The U.S. and its European allies gathered together again this week at NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss the mutual security commitment that has helped keep Europe at peace for almost 75 years.
In the past these meetings have been little more than a formality, with the U.S. pleading with other NATO member nations to provide more for their own defense rather than primarily relying on America’s outsized financial contribution to this alliance. But that was before President Trump arrived on the scene to give NATO a reality check. And good for him for doing so.
A little history helps here. NATO was born out of the ashes of WWII as a bulwark against the looming threat from Russia’s “Soviet Union.” After the war the Russians had gobbled up a huge swath of Eastern Europe — including half of Germany — and pointed the formidable Soviet war machine at the heart of the continent. The U.S. and the surviving nations of Europe formed NATO to defend against this threat.
Over the decades that followed, the U.S. commitment to NATO remained steady and substantial. The U.S. defense budget climbed upward, and American troops were permanently stationed in Europe. In addition, the U.S. “nuclear umbrella” provided another layer of deterrence against further Russian aggression. Eventually, this unwavering steadfastness yielded results: the old Soviet Union began to crumble under the weight of its failed economic system and its militaristic overreach, culminating in the fall of the Berlin wall and the freedom of Europe’s “captive nations.”
But what did Europe do with this freedom and security? It began to shirk its responsibility for common defense and markedly reduced defense spending in favor of economic development and spending on generous social programs. The U.S. was left to pick up the slack, despite the pleas of one U.S. President after another for more help from Europe in defending itself.
How bad did it get? Take Germany as an example. By allowing its military capability to steadily decline, Germany today is essentially defenseless. Germany’s own military commissioner recently reported that practically none of its submarines or transport planes were ready to sail or fly. Worse yet, only 66 of 93 German fighter planes were operational, and just 29 were combat-ready. The commissioner also found German troop levels have been allowed to fall to dangerous levels, and its officer corps is badly depleted.
In the meantime German leaders have given contradictory and confusing signals to their potential Russian adversary. Largely because of an ill-advised decision to decommission all of its nuclear generating capacity, Germany faces a critical energy shortage. In a desperate move to fill this gap German leaders cut a deal with Russia to build a huge gas pipeline through Europe. So Russia — the country Europe supposedly most fears and which could quickly strike at NATO countries with massive force — will be a major supplier of the energy that will help power the German economy.
How will this affect Europe’s defense posture? Well, let’s not forget the long gas lines and energy insecurity America’s over-reliance on Middle East oil gave us. Or the money it poured into countries that hate the U.S. and Israel, fomenting a radical Islamic age of terror the world has lived under for a generation. One can imagine that much as Russia cut off natural gas it supplied to Ukraine at the height of winter during the recent Crimean conflict, it could someday also leave a cold Germany to fight a hot war.
Just as America finally got its head out of the Middle East sand and developed its domestic energy sources, Europe should strive for its own independence from strategically questionable sources. And yes, if that means replacing Russian gas with liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipped in from the U.S., why not? That would make more sense for the defense of Europe and would help reduce Germany’s huge trade surpluses with America.
So before the old guard diplomatic community gets itself all worked up over Donald Trump’s hardball tactics with our complacent European allies, it would do well instead to insist that he take the same muscular U.S. message to Russia. In his planned one-on-one conversation with Vladimir Putin, he should tell him in no uncertain terms that if it ever wants to be accepted again in the community of nations, Russia must halt its militaristic expansionism, give up any temptation of aggression against Eastern Europe, and yes, stop messing in other countries' elections.
This column was originally published in the Long Island Herald Community Newspapers.
Former Senator D’Amato served a distinguished 18-year career in the U.S. Senate, where he chaired the Senate Banking Committee and was a member of the Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees. While in the Senate, Mr. D’Amato also Chaired of the U.S. Commission on Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE), and served on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The former Senator is considered an expert in the legislative and political process, who maintains close relationships with Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. He is regularly called upon for his advice and counsel, and is recognized for his incisive analysis of national and international political affairs. The former Senator will share insights gained from his years in Washington “with a clear-eyed view of the political forces that shape the world we live in today.” To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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