What’s Trump up to now?
US President Donald Trump has said Nato is “no longer obsolete”, reversing a stance that had alarmed allies.
Let me just park that there for a second and quote a paragraph from ZMan’s latest offering:
Another thing about Trump that makes him an extreme outlier in national politics is that he is not an ideologue. Most of our politicians are quite stupid. All of their intellectual energy is focused on the endless scheming and game playing that is politics. What passes for ideology in American politics is really just a laundry list of policies aimed at buying votes from interest groups. That’s why they sound like robots. They stick to the script, even in the face of a public revolt, because that’s the safe and easy way to do it.
That’s not Trump. He is not married to any policy. In the campaign, he would regularly say something one day and then take it back two days later when it proved to be unpopular. It is safe to assume, for example, that Trump has zero interest in health care. He’ll sign off on anything that is popular with the voters. He’s also willing to dump a bad policy without worrying a bit about being called a hypocrite or inconsistent. Trump is practical about these things. If it does not work, he tosses it aside and moves onto to the next thing.
This will be terribly frustrating for partisans, but Trump is a goal oriented guy.
I don’t disagree with any of that, and I think it is a good thing that the United States finally has a President who might borrow the words of Keynes and say “when the facts change, I change my mind.” Of course this would mean that Trump is also prone to manipulation by vested interests (and many believe this is happening right now over Syria), but I think on balance it is better to have a flexible President who listens to his advisers rather than a narcissist like Obama who is convinced he’s the smartest one in the room and is interested only in his “legacy”.
But that doesn’t mean that everything Trump changes his mind on is good, though. Let’s get back to his remarks on Nato:
Mr Trump has repeatedly questioned Nato’s purpose, while complaining that the US pays an unfair share of membership.
Nato was formed for one purpose: keeping the Soviets out of western Europe. If we assume the Russia inherited Soviet regional policies along with their embassies, nuclear weapons, and permanent seat on the UNSC, that means Nato exists to keep the Russians out of western Europe.
There are some people who believe there is nothing to fear from Russia and nobody in the west should bat an eyelid if Putin & Co go around invading neighbours and annexing peninsulas, and that is fair enough. In that case, Nato has no reason to exist. There are others, like me, who think Russia’s regional ambitions are a concern and Nato should continue in the role it was originally formed to play. It is important to understand that confronting Russia over, say, the annexation of Crimea or sabre-rattling on the Estonian border is very much consistent with an overall aim of keeping Russia out of western Europe. It is better this confrontation happens in the east at an early stage than on the borders of Austria and Germany later on when the west has no choice and the Russians have the wind at their backs.
However, if this is the purpose of Nato then it is imperative that each of its members pulls its weight and commits itself fully to the military and diplomatic aims of the organisation. If they continue to do what most of them have done for the past few decades, i.e. rely on the Americans to provide 99% of the military capability and sit there carping about American warmongering while at the same time undermining them diplomatically by doing cosy business and political deals with the Russians then the organisation, as Trump originally said, really is obsolete and should be wound up pronto. I was hoping Trump’s statement would force the Nato member states to carefully consider where their long-term interests lay and to decide the future of the alliance accordingly.
At a joint press conference with Mr Stoltenberg, Mr Trump said: “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more Nato can do in the fight against terrorism.
“I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism.
“I said it [Nato] was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”
How the hell is Nato useful in the fight against terrorism? From what I can tell, most terrorism we see in the western world today is a result of two things:
1. Failed Muslim-majority states in the Middle East and elsewhere.
2. Extremely poor government policies in western countries which border on negligence if not outright treason.
Nato is of absolutely no use in tackling either of these. I don’t even think the assault on Afghanistan that kicked the Taliban out of power should have been a Nato mission: a “coalition of the willing” would have been good enough. Sure, there was some symbolism there but all it achieved was to muddy the waters as to what Nato’s purpose is. Things were already rather opaque when the organisation was used to attack Serbia over Kosovo: regardless of the rights and wrongs of that mission, it should never have been carried out under the banner of Nato. It allowed the Russians to claim, with some justification, that Nato is not merely a defensive organisation (although I don’t believe for one second they genuinely think it represents an offensive threat to Russia).
In short, Nato ought only to exist to fight Russians trying to get their mitts on western Europe (or roll tanks over its allies and up to its borders); if the member states don’t want that then it is obsolete. Shying away from its primary purpose by pretending it can be used to fight terrorism doesn’t change this analysis, regardless of what Trump is now saying.
Earlier this week Nato welcomed Montenegro as its 29th member nation.
Which is as much proof of the organisation’s obsolescence as you need.