Streetwise Professor

January 20, 2017

Who is the Reactionary on Nato and the EU? Not Trump

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:31 pm

So it’s official. Donald John Trump is now president of the United States. Buckle in. It will be a wild ride.

One reason it will be wild is that Trump has much contempt for the status quo, and shows no hesitation in saying so. He gave a taste of things to come in an interview last week. He questioned the viability of the EU, saying that it disproportionately benefited German at the expense of other countries. He also called Nato obsolete.

The reaction was immediate and hysterical. Was this warranted?

Not in my view.

Take Germany. Trump was making an observation. It is an opinion shared by large numbers of Europeans, especially in the south. It is a reasonable observation. And that’s probably why the Europhiles are freaking out: they know that the EU is under great strain and that its popular support is thin and wavering, and would prefer that everybody Believe! Believe! so Euro-Tinker Bell lives.

But what about dissing Germany, our stalwart ally? First, anti-American sentiment is very strong in Germany, and is often expressed by government officials. Second, the German government has often made unfavorable comments about American policy.  If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out.

Given all the frenzy about Trump’s alleged affinity for Russia and threat it poses to the west and western solidarity, let’s remember that there are very strong pro-Russian elements in Germany. Especially in the business community. Germany, don’t forget, is the country of “Putin Verstehers”–Putin understanders. It’s ex-chancellor is on the board of a Gazprom subsidiary, and Germany has actively supported Nord Stream against the objections of neighboring EU countries. Putin can only dream that Trump will be as accommodating to Russia as Germany has been. So don’t put the onus on Trump for compromising western interests in dealing with Russia. Merkel’s worries about that are far closer to home, as in her coalition partners, notably her Foreign Minister.

Insofar as Nato is concerned, it is obsolete, in the sense that it has not updated its mission, strategy, or capabilities in response to dramatic changes that have occurred in the last 25 years, let alone the nearly 70 years since its founding. Indeed, it is arguable that Nato is not just obsolete, but dysfunctional.

Nato countries spend piteously small amounts on defense, and the capability that they get is not worth what little they do spend. Germany spends around 1 percent of GDP on defense. There have been times recently that German troops had to train with broomsticks. Recently 2/3s of its combat aircraft were inoperable. It has zero capability to deploy anything overseas. The Dutch have no tanks. I could go on. Suffice it to say that Europe does not put its money where its mouth is when it comes to Nato. They pay lip service, rather than for troops and weapons. I would take their pieties about Nato more seriously if they actually sacrificed anything for it.

(By the way, this is why Russian hyperventilating about the Nato threat is absurd. It poses no military threat, beyond that which the US poses unilaterally. Indeed, for reasons that I discuss below, the European Nato Lilliputians tie down the American Gulliver.)

Another example of dysfunction is Montenegro’s impending bid to join Nato. Just what is the rationale for this? There is none: Montenegro brings no military capability, but just adds an additional obligation.

But it’s worse than than. Nato’s biggest weakness is its governance structure, which requires unanimity and consensus in major decisions. This is flagrantly at odds with one of the principles of war–unity of command–and makes Nato decision making cumbersome and driven by the least common denominator. Nato’s governance, in other words, makes it all too easy for an adversary to get inside its decision loop.

Coalitions are always militarily problematic: Napoleon allegedly rejoiced at the news that another nation had joined one of the coalitions against him. Nato’s everybody gets a vote and a trophy philosophy aggravates the inherent problems in military coalitions.

Put differently, decision making power in Nato bears no relationship to contribution and capability. This is a recipe for dysfunction.

So what is the point of adding yet another non-contributor (population 620K!) whose consent is required to undertake anything of importance? This is madness.

It is especially insane when one considers that Montenegro is a Slavic country with longstanding ties to Russia, and in which Russia has a paternalistic interest. Parliamentary elections last year were extremely contentious, with the pro-western incumbents barely hanging on. Post-election, there were allegations of an attempted coup engineered by the Russians. The country is extraordinarily corrupt. All of which means that if you are concerned about Russia undermining Nato, Montenegro is the last country you would want to admit. It is vulnerable to being suborned by Russia. Outside of Nato-who cares what Russia does there? Inside of Nato-that is a serious concern, especially given the nature of Nato governance.

But apparently current Nato members believe that it would be really cool to collect the entire set of European countries: frankly, I can think of no other justification. There is no better illustration of how Nato has lost its way, its strategic purpose, and its ability to think critically.

So yes, Trump is more than justified in raising doubts about Nato, and if questioning the relevance of the organization is what is needed for people to get serious about it and to reform it to meet current realities, then he’s done a service.

