By Sanghamitra Sarma
Donald Trump’s views on geopolitical and economic issues, had for most of the times, stirred the hornet’s nest. Whether it was the Trans Pacific Partnership, Brexit, issue of refugees or the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Trump created anxiety within the US, the European Union (EU) and beyond. His remarks on NATO’s future have invited reactions, notably from European leaders, which portray a sense of insecurity with regard to their long-standing relationship with the US. The bigger question however is, will NATO really cease to exist, and will Trump create new partnerships at the cost of old alliances?
NATO as a functioning entity
A quick scan of NATO’s current military and financial strength reveals that NATO has the capability to call nearly 3.5 million personnel into services and expenditures totalling over $900 million (USD), according to Global Firepower in 2016, which provides data regarding modern military powers. As of now, though NATO only provides training and support in Afghanistan, which was its primary occupational zone, NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) continue to maintain a strong presence in the region for the purpose of establishing peace and security in the region.
Its role in securing the maritime environment in the Mediterranean Sea as well as its peacekeeping missions in Africa indicates its active commitment towards its fundamental goal of safeguarding the freedom and security of its member countries as well as developing long-term peace-keeping abilities in Africa. The recent deployment of 4000 NATO troops in Poland as a part of its move to counter what it perceives as Russian aggression has been called as the largest deployment of US forces in Europe since the end of the Cold War. With the stationing of as many as 600 German soldiers near Kaliningrad by the end of February 2017, it remains to be seen what countermeasures the Russian President Vladimir Putin adopts in response to NATO’s military expansion. The complex interplay of forces between NATO and Russia is likely to continue to define the contours of international geopolitics in the upcoming months.
Why is the NATO obsolete for Trump?
At this juncture, it will be pertinent to examine the ‘strategic rationale’ behind Donald Trump’s aversion towards the NATO. That the US President is of the view that European members are not contributing enough to NATO and that it is not doing much to check terrorism within the region is quite well known. However, a strong statement made on a functioning military entity would not be made without considering strategic and tactical calculations as well.
Soon after his victory in the Presidential elections, Trump had signalled towards the development of warmer ties with Russia. His decision of choosing ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as the Secretary of State in his cabinet fuelled speculations of Trump adopting a placatory stance towards Russia. Trump confirmed this stance by tweeting several times in the recent past, indicating that he was in favour of constructing a ‘good relationship’ with Russia based on mutual respect. The fact that developing good relations with Russia would oblige some kind of permutation and combination in the form of relegating NATO to the backyard of international politics could also be seen as a probable reason for Trump’s expression of antipathy towards the NATO. A fractured Europe serves Russia’s interests anyway.
European reactions and implications on relations with the US
Meanwhile, Trump’s recent remarks on NATO have created concerns within European circles, with leaders like Angela Merkel of Germany emphasizing that Europe now had to take responsibility for itself. Her French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault called for greater European unity. It was not only on the question of NATO that the usual US-European diplomacy showed signs of possible breakdown. Trump’s prediction about the collapse of the European Union project and his throwing the challenge of starting a trade war with Germany over BMW’s plans to build a manufacturing plant in Mexico have created apparent tensions in the atmosphere of US-European relations.
The chances of friction between a US-led NATO and a proposed European Defence Action Plan to support Member States’ more efficient spending in joint defence capabilities cannot be ruled out, keeping in mind that during the late 1990s, there were strains between the US and the EU, which had begun to nurture defence ambitions of its own. Given the fact that the lack of cooperation between member states of the EU in the field of defence and security is estimated to cost between 25 billion Euros and 100 billion Euros per year, there seems to be a valid reason for implementation of the plan. Considering the nature and extent of security threats, working in cooperation can appear to be more feasible than working strictly within boundaries.
The need for the NATO to persist in today’s world
This is obviously not the first time that the death knell of the NATO has been sounded. From time to time, NATO has continued to silence its critics by overhauling and preparing itself for new missions.
In a world where fear and insecurity are permanent features of international relations, NATO offers geopolitical insurance for its allies.
The radical shift in American foreign policy could rupture the Euro-American breach which can be disastrous for world politics, especially liberal democracies. Whether Europe and the US choose the path of integration or fragmentation cannot be predicted, but what is significant here is to emphasize that the benefits of staying together are much more in number than the few reasons which probably justify the existence of region-specific military entities. It also needs to be mentioned here that nationalism and populism must not give way to the decline of the concept of cooperative security, which can lead to growing uncertainties in an already very uncertain world. The common challenges which undermine the strength of democracy call for increased cooperation and unification of policies to achieve maximum results and optimum levels of security.