European Defense and NATO
For a conservative like me who wears my Adam Smith tie as a beacon for free markets and free trade, the American election campaign proved a trying time. Candidates from both sides used a lot of protectionist left-leaning rhetoric. Yet economics isn’t everything. Security and international defense policy are also critical matters, and on that side, Trump is delivering on his promises.
For those of us who like me wanted a Republican back to the White House, we looked forward to America returning to a position of strength. The new White House needs to show American leadership in its international security commitments. However, here too, the campaign offered some chilling remarks regarding the backbone in transatlantic security — NATO.
Recently, however, these concerns proved overstated. Trump’s view was clarified. The defense ministers from NATO Member States gathered for their annual meeting at the NATO headquarters. This was the first meeting after the US presidential election and therefore took on a different tone. For its part, the US was represented by the new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis.
The American message at the meeting was clear and challenging — the USA stands by its commitments to NATO as a guarantor of European security, yet also has changed its posture and more directly expects the European member states to show the same willingness to contribute to their own common security.
In early February, within the framework of my mission of the Parliamentary delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, I visited the NATO headquarters in Brussels. The meetings there were characterized largely within the context of the forthcoming visit by the new US Secretary of Defense. It was clear that the other representatives of the European Member States were already very familiar with the new US administration and its new demand for more financing of the common goal of security by the Europe itself.
The Member States agreed during the summit in Wales in 2014 that within a decade they would achieve the treaty’s required goal of annually expending two percent of each country’s gross domestic product on defense, of which 20 per cent for investments primarily in materiel and equipment. While such a percentage target can be seen as a clear gauge of the willingness of Member States to participate in the goal of ensuring Europe’s security, I believe that it is also important for Europe also work to streamline the creation of real defense capability, as opposed to expending funds in related areas, such as veterans’ benefits or health capacity, instead of making expenditures in ways that clearly enhance security.
Both after meeting with German representatives at NATO in Brussels and after previous meetings with German politicians in Berlin, my view is that Germany is ready to assume a major role in European security and in the safeguarding of transatlantic security cooperation. This is particularly impressive when Germany could be financially faint and unwilling after having faced the budgetary challenges associated with the integration of East Germany and the costs that resulted from bearing the main burden of saving the Euro project.
Germany has a gross domestic product of over $3.7 Trillion USD. This means that the Germans must, at an annual defense spending at two percent, put forth a defense budget at the same scale as with the UK and France. The Germans are clearly aware of the substance of such a high level of commitment. This means that Germany’s transatlantic affiliation with NATO will increase in relevance to the rest of Europe, giving Germany a greater say over defense and security matters. This can also have a positive spillover effect into other transatlantic policy areas.
Sweden though not a member of NATO should read the message that we should chart a course that ensures participation in Europe’s security and positions the country as a component partner in the wider transatlantic security guarantees that NATO entails. In addition, Sweden should take on a role of calling for greater efficiency in defense spending throughout the EU and among Member States.
This timely American outreach from Vice President Pence, Secretary of Defense Mattis, and Secretary of State Tillerson shows that the new administration is following a traditional Republican track. This entails ensuring global security from a position of strength, while at the same time urging its allies to join in the effort. This message has been heard loud and clear.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s message that the Western World is outdated has been proved wrong. Today, NATO has a message of its own to send in the face of Russian adventurism – “We’re back.”