15.07.2018 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Why is the West Looking Like a ‘US vs. NATO’ Territory?


When Donald Trump recently criticized Germany and other NATO members for not spending the required sum of money on NATO and for purchasing gas from Russia, NATO’s primary rival, he wasn’t referring to some double standards of a given country; in fact, his remarks could also be read as a recognition of the fact that organizations like NATO have increasingly become irrelevant and unnecessary in today’s increasingly inter-dependent and multi-polar world order. The question that therefore must also be added to Trump’s criticism is: why would NATO countries like Germany spend on NATO when they are happy to do business with the very country that NATO was once established to protect them against?

Clearly, it indicates that NATO’s mostly European countries, including Turkey, don’t see, notwithstanding the emphasis laid on “Russian aggression” in the final NATO statement, Russia as a real threat worth spending billions of dollars upon to revert. On top of it is also the question of what NATO has been able to achieve in last two decades: it was forced to take a plunge in the US “war on terror” in Afghanistan and has only miserably failed to achieve targets; it left behind only chaos and desolation in Libya; and it has magnanimously failed to achieve even a semblance of victory in Syria even after pumping thousands of “moderate rebels.” Significantly enough, in all of these countries, NATO didn’t even fight Russia. Hence, the question—again: Is NATO necessary at all as an anti-Russian force?

Even NATO itself doesn’t have a unanimous answer to this question when it comes to taking each country’s interests into account. While the Baltic states continue to raise anti-Russia hysteria primarily to continue to have the NATO umbrella, France and Germany don’t see Russia either as a big threat or a foreign policy challenge, although they differ on certain issues ranging from Syria to Afghanistan. And, despite this disagreement, none of these countries have disapproved of the importance of business and co-operation with Russia either. And, while Turkey’s co-operation with Russia has already turned into a functional alliance in the Middle East, even the US’ own selective engagement with Russia during both the Obama and the Trump administration makes it difficult and illogical to build Euro-Atlantic security on proverbial “Russian aggression.”

However, despite the fact that major EU countries don’t see Russia as a threat, they still continue to see NATO as a viable defence mechanism in the absence of their own standing armies. For instance, Germany’s armed forces are in disrepair; a German brigade designated to lead a NATO rapid response force has only nine of the 44 tanks it requires and only four of the country’s military aircraft are combat ready. Therefore, countries like Germany continue to see in NATO an essential defence force, one without which their national security will become a big question mark.

So, if Russia is no longer the real threat and if NATO members are happy doing business with Russia and if NATO hasn’t fought Russia ever, why is there so much NATO-US hysteria over spendings and shares?

Not Russia, but gas and war toys matter

More than anything else, and certainly more than Russia, it is about the US attempts to make money and do business with other NATO members. Trump called Germany’s purchase of Russian gas an “inappropriate” and “inexplicable” thing. For the US, it is what it is because the US does want EU, particularly NATO members, to buy gas from the United States instead. And, since they have money, they don’t need to give it to the Russians, and instead buy Shale gas, which is three-times more expensive than the natural gas delivered from Russia.

But the US president has made his point clear: while Russia can’t be both a “threat” and the “supplier of gas”, the US can be both an “ally” and a “supplier of gas.”

To this end, the US sanctions on Russia have also targeted specifically Russia’s energy exports in last few years in order to create market space for the US Shale gas exports.

Trump’s next charge on Germany and other NATO countries regarding spending less than 4 per cent of their GDP on NATO aims again at making money for the US. The question is: if NATO countries decide to spend the required amount of GDP on defence, where will they buy their war toys from? From the United States of America certainly.

Donald Trump wasn’t slow to mention how ready he is to help NATO members buy made-in-US weapons. “We are not going to finance it for them but we will make sure that they are able to get payments and various other things so they can buy — because the United States makes by far the best military equipment in the world: the best jets, the best missiles, the best guns, the best everything”, Trump said in response to a question about his method of helping smaller NATO countries.

The push for US made weapons is a part of the Trump administration’s “Buy American” plan that aims to draw on US military attaches and diplomats to push for billions of dollars more in overseas sales for US weapons makers. Therefore, Trump’s demand for increased defence spending should be seen as neither a genuine demand against a real enemy i.e., Russia, nor a result of a falling economy, but as an invitation for an increased EU and NATO shopping spree on US military hardware. That’s business plain and simple.

Therefore, within the current context, any reference to “Russian aggression” shouldn’t be taken to mean a real Russian threat but a strategy to make smaller and militarily weak NATO countries buy American weapons and gas.

What the West is, therefore, seeing is not an imminent split between the US and EU over NATO but a hard bargain, one that would, if successful, complement both the US deep-state and its military industrial complex as it would keep anti-Russian hysteria alive and help them make money out of it. Let’s not forget also that the success of this plan would also let Donald Trump fulfill yet another of his promises he made during his election campaign.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.