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March 1, 2022

Are NATO Nations Finally Taking NATO Seriously?

Even Germany has awoken to the Russian threat and may take steps to counter it.

For decades, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) stood as an alliance of Western European free nations with the United States. The purpose of NATO was to win the Cold War against the Soviet Union and protect the security of member states. Now that Vladimir Putin has launched an invasion to realize his goal of restoring the “glory” of the USSR, how does the NATO alliance stand?

Better than it did in 2017 but still with a lot of ground to make up.

When Donald Trump became president, he upset the apple cart by issuing pointed criticism of the old alliance. As our Arnold Ahlert said in 2018, “The chattering classes have convicted Trump of disrespecting our friends and allies. Unfortunately for the critics, [reality] reveals how much those friends and allies disrespect themselves — while expecting America to pick up the slack.”

All Trump did was say that the emperor had no clothes and demand that he put some on.

“What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?” he had the temerity to ask. At another time, he said, “Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia.”

Trump pointed out that “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense.” That would be the NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on military defense. Meanwhile, the U.S. was funding nearly a quarter of NATO’s overall budget. He demanded a better deal. By the end of his term, a few European elites had gotten up from their fainting couches and nine NATO nations were meeting that commitment.

So, back to today’s reality, which has reinforced Trump’s message — thanks in no small part to Joe Biden’s weakness.

Perhaps vaguely aware of this, Biden said something right and important last week: “The United States will defend every inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power. There is no doubt — no doubt — that the United States and every NATO ally will meet our Article V commitments, which says that an attack on one is an attack on all.”

That’s important because one legitimate fear is that once Putin swallows Ukraine, he’ll come after NATO. Despite Trump’s success in awakening a few slumbering nations, it wasn’t enough to deter Putin’s aggression so far and that means NATO may be challenged soon.

That possibility has at least gone further to convince some of NATO’s more lazy members, Germany chief among them.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced major changes to Germany’s policy over the weekend, including a vow to increase defense spending to meet that 2% NATO commitment and to, for the first time since World War II, supply lethal weaponry to another nation, namely Ukraine. Additionally, he promised to revamp Germany’s energy sector to accommodate other sources and decrease dependence on Russia. Energy, he noted, isn’t just a matter of climate or economy but of national security.

“And,” says the Wall Street Journal editorial board, “in one of the most politically important turns in his speech, Mr. Scholz explained that defense, energy security and the rest are what Germany must do for its own benefit, not merely in response to pressure from allies.”

If it weren’t so serious, it would be mildly amusing that a Biden-caused disaster became a reality check as well as cover to make a change Trump demanded, even though it’s happening well after Trump left office so the Europeans can avoid giving Trump credit.

Regardless, if Scholz follows through, it’s hard to underestimate how important it is to have German leadership stand firm against Russian aggression. The next step will be mobilizing and deploying NATO forces to deter any further aggression from Russia. Do NATO nations have the guts to defy Putin’s threats about just such deployments? If they need inspiration, look to the Ukrainians.

Addendum on the subject of alliances: The European Union has accepted Ukraine’s application to join…

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