German defense minister reinforces Trump’s reservations on NATO

President Trump sent his “A Team” to Europe to demonstrate America’s commitment to NATO. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Vice President Mike Pence all traveled to a major conference in Munich for that purpose.

However, key European officials, along with honorary European John McCain, used the occasion to vent over Trump. Apparently, the Europeans would rather grandstand to their domestic audiences and demonstrate their moral superiority than bolster the alliance by establishing decent relations with the new U.S. president.

The worst venting came from German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen. The Washington Post reports that she “hammered” Trump (without mentioning his name).

Von der Layen said: “We must pursue finding a reliable coexistence with Russia together instead of going over our partners’ heads in a bilateral relationship.” But the U.S. is entitled to conduct its own diplomacy with Russia. And the new president is certainly entitled to take a fresh look at how best to deal with the Russians, just as Barack Obama did.

Speaking of the Russian reset, did Obama and Hillary Clinton pre-clear it with Germany and our other NATO allies? If not, then Trump, who has yet to settle on a comprehensive Russia policy, would break no new ground by going “over our partners’ heads.” If so — if Germany signed-off on the reset — then Trump would be well-advised not to take advice on Russia from the Germans.

In response to Trump’s call for NATO members to meet their financial commitment to the alliance, von der Layen tried to change the subject:

Burden is a matter of funding, of money, but sharing the burden is also much more than what can be expressed in euros and in dollars. To share a burden is to first of all share the principle to stand up for one another. Without exception.

According to the Washington Post, Germany would need to double its defense expenditures to meet its commitments to NATO. Anyone can talk a good game about “standing up for one another,” but a country that lags this far behind on its commitments isn’t truly standing up for its alliance partners.

Having told the U.S. how to conduct diplomacy and explained the deep meaning of burden sharing, Von der Layen then told us how we must fight:

[The alliance must be] bound by human dignity in all it does. This leaves no room for torture. It means avoiding civilian casualties at all costs.

I don’t think we need a lecture from Germany, of all countries, on how to conduct ourselves in war time. The German defense minister should explain how a country could ever win the kind of wars America has been fighting and “avoid[] civilian casualties at all costs.”

As for “torture,” there are likely to be situations in which only enhanced interrogation can avoid civilian casualties. In those cases, such methods are a way to avoid these casualties at a reasonable cost.

I’m a fan of NATO. Yet, the value of allies who wants to fight wars as von der Leyen says she does must be questioned.

The answer, I think, is that we’ll do the dirty work for Germany and others while they posture, but hopefully pay a bit more. That isn’t burden sharing by any reckoning, but it’s reality — unless arrogance like von der Leyen’s completely sours Trump on NATO.

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