The Transatlantic Divorce: A New Security Alliance?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says that Europe can no longer rely on the United States and Britain anymore, but the European Union must be prepared to “take its fate into its own hands.” Chancellor Merkel made these remarks after the G-7 Summit in Sicily, where European leaders failed to reach an agreement with President Donald Trump on climate change. At a rally on Sunday, the German Chancellor stated that “the times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over…We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands.”

Six of the seven parties that attended the summit renewed their commitments to the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement, but President Trump needed more time to decide on these reforms. Merkel called the talks on climate change very unsatisfactory. President Trump has not rejected the climate deal, but he has questioned the vision of a unified Europe. During his election campaign, President Trump was frequently skeptical about the value of the EU, Britain’s commitment to leaving the bloc, and spoke positively about far-right leaders throughout Europe such as French presidential candidate Marie Le Pen.

At the NATO Summit in Brussels, President Trump repeated his accusations that other NATO members are not making as much effort as the U.S. on paying 2% of their GDP towards defense and security. Many of the NATO members have not been able to commit to spending as much money on their defense and security objectives as the United States. In his speech at the NATO Summit, President Trump reiterated that “23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States. And many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years and not paying in those past years. Over the last eight years, the United States spent more on defense than all other NATO nations combined.”

Trump also failed to endorse NATO’s Article 5 which states that “The principle of collective defence is at the very heart of NATO’s founding treaty. It remains a unique and enduring principle that binds its members together, committing them to protect each other and setting a spirit of solidarity within the Alliance.” Media reports have suggested that the U.S. president described German Chancellor Merkel’s trade practices as very bad and complained that Germany sells too many cars to the U.S. Recent developments suggest that the future of transatlantic relations are not very bright.

Time for a New and Independent European Policy

The fact that all NATO members need to pay 2% of their GDP to defense and security measures is an absurd policy that only weakens NATO rather than strengthens it. On the campaign trail, President Trump spent more time pressing Russia rather than discussing coherent policies on how to strengthen transatlantic relations. At the Sicily summit, there was tension between Chancellor Merkel and President Trump, and it turned out to be an undiplomatic showing by the new U.S. president. In addition, the Brexit has also weakened Europe and with the U.S. not reaffirming its commitments to NATO, Merkel has a very good reason to be upset.

Since 1949, NATO was an alliance that fought off the expansion of communism from the Soviet Union, but with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and later the USSR, the world has dramatically changed. When it comes to world issues, the direction of NATO is in serious jeopardy. NATO is in a crisis because there has been a lack of strong leadership coming from both Europe and the United States. The constant failures in Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and now in Syria and Ukraine have destroyed the mission of security for stabilizing the transatlantic relationship. There does however, need to be a new security alliance where there can be a focus on conflict resolution, peacekeeping, mediation, diplomacy, and economic cooperation that avoids the consequences for war and more military spending. There are many signs that NATO is in crisis. One of these signs has been that the United States is in Europe to protect itself, but not the other European nations. The NATO alliance has also had problems of burden-sharing, and even Turkey has shifted away from the west in terms of its involvement in the Syrian crisis.

(Sven Mandel)

The origins of NATO were born out of the Cold War and the Eastern European states, at the time, were a part of the Warsaw Pact. The United States entered NATO because traditionally, continental Europe has always been a vital U.S. interest, and Washington did not want to see any one country such as Nazi Germany or Communist Soviet Union dominate the European landmass. It was in the U.S. interest to contain a Soviet Union from dominating the world, but in the European interest, they want to act independently as different states and not rely so much on the U.S. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, there was not a lot of motivation to spend 2% on military spending. With Russia’s increasing influence in Ukraine and Georgia, some Europeans feel nervous, including the Poles, as well as the Baltic States. It was a U.S. interest to join the European Union and NATO in order to preserve peace and security for decades, but now, it seems that NATO has lost its purpose, and it has lost its identity to secure Europe.

Follow the Leader

So long as the Western European countries remain democracies, many of these countries may not reach the 2% spending mark. If this were to happen, NATO’s defense budget would double, and it seems that NATO is just an outdated alliance that has existed for 68 years. If there is no structure for a new security of architecture and peacekeeping, then there should be no reason for NATO to exist, but instead, create something new that is relevant to the world’s ongoing problems. Some of these ongoing problems are happening in the Middle East with issues regarding terrorism and refugees. NATO should have been dissolved after the collapse of the Soviet Union and since then, the size of NATO had doubled during the Clinton Administration in the mid-90’s. We also have to take into consideration the future of the NATO alliance. We have to ask ourselves, where is NATO now? What would a new security alliance look like? Can Russia be a part of this new security alliance, maybe a European-Eurasian security alliance? And if Trump thinks that all the European countries need to pay up to the military expenditures of the U.S., he is just splitting up the alliance rather than uniting it.

