President Trump has said NATO is obsolete. Is he right? The Cold War is over, so is it the end of the line for the western defence alliance?
President Trump has said NATO is obsolete. His “America First” inaugural address has sent shudders through the corridors of power in many European countries? So, what is the point of NATO?
Hello, I’m Leon Hawthorne. We’re talking about NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation that’s been the bedrock of western defence for almost 70 years.
The North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949. Article 5 asserts: an attack on one is an attack on all members. This is the principle of collective defence, where each member agrees to to come to aid of each other, if attacked by an external enemy.
The only time Article 5 has been invoked was after 9-11, when NATO members joined the offensive against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
But let’s be clear: the whole purpose of NATO was to prevent the expansionist ambitions of the Soviet Union after World War II. The Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore. The Cold War was won. NATO was a success. Job done. Does it really have a role anymore?
Today, NATO has 28 members who are each meant to spend 2% of their national income, or GDP, on defence.
Take a look at this table from the NATO website showing the defence spending of all members. You see that green line. That’s 2%. Only five countries – the United States, Greece, United Kingdom, Estonia and Poland spend 2% or more. The other 23 members spend less than that. Much less.
Germany, the 4th richest nation on Earth, spends 1.2% of its GDP on defence.
France, the 6th richest nation, spends 1.8%.
Canada, the 10th richest… less than 1%.
These nations like to boast how much better their healthcare and welfare systems are, compared to Britain and America. Well, no wonder. We’re paying for their defence, so they can spend their money on welfare programs. They are getting a free ride and it’s not on.
No wonder President Trump used his inaugural address to warn: he would pay for the defences of other countries with money he should be spending at home.
There’s nothing extreme about that. Even NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, a former Prime Minister of Norway, has urged members to spend 2% on defence.
What’s new is for the first time, European governments have to take this message seriously. They believe President Trump means what he says about NATO, so with that threat hanging over their heads, it’s likely they will agree to spend more.
Aside from money, there’s another element to Trump’s thinking. Ever since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Soviet bloc disintegrated, NATO has been searching for a new role.
You don’t use standing armies and aircraft carriers to fight a cyber attack or a terrorist running amok with a machete. NATO is not fit for the purpose of fighting asymmetric or hybrid warfare, that is a war against an enemy that does not fight like a conventional state, refusing to wear a uniform and wait to be machine gunned.
Yes, there are potential threats posed by Russia, Iran, North Korea… maybe China. But are these likely to be conventional wars or ones waged in cyberspace, or using surrogates, terrorist organisations, spies and covert operations, for which NATO is ill equipped.
Let’s take a look at Russia. President Putin has used military power at home and abroad. Of greatest concern to NATO is his 2014 invasion of Crimea and previously Georgia… and his continuing manoeuvrings around the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Look. Putin is no angel and these border countries have legitimate fears. But these are regional issues. They do not threaten Britain or America’s vital interests and should not risk creating a nuclear conflagration.
But the cause of the problem with Russia is NATO… searching for a new role, made a decision to expand into eastern Europe. That was a catastrophic strategic mistake. It has humiliated and threatened a weakened Russia, who like a wounded animal is lashing out.
Instead, we should be bringing Russia into our embrace. Russia will never be a democratic paradise, but that doesn’t mean we cannot have better political, economic and military relations with it. I believe that is the best way to reduce the threat to its neighbours.
So, we should drop the economic sanctions against Russia, imposed after its invasion of Crimea. Crimea is not worth the life of one British or American soldier. The reality is two-thirds of its population is ethnic Russian; and they want to be part of Russia. If we in the West believe in self determination, we should be content with the wishes of the Crimean people, irrespective of Russia’s actions.
Sure, the stage-managed referendum in Crimea in 2014, where 96% voted to join the Russian Federation, was far from free and fair. But does anyone seriously believe the outcome would be any different if the referendum were supervised by a truly neutral party?
So, Crimea is gone. Get over it. It would not have happened if NATO and western intelligence weren’t stirring the pot in Ukraine and eastern Europe.
It’s time to move on and shape a new relationship with Russia. That might mean the abolition of NATO. It’s served its purpose.
In any case, the European Union has been mumbling about forming an EU army for some time. Well, get on with it. If I were Chancellor Merkel or President Hollande, I would be drawing up plans right now. What is certain is, one way or another, Europe will have to spend more money on defence and stop taking a free ride from the US and UK.
I’m Leon Hawthorne. Thanks for watching.