Aleksandr Zapolskis: Trump’s Quiet Battle with NATO in Brussels

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


NATO has so far shown solidarity, but cracks in its foundations can already been seen with the naked eye…

Judging by the contents of the final document of the meeting between heads of member states of the North Atlantic Alliance that took place on July 11th-12th in Brussels, the NATO summit ended with nothing. This is both good and bad at same time.

It is good because it confirms, even if indirectly, many of the curious leaks that happened 48 hours prior. But this is also bad because in fact further decisions that would logically follow the conclusions that the participants latently came to haven’t yet poured out.

Therefore, the process will continue to slide in the previous direction simply by inertia for at least one more year, at the same time committing actions that directly contradict each other in terms of sense. For example, forming new staff and command structures, like the Northern Multinational Division Command, with an obviously anti-Russian orientation, and at the same time speaking about their desire “to be on friendly terms” with Russia. This preserves an essential factor of uncertainty, which in military matters always acts as a source of a threat.

However, according to the information of informal sources, a meeting between heads of NATO States vigorously took place behind closed doors, and its details nevertheless allow to draw some conclusions concerning the future of the Alliance. Three main subjects were discussed: money, money, and once again – money.

Trump started talking about money the first time in a direct way. And if on the first day he somehow restrained himself by only reminding about the need for all 27 members of the bloc – and not just America, Estonia, Poland, Britain, and Greece – to observe the norm of military expenses at 2% of GDP, then on the second day he bluntly expressed his position: participants are obliged to immediately increase the financing of the army to 4% of GDP. Moreover, not one day in the future, after 2025-2030, but directly right now.

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The idea didn’t find support among Europeans. So, Macron immediately answered in the spirit that France is ready to discuss the question of military expenses only in the confines of “Obama’s plan from 2014”, and nothing more. For reference, in this plan the countries of Europe promised to reach the notorious “2%” [of GDP – ed] by the end of 2016. But, as is said, this didn’t happen. Merkel in general voiced the sacrilege, having said that it is Europe that in reality defends the US, thereby more than transparently doubting the recognition of America’s right as such to demand something in respect of military expenses.

The Italian Prime Minister expressed himself more simply, having pointed out the existence for his country of manyfold more important items of expenditure than military ones. So, by all accounts, there won’t be a direct military tributes. Spain also confirmed that 2% is the maximum that it will aspire to, but it is unknown when it will achieve it.

Trump started talking about money the second time in an indirect way, having touched on the topic of “Nord Stream-2”. The head of the White House characterised as resolutely inadmissible a situation where Germany finds money to pay for Russian gas, but for American defence against Russia – no. This attempt appeared to be even less productive than the first one. France immediately rejected the accusations against Germany concerning its dependence on Russia. And the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg directly specified that the internal economic problems of the European Union aren’t a part of the North Atlantic bloc’s mandate in general, having at the same time publicly and resolutely ignored the position of the President of Lithuania who supported Trump.

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Well, and the third time that Trump touched on the topic of money is when he demanded from allies bigger unity and support in military and geopolitical questions, despite some friction of an economic character that arose recently. So he named the economic war between the US and the EU, which has lasted for already over half a year. This was an indirect hint at the inappropriateness of Europe’s too-close rapprochement with China, which developed into Merkel meeting with Li Keqiang.

Thus, it is necessary to register a technical draw in this battle between Trump and NATO in Brussels. None of the parties achieved any success. Washington didn’t manage to bring its allies to heel, just like it didn’t manage to shake out money from them. In turn, it seems that the Europeans fought off the attack of the transatlantic partner, but they faced the problem of an absence of distinct understanding concerning the strategy for their further actions and the deficiency of determination concerning its practical realisation.

To be fair it should be noted that the Alliance as a whole found itself in the same geopolitical situation that the countries of Western Europe were in before its establishment. European leaders are many times more afraid of the emergence on the continent of a rather strong leader capable of uniting all countries under their full leadership than they are of any external threat. Even, like back then, a Soviet one, not to mention the Russian one, like now. And without such a leader Europe was and remains an ordinary collective farm, incapable of any resolute self-organisation for pursuing their aims. NATO was indeed created back then to solve this problem, but now the bloc lost its integrating ability.

And while leaders were jogging on the spot in the regime of “neither for ours, nor for yours”, it is bureaucracy that continued its silent activity, something that any organisational structure that has existed for a long enough time becomes overgrown with. Judging by its contents, it is precisely this bureaucracy that formed the final communique. And this is how things turned out – the parties didn’t agree on any of the key questions, but the press release looks vigorous all the same.

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The parties ratified the next project of reorganisation of NATO’s rapid deployment known as “30-30-30-30”. It provides the deployment by 2020 within the framework of increased readiness formations of 30 mechanised battalions, 30 aviation squadrons, and 30 combat ships ready for use within thirty days. They approved it because this is how the bureaucratic procedure provided it. If a request arrives, if the relevant commissions and committees approved it, and there weren’t any resolute opponents, then it means that there is a need to approve. And the fact that this decision awaits a fate that is absolutely similar to the previous four projects isn’t that important. Nobody is going to develop something from the very beginning.

National plans to increase military expenses by $266 billion by 2024 were also approved. Exactly like how a similar sum was approved by 2016 under Obama and subsequently ignored by all signatories “due to independent objective circumstances”. There aren’t the slightest grounds to expect that this time things will be different.

But in the final document there are exactly two absolutely fulfillable points that, should they be achieved, the bloc will proudly brag about during the next year’s summit. Firstly, Macedonia was officially invited to enter NATO, and, secondly, the Alliance will create a military training center to prepare a local army in Iraq. In general, on paper the meeting took place quite productively, although at the same time the parties didn’t see eye to eye.

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