NATO stuck between Trump and Macron: Op-ed
First it was the U.S., already under the junior President George Bush and well before President Donald Trump, who declared NATO obsolete. Then a few weeks ago, the French president proclaimed it brain dead. Only for the two to meet last week in London for some more muscle flexing. But there is a real cost to this macho bickering, which ultimately, is not very useful, even if Emmanuel Macron might have a point that the U.S. mantra - spend more - sounds broken, old-fashioned and, besides, the point.
True, NATO allies do not spend in equal proportions on military. But outside of a raw number, budget allocations to military equipment mean nothing in terms of overall enhancement of security for the NATO countries. Security is a derivative of a functional strategy aimed to address present day threats. France seems to be saying, we need a new security concept, which ultimately is based on a shared definition of threats and priorities. And as far as Macron is concerned, there is no common understanding on any of that.
It is hard to check the French president for being typically French (i.e. complaining about NATO indiscriminately) when President Trump since arriving in the Oval Office has acted unilaterally and rash in all major strategic theaters - from his most recent decision to pull out of Syria, to near total disengagement from the Middle East Peace Process, to his embrace of the Saudis, the Turkish President, and his pivot and exit out of the Iran nuclear deal. Where was the consultation necessary with his key NATO partners? It was America First policy in plain view, and Mr. Trump paid no attention to Europe’s needs, objections, not to mention European divergent opinions.
So, to come to London and speak of the great offence committed by the French president, who merely stated the obvious, is rich. An art in deep self-delusion and self-aggrandizement. But Trump is great at tooting his own horn, including tweeting on his way back to Washington that because of his great negotiating skills NATO allies are now spending more. That is not per se true, and neither is it true that the U.S. has kept its military spending unchanged. The fact is, Mr. Trump doesn’t pay attention and apparently has no need for memory either, because his approach to policy making is all instinct and zero thought process. He is the king of bluff, and Macron just called him on it.
No wonder then, that the U.S. president seemed ill fit to discuss with Macron or any other head of state present at the NATO gathering in London about the various types of threats facing the alliance. He wanted to talk budget, and only budget. Are you spending enough, Mr. Macron, was what Trump wanted to know? And the American president is already readying himself to pick a new fight with Germany over this very issue. How shallow. How removed from the very real threats that are piling on Europe’s doorstep - from Syria which remains in a total state of collapse and is a safe haven for terrorist cells of all sorts; to Israel’s electoral stalemate and the implications of this on the Middle East Peace Process; to Iran’s growing internal instability and Saudi’s renewed appetite for regional hegemony. At the same time as the NATO chieftains were butting heads in London, Saudis announced they will flood the oil market unless all OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers stick to predetermined oil export restrictions passed down by the Saudis themselves. A Saudi-controlled oil world is not in the interest of NATO’s allies. But not a word was said about it in London.
NATO heads this week did mention, to their credit, the increasing strategic competition from China, which at least the alliance acknowledges is now systematic and a growing threat. But they said very little about Russia or NATO’s eastern dimension, which is another forgotten and incomplete policy chapter.
When I first visited Ukraine on an official visit in 2005 just after the Orange Revolution with the then chairman-in-office of the OSCE, Mr. Dimitrij Rupel, I recall a comment made to us by the newly elected prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko: “We might have won the revolution today, but Russia is our long-term and long-lasting adversary. Without a secure and firm anchoring in the EU and NATO, Ukraine’s future hangs in the balance, permanently.” Fourteen years on and several uprisings later, and we still don’t have a final solution to the Ukraine NATO membership question, despite an open promise which the West made in 2008 at the NATO Summit in Bucharest to both Ukraine and Georgia recognizing their legitimate interest, and the right, to seek full membership in the NATO alliance.
Equally, we have no strategic vision for Azerbaijan, neither for the South Caucasus corridor leading to the Caspian Sea, from where NATO would be in a much better position to counter China’s strategic expansion, Iran’s internal political turmoil and Russia’s aggressive near-abroad policy. As Zbig Brzezinski stated in his book, The Grand Chessboard, a classic in global strategy, the one who controls Central Asia controls global geopolitics. Why is NATO asleep on developing a comprehensive Central Asia policy?
Because rather than discussing policy objectives, reaffirming strategic goals and reshaping the alliance to be fully fit for responding to today’s challenges, we are busy reading about how the Canadian prime minister made fun of President Trump behind his back. We are forced by the news networks to discuss which leader won the Battle of London - Macron or Trump?
To paraphrase Mr. Macron once again, let’s be serious. NATO needs to rethink its fundamental security challenges and recalibrate its political objectives if it is to survive the next ten years. The NATO secretary-general, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, is well aware of this, and he should call for a NATO Brain Summit 2020, during which the alliance adopts a new 10-year security mandate.
*Borut Grgic is a former foreign policy advisor to the minister of foreign affairs of Slovenia and owner of ISS Maritime, a cargo ship investment company.