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Tough times for NATO. Tough times for any country that has been a long-standing ally of the United States.

Donald Trump has touched down in Europe and he’s barely got a good word to say about any of us. He’s already the walking cliché of the brash American complaining about the size of the servings and why everybody talks with such funny accents. After describing the UK as being in “turmoil” (our nation apparently collapsed the moment Boris Johnson left the wheelhouse) he has now turned his scorn on Germany who he claims is “totally controlled by Russia”. It is, of course, so characteristic of this President that he should accuse others of crimes for which he himself might be guilty. “Totally controlled by Russia” is the rubric being tested by Robert Mueller and, thus far, the answer has certainly not been a “no”.

Nothing surprises us anymore. Trump is the bully who arrives in a new schoolyard and lacks the courage to stand up against the tougher kids. Instead, he throws around his weight roughing up the quiet nerds who bring the right books to class. In this case, it’s the allies he can knock around with minimal pushback. None of Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, or the UK are going to respond to Trump’s meaty insults in the way that Vladimir Putin would.

So what we already have, on day one of Donald’s European Vacation, is the American president acting out another of his odd little psycho-dramas, rooted in his own unhealthy relationship with his father Fred (another bully). Just as he had to prove to Papa Trump that he too could be the mercenary property developer, it seems that he’s proving to Papa Vlad that he too can impose his will on those weaker than himself. The NATO allies, meanwhile, must grit their teeth and smile. Another two years, they say to themselves… Only another two years.

What’s not to be lost in all this is that Donald Trump love of big headlines obscures most of the facts. He might be right about the financial commitment of some NATO allies who pledged to increase spending to 2% of GDP. Germany aims to meet that target by 2024. Yet what Trump’s bellicosity distracts from is the reality of military spending, especially that of the United States where Trump himself is overseeing a rebuilding of the military, itself arguably fulfilling some psychological rather than national necessity. Simply: NATO does not work on the basis of individual nations contributing sums of money to the organization. Germany’s less than 2% represents its own spending on defence. In terms of NATO, it remains the second largest contributor after the United States, shouldering 15% of the budget compared to the US which pays for 22%.

In terms of Russia’s relationship with Germany, Trump might also be right to warn about their unhealthy reliance on Russian gas. The construction of the Nord Stream 2 has been seen as ever greatly proof that German is vulnerable to pressure from Russia and that would only increase if, as Gazprom has suggested, it’s followed by the construction of a Nord Steam 3. The UK itself has recently seen worrying signs that it has too little gas storage, with the closure of Centrica’s Rough storage site off the coast of Yorkshire now looking particularly short-sighted. Yet if these are live issues in regional politics, they are also more nuanced than Trump allows. How far does energy security weaken our ability to condemn Russia? Without a doubt, it does limit our hands but, in turn, Russia is extremely reliant on Europe for the bulk of its fuel revenue. Russia might threaten Europe and Germany, in particular, by cutting off the gas, but it’s not as though Germany couldn’t look elsewhere in the long term. The pressure doesn’t come from Putin turning off the gas but the West turning off the source of Russian money. That is the real power in the dynamic. What Trump routinely forgets (or chooses to ignore) is that Russia’s economy is minuscule compared to the economies he routinely threatens with sanctions.

Not that reality will matter much in the coming days. You can talk geopolitics or you can talk about Donald Trump. It’s unlikely that the logic of one crosses over into the logic of the other. You can talk about the real influence of Russia or the influence that Russia casts in the President’s mind. You can talk about the reality of North Korea’s nuclear program or you can talk about the “handshake” which Trump believes has solved the problems of the entire region. You can talk about Russia’s involvement in Syria or you can talk about Trump’s obsession with red lines and Tomahawk strikes. You can talk about the Iran Deal or you can talk about the President’s strange obsession with unpicking the work of his predecessor.

All of which makes the next few days both fascinating but probably irrelevant. There will be insults, threats, and perhaps even a few tears. Yet the allies will know — indeed must know — that this is just “The Trump Show”. It’s filler until the regular scheduled programming resumes. They will grit their teeth and smile. Just another two years…



4 Comments on "NATO Grit Their Teeth"

  1. Good article, but what if he gets re-elected? I don’t see any plausible challengers. 6 years is a lifetime in politics, and it could unravel so much without the hope of the normal programme resuming.

