President Trump has been right all along to harshly castigate our NATO allies for falling short of their duty and responsibility for their own defense contingencies and all associated expenses, but his suggestion that he could pull out of NATO unilaterally, a fact, is dangerous to the free world and serves to undermine NATO and play into Putin’s hands. Putin would love nothing better than to succeed in weakening the NATO alliance, and President Trump must always remain cognizant of the fact that, as long as Putin is in charge of the Kremlin, Russia will be a threat to the U.S. and its allies, a fact Trump seems to acknowledge on some levels and deny on others, in a curious schizophrenic sort of foreign policy.
As Europe has grown stronger, since WWII, it has never been a good financial partner to the United States, in the support of NATO, which was created 69 years ago for the defense of Europe. Our NATO allies have consistently handed of the major burden to America, while the European Union runs trade surpluses at our expense, in excess of $100 billion a year.
Germany pays only 1.2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on defense, while America spends 3.57 percent. And incredibly, the European Union collectively have a GDP that is tenfold larger than Russia’s. So why do we continue to pay the lion’s share of the free riders’ defense?
Before leaving, President Trump demanded all NATO members pay 4 percent, in order to meet present threats from Russia. One should note, its 1946 charter states that NATO decisions be consensus based. That means one member-state can block NATO’s entire agenda.
On the first day of the NATO summit, President Trump was most correct along a certain vein of thought, sitting down to breakfast with NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, when he was particularly harsh with Germany, as he remarked: “I have to say … it’s very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we’re supposed to be guarding against Russia. We’re supposed to protect you against Russia but they’re paying billions of dollars to Russia, and I think that’s very inappropriate … Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia.”
[President Trump and Jens Stoltenberg, left, at a bilateral breakfast meeting in Brussels KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS]
However, neither the U.S. or its NATO allies can lose sight of the fact the Putin is in fact an evil, murderous tyrant seeking the restoration of the Old Czarist Empire, more so than the communist era, and a regional hegemony and a set of buffer states in eastern Europe and central Asia that can add to Russia’s strategic depth. Putin is responsible for 298 murdered people aboard flight MH17 that Russia shot down over Ukraine in July of 2014. Let’s also not forget that Putin has invaded Georgia, annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine, where a hot war is ongoing, not to mention Russia’s violations of the Open Skies and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaties.
Additionally, Russia has violated several international agreements affecting European security, including the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for its nuclear weapons; the 2008 Medvedev-Sarkozy ceasefire agreement, removing Russian troops from Georgia; and the September 2014 and February 2015 Minsk agreements, whose ceasefire provisions are regularly violated, as demonstrated by 80 Ukrainians killed and over 500 wounded in 2017 alone, and with 10,000 killed thus far in this conflict.
By and large, given that North Korea and Kim Jong Un benefited more from the one-on-one with President Trump and is currently intransigent and reneging on the so-called “agreement”, one should not look for anything to be different with Putin who holds many more cards than little Kim did. And yet, Trump has shown a willingness to abandon Georgia, Ukraine, and Crimea and granting concessions to Putin, in order to develop a better relationship with Russia. President Trump even went so far as to suggest at the recent G-7 meeting, that Putin and Russia should be allowed to return to the “G-8”, somehow oblivious to the fact that this would reward Putin’s bad behavior and ensure no future forthcoming change.
In asinine fashion, President Trump shocked the world and the G-7 officials in June, arguing that the Crimean peninsula should belong to Russia, because “people there speak Russian”. The assertion contradicted international law and longstanding U.S. and transatlantic policy of not recognizing the seizure of sovereign territory by force. Using Trump’s logic, Brighton Beach should belong to Russia too.
“Kiev’s main concern is that President Trump will unilaterally recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea”, effectively selling Crimea out to the Kremlin, said Daragh McDowell, senior Russia analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. Legally questionable, this would certainly demoralize U.S. allies and trigger greater domestic instability in Ukraine.
It’s no wonder that NATO members Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden, the Nordic Defense Cooperation nations, hardened their commitment to combat what they see as an escalation of naked Russian aggression. In 2015,Russia feigned an air assault against the Danish island of Bornholm, which served as a major intelligence outpost during the Cold War; and, according to Commodore Hans Helseth, a senior Norwegian defense official, these nations association with NATO has lowered the threshold of an armed Russian aggression against these nations.
In the meantime, Air Force General John Hyten, America’s top nuclear commander, warned the Senate Armed Services Committee in March, that Russia was sprinting to deploy a hypersonic nuclear weapon, a new breed of high-speed threats that the U.S is currently incapable of countering or defending against.
Although President Trump’s administration is keeping intense economic sanctions on Russia, and it has armed Ukrainian troops and expelled a number of Russian diplomats, Trump’s words vitiate these measures, when he says he “respects” Putin and places the violence of our country in the defense of other nation’s freedom, and for the greater moral good, on the same moral plane as Russian malevolent and naked aggression. In 2017, when asked by Fox News about Putin’s role in the murders and disappearances of so many journalists and opposition members, President Trump responded, “You think our country’s so innocent?”
Regardless of President Trump’s ahistorical perspective of NATO, less than half of NATO’s members are exerting much effort to dispel the notion that they are “free riders” who won’t properly defend and protect their own citizens. As Trump speaks about the NATO alliance, as though it’s a big confidence scam, and he accurately illuminates their financial malfeasance and negligence, if ever there was a time for NATO members to increase their defense spending, this is it.
Some have suggested the combination of a high-stakes NATO summit and a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin, in Helsinki, could bring about the most dramatic geopolitical shift since the end of the Cold War, and it just might, to our detriment, if Trump fails to recognize Putin as a foe. Most of NATO’s European members, such as Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, see Russia as one of the world’s most pressing security threats, and they are concerned that Trump might make undue concessions to Russia, like he recently did with North Korea. Whether it’s Helsinki or elsewhere, President Trump must show real determination and strength in the face of America’s most dangerous adversary.
by Justin O Smith