Is NATO Obsolete?
Inauguration is in the air here in Washington. While we all wonder what Donald Trump will say in his first speech as President, I find myself thinking of other inaugural addresses in light of today’s issues.
One that comes to mind is Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 speech. In stating that peaceful relations with other countries were one of our “essential principles,” Jefferson spoke that now-famous line, that the US seeks “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.”
Today the US is entangled in enough alliances to have Jefferson rolling over in his grave. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization tops the list, and Trump sent US American foreign policy hawks and European elites into conniption fits when he suggested NATO was obsolete and we should rethink US participation in it.
The reaction was ridiculous, in my opinion. We say something is obsolete when it no longer serves its original purpose. That is unquestionably true of NATO, as George Friedman explains in today’s Outside the Box. NATO’s single reason for being is to protect Western Europe from Soviet invasion and/or domination. The Soviet Union no longer exists. But NATO still does.
On one level, I think this illustrates the inertia common to all government projects. Once launched, they quickly achieve self-awareness, followed by delusions of permanence, and refuse to go away. NATO is like that, but with the added dimension of having been a key international institution.
With the Soviet Union long gone, a discussion of NATO’s role is long overdue. It is now the elephant in the room of US–European relations. From George’s article:
For 25 years, the fundamental question regarding NATO was not raised in polite company – that is, in the company of NATO countries’ leadership. That question, from the American point of view, divides into three parts. First, with the Soviet Union gone, what is NATO’s purpose? Second, how does NATO serve the American national interest? Third, given the fact that the EU has almost as large a GDP and almost 200 million more people than the U.S., why isn’t Europe’s collective contribution to NATO’s military capability larger than the U.S.’? By contribution, I don’t simply mean money, but a suitably large, trained and equipped force able to support the wars that are being fought now.
We were going to face these questions anyway, even without Trump. He has simply hastened the inevitable. Far better to have that discussion now than to wait and have it in the middle of a crisis.
The NATO discussion is one thread within a larger debate on Europe’s future. The stakes are high for the Continent. The European Union is losing the UK, and others may follow. The euro currency zone is pushing the limits of monetary sanity. Add a NATO breakup to that list and the result could be a very different Europe in just a few years. Whether it will be a better Europe remains to be seen.
I have been reading George Friedman for many, many years. We met well over a decade ago and have become close personal friends. I enjoy every moment that I get to spend with George and Meredith (you hardly ever see George without Meredith in close proximity, which is a good thing), and my time with them has included some of the most intense and interesting conversations that I have ever experienced. George is simply an intense person.
When he decided that he was going to leave Stratfor, we talked about that process and why. Yes, there were some business reasons, but they weren’t the driver. He wanted to be able to reframe his writing and thinking. He talked passionately about that, but at the time I really didn’t understand what he meant by it.
I may not have read everything George has written in the last 10 years, but I’ve most of it. And lately, I have come to realize that there is simply a different tenor, a more strident purposefulness to his writing. His work and that of the team that he has put together at Geopolitical Futures has become what I call “George unleashed.”
The old punchline that people use after somebody says something passionate is, “Why don’t you tell us how you really feel?” I realized a few weeks ago that the George I am now reading is the George that I have conversations with. This is the George that I actually recognize. It is George up close and personal, telling you how he really feels about the topics he’s writing about. He brings his 40 years of experience to bear forcefully on those topics, whether he’s giving us a framework for understanding a geopolitical situation or making a specific point.
When he told me he was leaving Stratfor I immediately said “Let’s partner up.” As in, that second. And for all intents and purposes, we agreed to do it almost on the spot. The details took a little bit longer. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to be able to bring his work to my friends and readers. If you are not subscribing to George, click here and just take a trial subscription. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, then unsubscribe. Get your money back. But my bet is that you will find George and the rest of his team to be somewhat addictive. They really do give you a far better way to look at the world outside of the (multiple expletives deleted) fog and smoke and mirrors of the mainstream media, where we see so much that is written by people who don& rsquo;t really understand what they’re talking about, or whose worldview dictates a certain interpretation.
George just wants to know what reality is, and then he tries to describe it for you the best he can. It’s that simple. Here’s the link again.
It’s Thursday afternoon and I’m in Washington DC, going from one meeting to the next. At most of those meetings I am being told that people are glad to talk with me, but it has to be off the record. I had my video production crew here and was thinking about doing a documentary; but getting around DC this week is difficult at best, and the people I am talking to – the people who are actually putting the new administration’s plans together – don’t want to be on the record with them just yet. Just videotaping somebody who can’t give us anything really useful is not the best use of my time or yours.
What I am going to do, though, is sit down Saturday morning and just knock out an off-the-cuff letter to you on “What I Learned in Washington DC.” There are a lot of excited people here, but there are also a lot of very sober, thoughtful people who recognize what a monumental task is in front of them. I don’t want to write that letter today, as I need to do some more reflecting; but let me just say that it is not going to be all sweetness and light. It is going to be very real and very intense.
The last time I was in DC for an inaugural was in 2000 for George W‘s foray into the presidency. There was optimism then, too. Sadly, the next eight years were ones of great disappointment as far as conservative policy was concerned. The Republicans broke Coach Barry Switzer’s first rule: “Don’t fumble the *%$#@$ football!” The Republicans proceeded to fumble the ball over and over again, for almost 8 years. Trump is taking over with a much worse situation than George W faced. I’ve been talking to Uber drivers and people on the street here about how they feel about the incoming administration. You get a lot of interesting answers. Then when they ask me what I think, I simply say that I am skeptically optimistic. And they laugh. Which is probably the way to approach this.
You have a great week, and I’ll try to make sure you get my thoughts from DC as early on Sunday as possible.
Your beginning to understand how difficult this whole thing is analyst,
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
NATO and the United States
In this photo illustration, a copy of the Jan. 16 issue of German tabloid Bild Zeitung that features an
exclusive interview with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump lies on a table in a train in Berlin, Germany.
In the interview, Trump branded German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liberal refugee policy a mistake,
the NATO military alliance obsolete and threatened German carmakers with 35 percent import tariffs.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images