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NATO...Are Its Final Days Just Ahead
Europe Must Plan to Defend Itself [looking
by Christiane Hoffmann
Europe has long relied on America for its defense. But that era is
rapidly coming to an end. It is time for a stronger European defense
alliance that is less dependent on the U.S. and more capable of
asserting its own interests with Russia and Turkey.
It is, perhaps, the least expected opening to a German editorial at the
moment: Donald Trump is right. But it's true. At the 2014 NATO summit in
Wales, Germany announced that it would soon dramatically increase its
defense spending. When Trump and his Defense Secretary James Mattis now
admonish Germany to fulfill its pledge, they are right on two counts.
First, on principle: Promises should be kept. Second, on merit: There is
no reason that, more than 70 years after World War II, the United States
should continue carrying the main burden for ensuring European security.
Unfortunately, this isn't just a question of money. America's justified
demand comes right in the middle of an internal crisis in the West so
deep that nobody knows how much of the West will be left in the end.
NATO always aspired to be something more than a defense alliance. It
viewed itself as the protective power of liberal democracy, the West and
Western principles. It was a moral framework, the foundations for their
existence. But are we certain that the West is still a community of
shared values? If it's not, then what is NATO defending? Countries like
Hungary and Poland, where right-wing populists are eroding the
separation of powers, minority protections and freedom of the press? A
Turkey that President Erdogan is currently in the process of
transforming into a dictatorship? And are we really ready to stand at
America's side if Trump goes to war against Iran, North Korea or some
NATO is not obsolete, but it's importance is dwindling. It has become
hollow. One could view that as a delayed symptom of its own success. It
helped bring democracy to Europe, it contained and integrated Germany
and it drove the Soviet Union to collapse. Ultimately, it was inevitable
it would eventually fall into crisis. A defense alliance whose opponents
disappear will face an existential crisis sooner or later.
The alliance followed up its greatest success with a profound failure.
NATO was unsuccessful in turning Russia into a partner. The fears
harbored by the Baltic and Central European states are thus
understandable. As are Russian suspicions of the alliance. Either way,
an alliance whose sole justification is its opposition to Russia is out
of date. America has long since viewed its most vital security interests
to be in the Pacific region and the Middle East. And for Europe, North
Africa and the Middle East are at least as important as Russia.
Europe Needs Stronger Defense
The era in European history when the Continent could delegate its
security to a partner across the Atlantic has passed, irrevocably. That
will remain true even after Trump is no longer in the White House.
Trump, after all, is a symptom of the crisis in the West, not its cause.
America remains a possible partner for Europe, but it is no longer a
reliable one. Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security
Conference, rightly warned Europeans not to write America off as a
partner. That would be premature. But it would also be reckless and
naïve if Europe were not to prepare for the fact that it can no longer
unconditionally rely on the United States.
In the medium-term, Europe must be capable of sufficiently defending
itself and providing for its own security. What is most needed in order
to make that happen is unity. If Germany and other Europeans now spend
more on defense, they will also have to increase their military
cooperation as well as massively expand the EU's Common Security and
Defense Policy. Europe's alliance should not replace NATO, but it must
enable Europeans to stand by each other if the Americans will no longer
America's withdrawal actually represents an opportunity for Europe. The
idea of Europe being a junior partner could finally be consigned to the
dustbin of history and lead Europe to begin defining its own interests.
That includes a reasonable relationship with Russia that isn't based
exclusively on deterrence. That also includes making clear to Turkey
that there are limits to solidarity if Ankara plays with fire in Syria
or if the conflict with the Kurds further escalates. That could also
include making some trade-policy concessions during the Brexit
negotiations in exchange for British participation in a joint European
defense partnership. Ultimately, a Europe that is serious about its own
security will also have to consider nuclear deterrence. This doesn't
mean that Germany needs to build a bomb, as some have pondered. But it
would require a level of trust in the nuclear power of France that
Germany has so far only reserved for the United States.