In comments last week to parliamentarians, officers and foreign guests at the Summer defense university, French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly openly questioned the United States’ commitment to NATO, as well as the overall mutual defense of the European continent.
“The United States is our ally and our friend, and it will remain so,” she said, according to Defense News. “Our cooperation in defense and security is intense and highly valued.”
That was a message she planned to pass along to Defense Secretary James Mattis when she traveled to Washington for, among other things, an address to the Atlantic Council, but her trip was canceled due to Hurricane Florence.
Parly then said this: “Can we always count, in every place and in every circumstance, on American support?” she said. “Listen to the statements of the U.S. president, read his tweets: The message sent is clear and without ambiguity. We have to count on ourselves … build a European strategic autonomy.”
The defense minister was addressing tweeted comments President Trump has made in the past regarding NATO countries’ lack of military spending and investment while touting the amount of money U.S. taxpayers contribute to the defense of NATO and the European continent.
“What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025,” he tweeted in July.
What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
Analysis: Parly’s comment wasn’t entirely based on the president’s criticism of NATO. She is also keenly aware that the European continent’s defense industry is also not up to par, though individual member countries like Britain and Germany do produce weapon systems for export. And she’s right. But the notion that the Trump administration isn’t committed to NATO or European defense is nonsensical.
The U.S. has been shifting military assets and resources to Europe since before Trump took office. After he became commander-in-chief, his administration has worked to deepen the U.S. military commitment to the continent, not decrease it. Via his national security and intelligence briefs, Trump is keenly aware of European capabilities or, in many cases, the lack of it.
Meanwhile, he sees the NATO countries’ lack of military spending — 2 percent of GDP — while questioning America’s commitment to the alliance (our military spending is about 3.6 percent of our GDP) and to Europe’s defense as hypocritical.
“Despite the president’s comments on NATO and Article 5, his administration has committed significant resources in Europe,” Robbin Laird, an analyst with the U.S.- and France-based consultancy ICSA, said.
He noted that Mattis recently was “very visible in Finland,” where he attended a trilateral meeting with Finnish and Swedish officials. He also mentioned the upcoming NATO Trident Juncture exercises in Norway in October and November.
“It is clear Trump would welcome a more European capability; a real defense capability is what he is looking for, not just words,” he added.
Here’s another thought that should concern Americans more: What would happen if the United States were attacked? Few analysts think that’s a realistic possibility, but nations have attacked the U.S. in the past. Were that to happen again, how ready and willing would European NATO countries be to come to our assistance?
The U.S. actually invoked the mutual defense provision (Article 5) of the NATO treaty after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and the countries responded. But terrorist attacks followed by low-intensity conflict is far different than great power war.
For years, the Europeans reaped a true peace dividend following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia is not nearly as powerful as the USSR once was, but it’s potent enough to press regional claims and pursue its national interests. The only thing aggressors understand — and the only thing that prevents aggression — is a true deterrence.
NATO, in many respects, lacks true deterrence. Trump isn’t foreshadowing a desire to leave NATO as much as he’s trying to encourage the alliance to step up in the face of Russian revisionism and at least commit the resources necessary to protect European interests on the same level of commitment the U.S. is making.