By Tyler Bauer
Yesterday, the two-day NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, began. It didn’t take long for things to get interesting, as President Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel went back and forth over a gas pipeline originating in Russia. President Trump accused Germany of being “captive of Russia” because of Germany’s reliance on Russian oil for a portion of their energy. Chancellor Merkel, who grew up in Soviet-controlled East Germany, didn’t take President Trump’s accusation lightly, essentially telling him to mind his own business. The reasoning given by Germany for buying Russian gas was to “diversify” Germany’s energy supply.
A pipeline doesn’t probably doesn’t seem like something worth arguing over, but this particular pipeline is worth arguing over because it comes from Russia, and Russia (and its predecessor, the Soviet Union) is the reason for NATO’s existence.
What is NATO?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better known as NATO, was created to guarantee the freedom and security of its member states through political and military means. Formed in 1949, NATO was originally a loose alliance of Western countries created to offset the influence of the Soviet Union. However, as the Cold War began to get more intense, NATO’s military structure was developed to form a collective defense alliance system intended to deter the Soviet Union from spreading any further west into Europe. In theory, if the Soviet Union attacked any NATO member state, the other member states would be forced by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty to come to the victim’s defense and go to war with the Soviet Union.
Now at twenty-nine member states, NATO remains an important organization for its member states. These twenty-nine members are expected to contribute a minimum of two percent of their GDP towards defense spending. Few member states actually meet this requirement, with the United States contributing by far the most of any member state. This is by no means new, as the United States has always contributed the most of any NATO member state.
Is NATO still important?
In my opinion, no, NATO is not important. In fact, it has become irrelevant and is a waste of money. As I have written before, the United States is already spending far too much on the military. With NATO, we are effectively spending money on last century’s war, the Cold War. The Soviet Union has fallen, and its successor state, Russia, is not our enemy. If anything, Russia is a rival, a country we will compete against economically and politically, but not militarily – I do not expect a war with Russia. There is no new Cold War. Militarily, Russia poses no threat to the United States. They are outnumbered by the United States in all categories but one, with the exception being nuclear warheads (and even then, the United States has enough nuclear warheads to end life as we know it dozens of times).
You may ask, “But what about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, invasion of Georgia, and involvement in Syria?” That’s a fair and very important question. When it comes to NATO activities, NATO member states and spokespeople always claim that NATO is purely a defensive alliance. They say, “If Russia doesn’t attack any NATO countries, they have nothing to worry about.”
NATO’s actions tell a different story, though. By adding Eastern European countries to the organization and increasing the presence of NATO troops near Russia, NATO has been provoking Russia since the end of the Cold War. Think of NATO’s expansion like an attempt to corner an animal. If you get too close and the animal has no way out, you can expect the animal to lash out. Similarly, Russia has lashed out over the years. I’m not saying that NATO’s expansion justifies Russian military action in Crimea, Georgia, or Syria. What I’m saying is that NATO – and, by extension, its member states – have been poking at Russia for decades, and I think this has caused Russia’s aggression in the past decade.
The Future of NATO
As I’m sure you all know, I’m not exactly a fan of President Trump, but I will give him some credit here – he has forced NATO to be discussed for the first time in a long time. Of course, NATO is being discussed because he wants to grow NATO and increase the spending requirements for member states. That’s the last thing I want, but I hope that his request will force member states to determine whether being a NATO member is worth the financial, political, and diplomatic commitment. (This may completely backfire by alienating our allies, but only time will tell. I’m sure I’ll blog about it when the time comes.)