I agree with John’s analysis of the approach President Trump is taking at the NATO summit. In this post, I want to highlight the inconsistency, noted by John, between the left’s criticism of Trump’s approach and its claim that he is soft on, and maybe an instrument of, Putin.
Trump has made two main points in Europe. First, key NATO members aren’t doing enough in the area of defense. Second, key member nations are financing Putin through purchases of Russian gas.
What would be the effect if countries like Germany took Trumps criticisms to heart? Europe would be better able to defend itself from Russian aggression and Russia would lose some of the leverage it enjoys thanks to gas.
As to the first point, Zalmay Khalilzad, former Director of Policy Planning in the Department of Defense and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, notes that many of NATO’s members have effectively disarmed since the end of the Cold War. Only eight of the 28 members spend the required 2 percent of GDP on defense. Anyone truly concerned about the Russian threat to Europe would find this intolerable. President Trump does. The American left doesn’t.
David French, a fierce critic of Trump on many matters, calls the German military “indefensibly weak and unprepared.” He writes:
In September, 2015, a story in the National Interest asked, “Is Germany’s Military Dying?” It painted a terrible picture of decline, outlining a lack of readiness in the air and on the ground. For a dose of perspective, consider the loss of Germany’s armored firepower. During the Cold War, it procured 2,125 Leopard II main battle tanks. By 2015, just 225 remained. Readiness reports showed that only a fraction of its fighter force was operational.
And this year, Business Insider reported:
Germany’s Tornado fighter jets may not be able to join NATO missions due to technological deficiencies, according to an army report seen by German magazine Spiegel at the end of March.
The confidential report, prepared by Germany’s Bundeswehr, said 93 Tornados need immediate, extensive upgrades, as “the readiness to operate with the increasing age of the weapon system is clearly risky,” according to Spiegel.
As of February, only five of Germany’s 16 A400M transport planes were ready for use. An early 2016 report found that German jets fighting ISIS couldn’t operate at night because their cockpit lights were too bright for pilots. A report in early 2015, when Germany was preparing to send jets to Syria, said only 66 of 93 commissioned fighters were operational — and just 29 were combat-ready.
Since the end of the Cold War, Germany’s military and defense budget have shrunk. Troop numbers have fallen from almost 500,000 in 1990 to 180,000 now— some 21,000 officer positions are vacant, adding to readiness woes.
Anyone truly concerned about the Russian military threat to Europe would find this intolerable. President Trump does. The American left doesn’t.
The same is true about the massive sums of money Russia receives from Germany for gas and Germany’s support (along with Western European nations) of Nord Steam 2, which John discussed in his post. The fact that nations to the East of Germany, the ones most susceptible to Russia’s military, are bitterly opposed to that pipeline demonstrates the adverse security implications of Nord Steam 2.
Ukraine, which already confronts Russian military aggression, has the most to lose. As Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan stated in Kiev last year:
We advocate for a strong, independent, self-sufficient energy future for Ukraine. One that is not dependent on Russia and subject to being an instrument of Russian aggression. We are against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline for that very reason, which would for the European continent undermine our goals of energy diversification and energy independence but at least as significantly it would undermine Ukraine.
The Obama administration opposed Nord Stream 2 for the same reason. It differed from the Trump administration on this score only (not surprisingly) by being less forceful.
How does the left reconcile the clear anti-Russia implications of Trump’s positions on NATO and Nord Stream 2 with its mantra that Trump is some sort of Russian stooge? Perhaps by arguing that Trump’s attacks and demands will undermine, or even end, NATO.
But that’s a fantasy. So far, Trump’s focus on member nations’ lack of spending has caused an increase in defense spending among members. That’s almost certain to continue, though many members will probably continue to underspend.
As for criticism of Nord Stream 2, there’s no way it will affect NATO. Obviously, the German government doesn’t appreciate the criticism, but, just as obviously, it’s not an alliance breaker.
Thus, the left’s attack on Trump’s approach at the NATO summit is incoherent if one takes seriously its claim that Trump is Putin’s instrument. But it has become so difficult to take this claim seriously that one doubts that, even for the left, it remains anything more than a mindless talking point.