NATO's gloomy anniversary

NATO's gloomy anniversary
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NATO’s 70th anniversary celebration in London will probably be a gloomy, contentious affair. Though the final communique will likely reiterate the usual platitudes concerning unity of purpose and strengthening of the alliance’s military footprint in Europe, it will not disguise the increasingly visible fissures in the NATO structure. Those cracks in the edifice are apparent to all the member governments despite their genuine need for NATO and despite that the alliance has just agreed to reduce certain aspects of U.S. payments to NATO and raise other members’ contributions.

Although President Trump’s policies and statements about NATO are hardly the only source of many problems that are rooted in longer-term socio-economic and political trends, his strategic incompetence in European policy remains the major source of these fractures among the allies. 

Trump has pursued simultaneously two incompatible policies in Ukraine that have now blown up in his face. Consequently, Washington now lacks both a Ukraine policy and personnel with which to conduct any policy. Thus, as Kyiv approaches a month of summits with Russia, France and Germany, it is effectively alone because France and Germany each want to make a deal with Russia. Germany’s deal is over energy to allow the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that it bullied Europe and the EU into accepting. That pipeline threatens to isolate Ukraine from European gas, leave it face to face with Russia and cost it $3 billion annually. 

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France’s flirtation with Russia goes even deeper and is therefore more worrisome. French President Emmanuel MacronEmmanuel Jean-Michel MacronHillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Apple reportedly dropped plans to let iPhone users encrypt backups | Justices decline facial recognition case | Critics fear Facebook losing misinformation fight | Truce on French tech tax On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Trump at Davos warns Europe on trade | President boasts about US economy to global elite | Experts say Trump trade victories may yield little growth Trump at Davos sends warning shot to Europe on trade MORE, clearly angered by Trump’s complaints about NATO and threats to pull out, has decided to preempt that possibility essentially by forging a new geopolitical deal with Russia. Macron invokes an autonomous Europe (presumably under French leadership) making a deal with Russia, which, in any case, is allegedly not the main threat to European security. 

The sub-text of this deal will be forcing Ukraine to accept Russia’s forcible seizure of its territory in return for which the new Europe will magically prevent Russia and China from forging an alliance and also, tacitly restrain German ambitions. This kind of geopolitical nonsense may enjoy support among French intellectuals who think the EU should remain neutral between the U.S. and China and presumably welcome back an unrepentant Russia into the fold. But it represents the abnegation if not nadir of the great tradition of French statesmanship dating back to Richelieu, and offers nothing to Europe.

Indeed, Macron has vetoed EU’s expansion into the Western Balkans allegedly because those states are not yet ready for a membership offer. In other words, he is opposed to the expansion of either the EU or of NATO, both of which are the sole guarantors of European security. Macron also overlooks that not one state in Europe trusts another to assume a leadership role even regionally. So nobody will trust France’s or Germany's leadership ambitions.

Therefore, NATO and the EU, as well as the so-called American Pacifier that integrates Europe under a democratic ethos, are the only games in town that will assure European security into the future.

Unfortunately, President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE also fails or refuses to understand the reciprocally essential role that Washington and Europe play in reinforcing each other’s security. Only a democratically integrated Europe can keep the peace and thus secure, with U.S. military leadership, both continental peace and American interests. The lessons of two World Wars and the Cold War are clear: Any continental state’s effort to dominate Europe as PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules Don't assume Iran will be behind the next big cyber attack Vladimir Putin will not be president for life but he is sure to have power MORE and Macron are each trying to achieve, and that Germany could attempt if it so wanted, invariably leads to war and strife on the European continent.

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Macron’s anguish at Trump’s uninformed rantings about Europe illustrate despair, not an alternative optimistic vision around which Europe can rally. Moreover, it is founded on unreality. Putin’s Russia is waging a multi-dimensional war against every European government from Portugal to Turkey, even if Ukraine is the only place where it has recently resorted to arms. 

Moscow hardly disguises its military threats and belief that it can operate as an unfettered crime syndicate throughout the continent. Under these circumstances, to say that terrorism is the main threat to Europe is an act of fundamental strategic incomprehension. Moreover, Moscow, as Putin has already said, has made its alliance with China, whom it needs very much. Since no deal Macron or German Chancellor Merkel can offer it would be acceptable to Europe or the U.S., China is the only power that will support Russia’s unending quest for recognition as a great, global and imperial power.

The only answer to all of this is for NATO and the EU to recover their nerve and sense of leadership. But since it is unlikely that the senior leaders meeting in Europe will display mature and competent statesmanship, it is likely that this anniversary will be a gloomy one indeed. 

Stephen Blank, Ph.D., is a former professor of Russian National Security Studies and National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College. He is also a former MacArthur fellow at the U.S. Army War College. Blank is an independent consultant focused on the geopolitics and geostrategy of the former Soviet Union, Russia and Eurasia.