  He acknowledges that there are problems — caused by the aggressive expansion of NATO’s military bases right up to Russia’s borders — but believes that “an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible.  Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.”  And it would be economically and socially beneficial for Europe and the rest of the world.

But Trump’s opponents, such as the Pentagon’s deputy secretary, Robert O Work,  disagree with his summation.  Mr Work was quoted by the Wall Street Journal on 29 April as declaring that “The Russians have been doing a lot of snap exercises right up against the borders, with a lot of troops. From our perspective, we could argue this is extraordinarily provocative behaviour.”

This is deadly serious stuff — but you’ve got to laugh at fools like Work, who believe (or perhaps pretend to believe), that Russia has no right to conduct military exercises within its sovereign territory, while the United States increases the number of US combat troops in countries as close to Russia’s borders as it can manage and carries out deliberately provocative, coat-trailing air-sea spying missions along these borders.

Meanwhile the vast majority of European members of NATO are bearing in mind that the original objective of NATO was “to refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations,”  which is an excellent reason for all of them refusing to spend 2 percent of their GDP on supporting Washington’s confrontational antics with Russia, which wants only to increase trade, cooperation, tourism and general social contact with its European neighbours.

The warmongers in Washington and Brussels shudder when they hear Trump declare that “we want to bring peace to the world. Too much destruction out there, too many destructive weapons,” because they don’t want peace.  But Europe’s reluctant NATO members seem to agree with The Donald.

A version of this article appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on May 9. 

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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