Trump is right. Nato is a costly white ele­phant

The Guardian - Journal - - Front Page - Si­mon Jenk­ins,

Don­ald Trump is a pig, a liar, a woman-hater, a racist, a mon­ster of bom­bast – and did I men­tion a dis­rupter and to­tal bas­tard as well? Does that feel bet­ter? Com­ment on the cur­rent US pres­i­dent seems to re­quire a wal­low in the pit of com­pet­i­tive con­tempt. But it just plays his game. I re­gard Trump as an aber­ra­tion, a tem­po­rary trauma af­flict­ing US pol­i­tics. He hon­ours the the­sis of the his­to­rian Arthur Sch­lesinger, that Amer­ica’s con­sti­tu­tion of­ten drives the repub­lic to the abyss, only to drag it back again. But even mon­sters can ask the oc­ca­sional good ques­tion. Thus Trump this week on Nato, a body so mired in plat­i­tude and waf­fle it has lost sight of its true pur­pose. Trump wants to know what Europe re­ally re­gards as its de­fence pol­icy, for he thinks it takes Amer­ica for a ride. Nato was founded in 1949 in re­sponse to Stalin’s block­ade of Berlin. It was meant to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Amer­i­cans in, and the Ger­mans down”. Since then, it has wel­comed the Amer­i­can nu­clear shield, at vast cost to Amer­ica. Oth­er­wise, its only mil­i­tary achieve­ments have been the breakup of Yu­goslavia and the loss of a squalid 17-year war in Afghanistan.

Nato was about de­ter­ring an at­tack on Europe from Rus­sia. In 1945, the west agreed the Pots­dam set­tle­ment, ac­cept­ing the Sovi­ets’ “sphere of in­flu­ence” over eastern Europe. Thus when Rus­sia in­vaded Hun­gary in 1956 and Cze­choslo­vakia in 1968, there was no ques­tion of Nato, or Europe, re­tal­i­at­ing. The iron cur­tain was iron.

Come 1989 and the col­lapse of Pots­dam Europe,

Nato did not ap­proach a bro­ken Rus­sia to agree some new set­tle­ment. It did the op­po­site. To protests from Rus­sia’s weak­ened leader, Boris Yeltsin, it gath­ered for­mer War­saw Pact states un­der its wing and ad­vanced its bor­der east to­wards Rus­sia. It em­braced Poland, Cze­choslo­vakia and Hun­gary, then the Baltic states, Ro­ma­nia and Bul­garia. It was like Khrushchev sta­tion­ing mis­siles in Cuba. Only Ger­many coun­selled cau­tion.

Nato’s provo­ca­tion was so bla­tant as to be an open in­vi­ta­tion to any new pop­ulist leader in Mos­cow to ex­ploit Rus­sia’s bruised pa­tri­o­tism: hence Vladimir Putin. He and his klep­to­cratic cronies are vir­tu­ally a

Nato cre­ation. But the fact that Amer­ica was party to the provo­ca­tion does not in­val­i­date Trump’s ques­tion. What is Nato’s pol­icy be­yond needling Rus­sia and fee­bly re­ly­ing on the Amer­i­can shield?

It is as­ton­ish­ing that, three decades af­ter 1989, Europe is al­most back to a cold war with Mos­cow. The cur­rent tit-for-tat hos­til­i­ties with Rus­sia are play­ing with fire, and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Europe’s land forces are so weak they would be wiped out by Rus­sia in a mat­ter of days. So is Europe re­ally ex­pect­ing Wash­ing­ton to or­der a nu­clear bar­rage against Rus­sian “grey area” in­cur­sions into the Baltics, let alone a con­flict with Or­bán’s

Hun­gary or Er­doğan’s Turkey – both Nato mem­bers?

Trump is ef­fec­tively telling Europe that its Nato is as out­dated as the Congress of Vi­enna by the time of Bis­marck. He is wrong to rab­bit on about spend­ing 2% or 4% of GDP on weapons. This helps no one but the de­fence in­dus­tries – spend­ing should meet plau­si­ble threat, not some vague bud­get tar­get. But no more help­ful is Europe’s bel­liger­ent pos­tur­ing to­wards Mos­cow, such as Bri­tain’s reaction to the mys­te­ri­ous Wilt­shire poi­son­ings. En­trench­ing Putin be­hind a siege econ­omy is not a de­fence pol­icy.

Bet­ter to go down the route of de­tente, recog­nise Rus­sia’s sphere of in­flu­ence and be just a lit­tle nicer to Putin. What­ever Trump’s mo­tives for ad­vo­cat­ing this, he is surely right. A sen­si­ble Nato would have a fire­fight­ing force to han­dle sep­a­ratist and fron­tier squab­bles such as Kosovo, not a main force con­flict with Rus­sia. Bri­tain and France should end their mean­ing­less nu­clear de­ter­rents. Their sub­marines, air­craft car­ri­ers and fight­ers are costly boys’ toys.

De­fence plan­ning fa­mously fights the last war but one. Bri­tain’s navy is still fight­ing the Bat­tle of Jut­land and its air­force the Bat­tle of Bri­tain. The United King­dom is per­fectly safe from any ex­is­ten­tial at­tack: there is no ev­i­dence of a Rus­sian de­sign to oc­cupy Bri­tain. Bri­tain needs a de­cent coast­guard, bet­ter bor­der se­cu­rity and first-class counter-ter­ror­ism. It needs to guard its cy­berspace. But its soft power is con­sid­er­able and its di­plo­macy re­spected.

When Bri­tain is over its Brexit cri­sis, de­fence re­la­tions with Europe will need an over­haul. As a first step, it should start think­ing the un­think­able about Nato. For that, thank you Trump.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.