    • Well, I begin wonder if he won’t get challenged from within the Republican Party. If he stands as their candidate, I just don’t see how he stops a motivated Democratic electorate from wiping him out. Hillary was always a bad candidate and still beat him in the popular vote. After 4 years of these policies, I just think moderate to liberal America will have had enough. Also, 2 more years of this… He’s getting worse and not better.

  2. Sending a second time as it didn’t seem to go, ignore if the first post was received

    Hello David. Have totally dropped out of political and internet based discourse, but just for you will make an exception.

    The NATO budget is only 1.5 billion euros and is in place to keep the various HQ’s, operations centres and liaison committees ticking over in case they are needed. It is irrelevant really. The USA accounts for 72% of military spending amongst NATO members, Germany accounts for 4%. Should a war break out, the US would be contributing more than 72% of the effective military effort and the financial cost to send those forces into battle would be huge. The US economy is only 6 times bigger than Germany’s not 18 times bigger and unlike Germany’s 36 billion euro budget surplus, the USA is running a huge deficit. That surplus makes the German delayed commitment to raise spending to 2% by 2024 laughable and not a little insulting to their allies including the UK which also hardly has the healthiest balance sheet out there. In short, they are taking the p*ss. After being asked nicely by former US presidents and doing nothing they are finally being called out on it.

    In terms of the pipeline, it puts Ukraine in a difficult position as they will lose their only point of leverage against Moscow. The continued purchase of Russian gas by Germany also serves to prop up the Russian economy and thus provide funding for further upgrades to the Russian armed forces. Germany could, if it chose, source it’s gas from elsewhere, it would be more expensive importing LNG, but it could be done. That, by the way, goes for the rest of Europe too.

    Trump is right to call out Germany on defence spending, just as he is right to call them out on their trade surplus. In doing so he is only echoing what the UK and France think privately on defence. On the subject of trade he is echoing what Macron, the OECD, the IMF and the European Commission have said publicly. However it is noticeable that those criticisms flew well under the radar, everything with Trump is inflated and then put forward as being unreasonable. Germany I’m afraid is a country who has been pursuing beggar they neighbour policies for a while now, nobody in Europe has the guts to call them out on it such is their economic and political clout nowadays, it’s bad for Germany (long term) and it’s bad for Europe.

    Trump’s approval is only two points shy of where Bill Clinton was at this stage in his tenure and only one short of Ronnie Reagan so I would say that given everything that has gone on around him he has many reasons to feel optimistic. After all this is on the back of the child migrant climbdown too, he was at 45 before that happened (which is 5 more than Macron). If the economy continues to do well, which there is every sign that it will, I could envisage him managing to scrape a second term.

    The way I look at Trump is that even if he is wrong most of the time, that doesn’t mean he is wrong all of the time. I haven’t become invested in hating everything he does the way that large swathes of people have. I find the furore and planned protests over his visit to the UK incredible and childish. He is the democratically elected leader of our closest ally and friend and should be treated as such. There was less in the way of outrage when Hirohito visited London and perhaps people ought to reflect on that.

    • Hi Rob. Nice to see you back. I’ll be honest and admit that I started writing the piece as a “Trump is right on Germany and NATO” but 1. I noticed a few similar articles appearing and 2. the more I watched his performance this morning, the more I saw it bearing many of the hallmarks of his gestural politics (if, indeed, they are politics). My problem isn’t that the figures back up his argument but that he doesn’t seem to have an argument beyond these crazy little psychodramas he enjoys playing out. I could well be reading it wrong but this is no different to the last NATO summit when he pushed past the PM of Montenegro to get to the front. He clearly takes some personal satisfaction in leaving America and insulting the old allies. It also means it’s increasingly hard to take what he says as US policy or any kind of policy. Much as I want to be rational and respond to what happens rather than allowing myself to be swayed by some emotional response to the guy, that breakfast just wasn’t normal. I don’t think it can be explained in terms of ordinary geopolitics. Trump has made US politics so that it’s about him and him alone. I think that’s the only way to read it for the moment.

      You’re right to point to approval ratings but I think we’re in a different reality. American politics of now can’t be compared to the past. I remember writing that I believed he could win a first term but I just don’t see him winning a second. Once November is out of the way, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Republicans finally turning on him.

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