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The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive

Photo by Addicted04 | CC BY 2.0

Perhaps we should feel sorry for Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general and titular head of the NATO military alliance, because he dances to the drum beats of the Pentagon and doesn’t have any real power, as the top dog of the US-NATO pack is the grandly-titled Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, who takes his orders from Washington, the hub of the Military-Industrial Complex and the Deep State.

It must be sad for Mr Stoltenberg to be an inconsequential little puppy, for he seems at heart to be quite a pleasant fellow and it may be — just possibly — that he attempts to look beyond the dark horizons of the war-profits that come from military confrontation of Russia.

Yet Stoltenberg keeps saying he is in favor of an enormously potent NATO, and at a media conference following the chaotic Trump-NATO ding-dong in Brussels on 10-11 July announced that “we decided to raise the readiness of our forces; to increase our ability to move them across the Atlantic and within Europe; to modernize our command structure” and so on, which was normal saber-rattling stuff.  Then he felt he had to praise Donald Trump who had not only insulted the President and people of Germany at the farcical assembly, but repeatedly interrupted Stoltenberg in the most scornful manner.

Puppy dog Stoltenberg rolled over and put his paws in the air and begged the loutish Trump to scratch his tummy. At his press conference he fawningly oozed that “there is a new sense of urgency due to President Trump’s strong leadership on defense spending,” which was nauseating endorsement of Trump’s wild-eyed rant in which he demanded that the Europeans should hike their military spending to four percent of their countries’ economic output — which Stoltenberg said would “allow US spending to go down.”

The ludicrous absurdity of that statement was spotlighted by the analyst Jacob Hornberger who noted witheringly that Trump was “pressuring NATO members to plunder and loot their citizens through higher taxation to help pay for NATO’s exorbitant expenses. Big deal. How is that helpful? Does anyone really think that that is going to result in a reduction of expenditures for the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA? If so, I’ve got a nice bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.”

But Stoltenberg didn’t backtrack on his puppy-dog approach to the belligerent Trump who the Washington Post reported as “demanding credit from Stoltenberg for forcing an increase of NATO defense budgets.”  The tail-wagging secretary general obviously wanted a head-pat or even a juicy bone and was happy to reiterate that the enforced increase “was also because of your leadership,” which was as ridiculous a statement as can be imagined. Trump’s “leadership” was demonstrated by him cancelling meetings with two presidents, being 30 minutes late for the final meeting, and ending up by “declaring victory and boasting that he threatened allies and it worked.”

As one diplomat told Vanity Fair “this meeting confirmed that Trump barely knows the politics, if even the geography, of Europe. Diplomacy has become a sadly hilarious affair with him.”  Quite so, but it would have helped if those at the conference had been more forthright when he was stupidly critical concerning subjects about which he knows very little. Chancellor Merkel did most to try to put him in his place, after Trump declared that Germany contributed too little to Europe’sdefense, but she didn’t slap him down, confining herself to saying that “Germany does a lot for Nato. . . Germany is the second largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to Nato and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan. In that we also defend the interests of the United States.” But Trump pays no attention to fact, logic or diplomatic decorum.

The President of the United States is probably the loosest political wheel on the planet, and after the meeting that he had done so much to disrupt he held a press conference at which, as the Guardian reported, he claimed proudly that “European leaders had caved in to his demands – something both the French and Germans later denied. He said they had agreed to reach the Nato target of spending 2% of GDP on defense faster than previously planned, and he claimed financial commitments would increase beyond that in the future.”

But Stoltenberg was also living in his own world of make-believe, and had given Trump at least some reason for his ridiculous assertions by holding an emergency session with all NATO leaders and then announcing that “We had a very frank and open discussion . . .  That discussion has made Nato stronger. It has created a new sense of urgency. A clear message from President Trump is having an impact.” And what an impact.  Certainly the Trumpian message made the puppy dog wag its tail again, but it didn’t impress any of the national leaders whose post-debacle comments were sensible but muted.

The rationale for NATO’s existence is the defense of its members.  Article 5 is succinct, in that member nations “agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Is there any chance of an “armed attack” on any member nation?  Even Mr Stoltenberg admits that “we don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally”, so what is all the fuss about?  Certainly he declared in March 2018  that “we see a much more assertive Russia” but was adamant that “NATO does not want a new Cold War. We don’t want a new arms race.”

If this is really what NATO wants, the Trump approach is bizarre, to put it mildly. In any event, the arms race is one-sided because, as recorded in the 2018 World Report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute “In 2017 the USA spent more on its military [$610 billion] than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. . . . at $66.3 billion, Russia’s military spending in 2017 was 20 per cent lower than in 2016.”  Some race.

In April 2018 Trump ordered US government agencies to expand arms sales abroad, and there might be a grain of logic in his insistence that NATO should spend a lot more money, because the Pentagon is said to have calculated that “overseas weapons sales by US firms rose $8.3 billion from 2016 to 2017, with US arms makers moving a total of $41.9 billion in advanced weaponry to foreign militaries last year.” Of equal relevance, State’s assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, Tina Kaidanow, was reported as saying that “longtime American partners in Europe and NATO recognize the strategic value of the connection between US defense firms and foreign militaries.”

There is money in sowing suspicion and supporting armed confrontation, and if you’ve got a supportive puppy, who knows what the profits might be?

 

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

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