In her own words, Merkel called for unity in Europe, and she reiterated that “We need to know that we have to fight for our own future and destiny as Europeans.” If European countries do not want to spend 2% of their GDP in a NATO structure, then there is no doubt that they will not be willing to spend more than 2% on recreating their own defense forces on a European model. Merkel’s call for European unity is more political than it is military. For the most part, the transatlantic alliance was on the same page when it draws down to foreign policy (political on most things). Merkel is pointing out that Europe needs to think about its own path and provide its own way forward that is separate from the United States. This could be the beginning of an unraveling of the NATO alliance, but President Trump will not be in office forever and it could also be possible for the Republican Party to push back against Trump for undermining NATO. This could be a temporary thing, but Trump’s unpredictability can do a lot of damage to the Transatlantic relationship in a temporary period of time.

Chancellor Merkel is not making a mistake and she has shown that you cannot always rely on your partners for everything. Some of the conflict zones such as Ukraine and the referendum results in Turkey are all examples of the alliance not working so well. Trump is a businessman and he thinks that he can squeeze deals for countries to pay more on common defense. Getting countries to pay more is not common defense, and one of the things that has changed about NATO as a security organization is the fact that balance is a good thing for peace. What is being practiced by NATO today is a vast superiority of U.S. hegemony and NATO has spent 12 times more on defense spending than Russia has.

NATO is in trouble and it is in more trouble than ever before. NATO should not have expanded after the fall of the Soviet Union and some of Europe’s problems have been a result of NATO expansion. Without the United States in NATO, Europe would be defenseless, and they would have to build up a new defense force from the ground up. The United States is essential to NATO’s military mission, but it should be a deterrence strategy instead of a war of words. Essentially, we should also be talking about a security community rather than looking out for enemies or scapegoats. A security community in Europe would call for stability, and continue the peace that goes back to 1945.

One can also argue that if the U.S. were to leave NATO, it could also ease the pressure on so-called ‘Russian Aggression.’ Russia has more reasons to be upset about the expansion of NATO, and the expansion of NATO broke all the promises made by Gorbachev about expanding NATO not one inch to the east. NATO expanded into East Germany, then in the mid-1990’s it went into Central and Eastern Europe, and now NATO is on Russia’s borders. If European countries withdrew its forces from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, they can build their own forces at home and Russia would not even dare threaten Western Europe if the U.S. was not a part of the NATO alliance. We need a completely new way of thinking apart from military thinking. We need to think about conflict resolution, violence prevention, a stronger United Nations, and a stronger OSCE.

From Lisbon to Vladivostok

NATO has lost some of its credibility since the collapse of the Soviet Union. President Trump called NATO obsolete during his election campaign and he even hinted at withdrawing the U.S. from the alliance. Trump is right that NATO is obsolete, but without NATO, Europe would be defenseless, whether Russian aggression exists or not. There is an alternative to NATO, and a new security alliance that would include Russia, so long as Russia cools down its internal matters with Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine, can do wonders for the Eurasian continent so then nations can agree on certain issues like counterterrorism, geopolitical issues, trade, and peacekeeping to name a few examples. Increased trade between the EU and Russia can result in higher economic gains for both sides, and this can build a more stable, peaceful environment. The ‘From Lisbon to Vladivostok’ security alliance is not a contrary to the Sui Generis principles of the European Union, but it allows Europe to expand its options on a global level that can drive external relations. A reset in EU-Russia relations is needed for the future of the European Project. More European citizens are critical of the EU, and it is time for leaders like Angela Merkel to rethink the European Project given the fact that the European Union is in a crisis. In order to make the Lisbon-Vladivostok security alliance relevant again, it must benefit all nations including Russia.

Weakening each other is only going to deteriorate EU-Russia relations even more, and there are strong overlapping interests that relate to security, energy, and commerce. A new security alliance can allow Russia to engage with Europe and Europe can engage with Russia. We must also realize that if EU-Russia relations can allow for the creation of a new security policy, U.S.-Russia relations can also benefit from a ‘Lisbon to Vladivostok’ security alliance. For the United States, we need not only Europe as a partner, but we need Russia as a partner as well, and President Trump must realize this if there is any chance for peace.