Tag: Allies

Trump and NATO—Redefining the U.S. Role

Throughout the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump’s attitude toward NATO has engendered significant consternation throughout both Europe and the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Although the president-elect has not explicitly advocated pulling out of the NATO, he has suggested that the United States should rethink its involvement since the United States continues to bear a disproportionate share of the defense burden within the alliance. The incoming administration could thus be poised to conduct the sort of “agonizing reappraisal” that John Foster Dulles threatened 63 years ago. Although a complete withdrawal from NATO would be unwise, the time to redefine the United States’ role in the alliance may have arrived.

Critics have attempted to undermine Trump’s intimation that he might refrain from defending NATO allies such as Estonia by suggesting that the United States is treaty-bound to do so. The day after Trump’s election, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General, insisted that “NATO’s security guarantee is a treaty commitment…All allies have made a solemn commitment to defend each other. This is something absolutely unconditioned.” But that is only true to a certain extent. Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty stipulates that in the event of an attack against a NATO member state, each ally “will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.” The key phrase “as it deems necessary” gives the United States a great deal of latitude.

Were the North Atlantic Council to invoke Article V in response to a Russian incursion into Estonia, for instance, the United States could fulfill its treaty obligations in any number of ways. The Pentagon could certainly deploy the U.S. military to combat Russian forces directly. On the other hand, the United States could restrict its role to the provision of military equipment and logistical support to its European allies. To borrow a phrase from Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States could serve as the great arsenal of NATO.

Donald J. Trump and the Future of Transatlantic Relations

The German Marshall Fund has just published an essay that I wrote in conjunction with a conference convened in Berlin six weeks ago. For a few hours in September, as Donald J. Trump’s poll numbers hovered around parity with Hillary Clinton’s (that is, before they fell and rose again), an array of American and European scholars contemplated Trump’s emergence as the de facto leader of one of the United States’ two major political parties.

What, if anything, did Trump’s rise portend for the future of transatlantic relations?

“Not much,” would be the safe, short and simple answer. After all, quite a number of GOP national security officials have raised the #NeverTrump banner. One group openly doubts that Trump has the “qualifications, the judgment or the temperament” to be president. Others bristle at his claim that U.S. allies are feckless free-riders, and reject his call for making them pay for the protection that they receive under the U.S. security umbrella. Hillary Clinton is even more adamant that NATO and other Cold War-era alliances should never be subject to scrutiny. As she said several years ago, American global leadership, which manifests in such alliances, “is in our DNA.

In short, if Trump loses next week, it isn’t obvious that his ideas will outlast his unconventional campaign. The reigning transatlantic consensus, in which U.S. taxpayers subsidize European countries that might otherwise be inclined to spend slightly more on defense, will survive, and foreign policy elites in both the Democratic and Republican parties will work hard to ensure that no one like Trump ever emerges to challenge them.

However, as I note in the piece:

The mere possibility that America’s obligation within the NATO alliance might be open to interpretation should…serve as a powerful incentive for European countries to hedge their bets and get serious about developing a credible defense capability, one that is capable of acting without the United States in the lead.

Regardless of whether that occurs, it was probably unwise for Europeans to have relied so much on a U.S. political system over which they had no control. The fact that a bipartisan consensus among U.S. foreign policy elites sustained the transatlantic bargain for decades didn’t mean that that consensus was permanent.

Defenders of the status quo, whether they call it primacy, deep engagement, or simply American leadership, often claim that our dominant position in the world order will never be challenged because the United States is uniquely poised to reassure others. Core classical liberal principles, such as the importance of the rule of law, and governmental transparency and accountability, make Uncle Sam a reliable partner. Checks and balances between competing branches supposedly ensure that no one individual is able to effect dramatic changes in the way that the United States conducts its affairs.

America’s Allies Deserve to Be Disturbed

America collects allies like Americans collect Facebook friends. As a result, Washington defends more than a score of prosperous European states, several leading Asian nations, and a gaggle of Middle Eastern regimes.

Yet most of the countries on the Pentagon dole appear to be perpetually unhappy, constantly demanding reassurance of Washington’s love. Their sense of entitlement exceeds that of the typical trust fund baby.

As a result, the U.S. is expected to protect virtually every prosperous, populous, industrialized nation. But that’s just a start. Washington also must coddle and otherwise placate the same countries.

Once great powers, they now believe it to be America’s duty to handle their defense. Alas, U.S. officials are only too willing to enable this counterproductive behavior.

Except for Donald Trump.

There is much to say about his candidacy, most of it bad. Nevertheless, he’s right not to be interested in reassuring allies.