Following the shrieking and moaning on Twitter today during the inauguration, it struck me that the most prevalent theme was that Trump is turning his back on X years of US policy in this, that, and the other thing. The reaction shows that the real conservatives–in the literal, traditional sense of the word meaning unflinching defenders of the old order and status quo–are on the leftist/statist side of the political spectrum. They are petrified at the thought of disturbing in the least way the existing order. To them, it is apostasy even to question this order. Trump is challenging all their verities, and it drives them to apoplexy.

The EU and Nato are two examples of institutions that are supposedly sacrosanct, but which Trump has had the temerity to question. The defense by the real conservatives–the real reactionaries, actually–on the left and left-center has been unthinking and reflexive. They refuse to acknowledge the rot and decay that exists, and which threatens the viability of the things they claim to admire. Rather than neurotically projecting their fears on Trump, they should thank him for giving them the opportunity to reform dysfunctional bodies, and join in the work of reforming them. Not that I expect that they will, because this is not in the nature of conservatives and reactionaries.

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  1. I wouldn’t mind a NATO Brexit.

    As the old joke has it, the purpose of NATO was to keep the Yanks in, the Russians out, and the Germans down. How relevant is that to a continent that’s been invaded by a million men of military age from North Africa and the Middle East?

    Comment by dearieme — January 21, 2017 @ 12:10 am

  2. Take Germany. Hitler was making an observation. It was an opinion shared by large numbers of Europeans… Some elitists were freaking out, showing total disconnect from the common people. And boy, was that a wild ride.

    Comment by Ivan — January 21, 2017 @ 3:05 am

  3. So yes, Trump is more than justified in raising doubts about Nato <= because, clearly, he is aware of all the things you wrote and then some. There are rumors he even knows why ISIS has not been nuked.

    Comment by Ivan — January 21, 2017 @ 3:22 am

  4. >> and if questioning the relevance of the organization is what is needed for people to get serious about it and to reform it to meet current realities, then he’s done a service.

    And if uncritically rebroadcasting standard talking points of Russian propaganda by the U.S. president (rather than using appropriate channels for long-overdue serious conversations) only helps all those Putin-Verstehers and assorted Le Pens to further undermine any prospect of the Eurocrats ever getting their act together, then he’s done an even greater service. To Putin.

    Comment by Ivan — January 21, 2017 @ 3:36 am

  5. To understand the purpose of NATO you have to listen to Putin. The line where Putin’s aggression has been stopping so far are the borders of NATO. Adding Montenegro to NATO is a way for the EU to say that Montenegro is not up for grabs. The refusal to admit Georgia or Ukraine is a tacit acknowledgement of a Russian sphere of influence.

    Comment by aaa — January 21, 2017 @ 2:06 pm

  6. How exactly would Putin grab Montenegro? Why would he want it?

    Comment by dearieme — January 21, 2017 @ 6:45 pm

  7. +++Outside of Nato-who cares what Russia does there?+++

    That is the strangest rhetorical question. As Russia has failed to get rid of the Communist legacy, it cannot be allowed to do anything outside its own borders. We have won the Cold War not to let the snake get strong again.

    Russia must be made poor again and kept poor for the time being, until the regime changes and a better government arises. This is the only wise policy here.

    Comment by LL — January 22, 2017 @ 7:11 am

  8. @Dearieme: Putin wouldn’t grab Montenegro for any particularly practical reason. Much like in Syria (and, to a lesser extent, Crimea), he would make the grab just to pressure the West.

    @Prof: LOL at Euro-Tinkerbell. It’s a pity, because the EU could be such a force for good, economically speaking, if only they’d stop trying to micro-manage the point of regulating the height of hairdressers’ heels (I jest – that rule was actually thrown out, but the fact it was considered bothers me).

    Comment by Hiberno Frog — January 23, 2017 @ 8:04 am

  9. I have long been a fan of a sunset provision on every bit of federal legislation, including treaty ratifications. The nature of problems and institutions change over time. The nature of legislative solutions and agreements don’t. Without a sunset provision, we end up with legislative institutions that serve only those who have learned to monetize the outdated legislative constructs.

    While the Trump presidency may not be the most productive or inspiring administration of our lifetimes, it may well be one of the most rejuvenating administrations our nation has ever seen. Throw out the old, Don. Let the reinstatement of the old, or the creation of the new be justified by a new generation of legislators.

    Comment by Charles — January 23, 2017 @ 5:42 pm

  10. Bernie Sanders welcomes withdrawal from TPP: . Why not nominate Bernie for Secretary of Commerce?

    Comment by Ivan — January 23, 2017 @ 9:40 pm

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