Foreign Policy

NATO's Holiday From History Is Over

Friends and allies disrespect themselves while expecting America to pick up the slack.

Arnold Ahlert · Jul. 19, 2018

For those who know the prevalent mindset in Pennsylvania Dutch enclaves, “that’s the way we always done it now” has a familiar ring. And while long-held traditions among insular communities might engender a status quo-obsessed worldview, most Americans might expect otherwise from those who inhabit the upper echelons of government and the media. Nonetheless, judging by the tiresome tut-tutting and handwringing with regard to President Donald Trump’s performance at the NATO summit, those expectations are wholly unwarranted. The chattering classes have convicted Trump of disrespecting our friends and allies. Unfortunately for the critics, a damning article reveals how much those friends and allies disrespect themselves — while expecting America to pick up the slack.

“A recent opinion poll found that small minorities in the core European members of NATO were willing to fight for their country under any circumstances,” reports Asia Times columnist Spengler. “At the bottom of the rankings were the Netherlands and Germany, at 16% and 18% respectively; at the top was Poland, with 48%.”

In other words, even an existential threat to one’s own country is viewed as a bridge too far. Perhaps this stunning level of cultural indifference should be expected from a continent where nationalism and democracy have been subsumed by technocratic governance emanating from Brussels. Yet it has bred an unseemly arrogance laid bare when Trump asked a most uncomfortable question: “What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?” he wondered.

What good indeed? Ever since the end of WWII, when the need to confront the Soviet menace was plain, the presumptions surrounding NATO’s reasons for being have hinged on the idea that the United States would do the heavy lifting — as in most of the fighting and dying — wherever and whenever defending Western interests became necessary. Columnist Christopher Roach illuminates the consequences of that stultification. “Trump is asking the right questions and making the right criticisms,” he writes. “As a successful businessman, and not a credential amateur, he rightly asks, ‘What’s in it for us?’ The answer is not satisfactory. U.S. investment in NATO has provided diminishing returns to the United States after the end of the Cold War, and increasingly functions as an economic subsidy to Western European nations unserious about their own defense.”

How unserious? As of now only five of the 29 alliance members are expected to reach their military spending goal of 2% of GDP by the end of 2018. In sharp contrast, the U.S. accounts for 74% of the military spending among those 29 members and 22% of NATO’s overall budget. Trump wants NATO nations to increase their budgets to 4% of GDP, but one suspects such lofty expectations are an “art of the deal” subterfuge aimed at getting them to the 2% threshold that many of them have pledged to reach — by 2024.

In the meantime, an “offended” Germany imports more than 80% of its natural gas supply — approximately 50% of which is supplied by Russia. Moreover, in 2017 Gazprom, Russia’s giant state-owned natural gas company, provided Europe with approximately 40% of its gas, a level that represents an all-time high in gas purchases — and dependency on Vladimir Putin.

Were that the sole example of EU schizophrenia, as in consorting with adversaries NATO was created to defend against, Trump’s assertion that Germany is “a captive of Russia” might have been considered over the top. Yet as columnist Daniel Horowitz reveals, that is hardly the case. The EU has also countenanced massive amounts of immigration by middle Eastern immigrants, undermining its member nations’ sovereignty and safety, turned a blind eye to the Islamist ambitions of NATO “fifth columnist” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and expressed support for Hezbollah and Hamas, while regularly criticizing Israel.

It gets worse. On Monday, the EU provided European firms with legal cover to operate in Iran, courtesy of a “blocking statute” that prohibits EU companies from complying with U.S. sanction demands, allows them to recover damages from that lack of compliance, and nullifies any foreign court rulings against them. Three EU nations — France, Britain, and Germany — have also indicated they will be activating accounts for the Iranian central bank with their national central banks to counteract the Trump administration’s efforts to keep up economic pressure on the world’s foremost state sponsor of Islamist terror.

“At what point does an ally cease being an ally?” Horowitz asks. “At what point does the hypocrisy, self-destruction, and sabotage of U.S. interests at the hands of the Western European powers cross a red line in our relationship, especially when we are shouldering most of the burden for NATO?”

When there isn’t even one EU nation among the core members of NATO with a majority of citizens who would fight for their country under any circumstances, perhaps we have reached the ultimate inflection point.

During his speech in Warsaw last July, Trump stated that “our defense is not just a commitment of money; it is a commitment of will.” Further on, he got to the heart of the matter. “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”

Spengler believes the EU’s anemic birthrates provide the most compelling — and disturbing — answer. “It should be no surprise that there is a reasonably close correspondence between the willingness of the Europeans to fight for their nations and their willingness to have children,” he writes. “If you care so little for your country that you will not defend it, you are likely to be too absorbed in hedonistic distraction to bother with children.”

It is no secret the American Left would like our nation to emulate the EU, all its attendant socialist utopian ambitions included.

Yet those ambitions are illusory. On both sides of the Atlantic, Western society is plodding through the historical cycle illuminated by Scottish historian Alexander Tytler. He asserted that every democracy begins as a release from bondage, leading to spiritual faith, courage, liberty, and abundance — followed by selfishness, complacency, apathy and dependence — leading right back to bondage.

The same thing could be said about an alliance created to protect freedom. One that has gotten flaccid living largely off the largesse of American generosity. “With their dreams of a global society and neglect of hard power, internationalists saw no pressing need to revitalize NATO,” columnist Richard Jordan explains. “They enjoyed their holiday from history. By contrast, the Trump administration has chosen to act before reality has a chance to bite.”

With $21 trillion of national debt, America can no longer afford to indulge holidays from history, courtesy of a continent with a diminishing appetite for defending itself. In short, “that’s the way we always done it now” no longer suffices.

It’s about time.

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