Which has horrified the gaggle of well-to-do nations on America’s defense dole. For instance, the New York Times reported “an undercurrent of quiet desperation” among European officials. They went to Hillary Clinton’s campaign begging for, yes, reassurance!

As for Washington’s major Asian defense dependents, Bloomberg explained that they found Trump’s views “baffling.” The South Korean newspaper JoongAng Daily proclaimed itself to be “dumbfounded.”

Alas, both Republicans and Democrats rushed to promise well-heeled allies that they shouldn’t lose any sleep over Trump’s message, that nothing will change. Indeed, the Times reported European leaders visiting the Democratic convention, where they found the message “soothing.”

Washington officials have lost sight of why America should participate in an alliance. Alliances should be a means to an end.

Their purpose is to increase American security. They aren’t particularly useful where there’s no significant threat to the U.S., Washington can easily deter any adversary on its own, and/or America’s friends are capable of protecting their own interests. Which is the case for most U.S. allies today.

Washington’s First Obligation Is to Defend America, Not the World

The last NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, hailed from Denmark, which has 17,200 citizens under arms. That position did not allow him to deploy the American military, but it did give him unusual influence over U.S. policy.

Even as the American people tire of trying to solve other nations’ problems, Rasmussen wants the United States to continue its interventionist course. Politico recently interviewed Rasmussen, who promoted an “American-led world order”—at American expense, of course. Rasmussen’s greatest fear is the end of Washington’s unique global role: “What is at stake here is the American role as the global superpower.”

He agreed that Europeans should do more on behalf of their own defense, but offered no strategy to make serious and permanent increases a reality. Rasmussen was critical of Trump’s desire for better relations with Russia, even though in a conflict the Danes would do little to help defeat Moscow.

Why Should America Defend Europeans Who Won’t Defend Themselves?

Once again Donald Trump has shocked the foreign policy establishment. He suggested that maybe the U.S. should no longer defend its prosperous, populous allies in Europe.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization made sense when created in 1949. War-ravaged Western Europe faced an aggressive Soviet Union. The American defense shield allowed Washington’s allies to recover and rebuild.

Nearly seven decades later the alliance has become a means rather than an end. The world has changed, yet Washington continues to guarantee the security of its 27 (soon to be 28) NATO allies (as well as Japan, South Korea, and others). Yet only four European nations bother to devote even two percent of GDP to the military, barely half America’s level.

Trump sees this as just a free-riding problem. He said he’d like to keep the alliance, but doesn’t know if it’s possible. “Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make,” he complained.” He “would prefer not to walk,” but if the Europeans don’t “fulfill their obligations to us,” perhaps Washington shouldn’t defend them.

Stop Treating South Korea Like a Helpless Dependent

Despite the success of America’s post-World War II policy, its advocates act as if it is an abysmal failure. No matter that the ROK took advantage of Washington’s defense shield to develop into one of the world’s most important, largest, and advanced economies. The U.S. must continue to protect the South from the latter’s decrepit northern neighbor.

For instance, analyst Khang Vu offers no argument that South Korea is vital for America. He refers to another Korean war posing “an adverse prospect for future U.S. administrations.”

The Case for Restraint: What Should It Look Like?

The final panel of last week’s foreign policy conference continued the discussion of the political obstacles to restraint and provided further details on what such a strategy would look like today. Cato’s Emma Ashford kicked off the discussion by explaining how U.S. involvement has undermined U.S. interests in the Middle East, recommending instead that the United States adopt an offshore balancing approach to the region.

John Mueller, also of Cato, used his time to downplay the many commonly cited threats to U.S. security, including rising powers, proliferation, and terrorism. He also cast doubt on whether our large, powerful military is well-suited to deal with these minor threats, most of which are exacerbated by the use of force.

Ben Friedman discussed why primacy enjoys so much support in Washington, despite its flaws. U.S. safety and wealth, he argued, insulate most Americans from the consequences of foreign policy, making them indifferent to it, and enabling special interests that benefit from primacy dominate policy-making. He discussed policy reforms that would heighten appreciation of primacy’s costs in order to increase support for restraint.

The conference’s final speaker, Jacqueline Hazelton of the Naval War College, challenged those who seek a more restrained U.S. foreign policy to develop a plan to bring make it a reality. Picking up on that point, panel moderator Trevor Thrall brought the conference to a close by noting: “Our work is not done.”

The conference’s hosts, Cato’s Ben Friedman and Trevor Thrall are editing a book featuring chapters by the experts who presented at “The Case for Restraint” conference. For more information on the book, please email tevans [at] cato.org.

You can watch full discussion from final panel below.

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