Talking to Our Allies

I genuinely wish that President Obama, using his typically low affect delivery, would have said some of the things that President Trump is saying to our alleged NATO allies. Alas, that was not to be. It wouldn’t have made them like the message any more but at least it wouldn’t have drawn the ire that Trump’s remarks are.

To understand where things stand now, spending is a pretty good first order approximation of military readiness. Now draw a graph for Germany or France or the UK or any other NATO country with two lines on it, one for 2% of GDP, the other for actual military spending as a percentage of GDP since 1991. The difference between those two lines is what they have to spend to catch up. It’s patently obvious they’re not going to do it but they can’t make up for their past deficits any other way.

Of course our purported allies like the status quo. We take the risks and they reap the benefits. We draw the fire while they sit in the bunker. We neither can nor should continue along our present path.

There are two radically different views of the position of the U. S. in the world. You might call them the Snow White view and the John Marshall view. In the first we are overwhelmingly strong and stand head shoulders above any other country. That has been our historical position and it hasn’t worked and, worse, is unsustainable. It assumes that the U. S. has not only the preeminent military in the world but the preeminent economy and events strongly suggest that won’t be the case. We can’t afford the one without the other. The other approach is more a primus inter pares approach. The Chief Justice’s vote counts for no more than those of the associate justices. Strong allies and a strong alliance. I doubt we can any longer get there from here.

16 comments… add one
  • Guarneri Link

    Pundits can say what they want, the candy assed style got us nowhere. And does anyone believe that more carefully chosen words, but exactly the same strong position on the part of Trump, would cause NATO principals to like us more? Are they really going to blow up NATO or run into the arms of Daddy Putin. They aren’t fools.

    Perhaps a less public dressing down would have been in order, but if the NATO principals are such wilting flowers then we need different principals. In truth, what was said was mild, and gets done by real executives everywhere everyday. No doubt the public posturing was intentional. And the first thing I read after getting up this morning at 5am was a ZH article about an “emergency session” of NATO. Imagine that. Now let’s see if there is follow through – the public nature of this no doubt had that in mind – and if life on the planet as we know it ends.

  • A mistake that many Americans make is believing that the European leadership likes us or ever will. As far as they’re concerned we’re coarse, uncouth, money-grubbing mongrels. And those are our good qualities. They only tolerate us as long as we give them chocolate and nylons.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    It was in 2014 during Obama’s term that NATO agreed to the 2% spending aspiration; that was in response to Obama’s irritation at freeriding (seen first hand in Libya). Joe Biden spoke against the Nordstream II pipeline in 2016.

    Problem of course is some countries promised to do 2% without an intention of doing it by 2024.

    If one chooses to not listen when being addressed politely; don’t be surprised if you get addressed in ruder ways.

  • Andy Link

    And missing from the debate is a more holistic view of NATO and its purpose or even our current alliances generally.

  • steve Link

    Why don’t we wait and see if anything changes before praising or condemning Trump? My bet is that we might see some minimal changes with this. We also just might see what counts as defense spending change in the calculations of some countries in order to meet that 2% goal.


  • steve Link

    Also, what Andy said. I also find it odd that we only talk about money. Other NATO countries have lost hundreds of lives supporting us when we were attacked. (UK 453, Canada 157, France 89, Germany 54)


  • Guarneri Link

    Call the Democrats and media, but I repeat myself, steve.
    And surely you are not attempting to make the case that the NATO members provide equivalent or even proportionate support to the US. Some things are absurd on their face.

  • Guarneri Link

    If anyone is having a slow day, it’s high comedy to watch the Strzok testify. Boy Scout Strzok is perhaps one of the greatest patriots the world has ever seen. I bet he even calls his mom every Sunday afternoon. And he delivers it with such emotion. It must be true.

  • I also find it odd that we only talk about money.

    As I noted in the post I’m using money as a proxy for and measurement of readiness. Based on our experience NATO has too low a level of readiness. If you’ve got a better measure for readiness than money, I’ll certainly entertain it.

    NATO is a military alliance, full stop. It’s not a mutual aid society. It’s not a legislative body, kaffeeklatsch, judicial body, or proto-world government. Readiness is of paramount importance.

    As Lord Palmerston wisecracked, there are no eternal allies only permanent interests.

  • Steve Link

    Drew probably thinks Trump really loves America. LOL.

    Dave- There is value in an ally who is willing to send soldiers to die for us.


  • Steve Link

    To put the numbers in perspective, we had one soldier die in combat in Bosnia and none during the fighting in Libya. 4 if you want count after the fighting was done.


  • So, as long as our allies are willing to provide cannon fodder, we don’t care if they’re prepared to fight or not? Pretty cynical.

  • Steve Link

    And our goal is to have them pay more, and provide cannon fodder. Much better!


  • I think that you should look at it a different way, steve. An ally who isn’t prepared to fight, can’t do its own logistics, and can’t even defend itself is a liability not an asset. They increase our risk.

  • Ben Wolf Link

    Dave, there’s a multipart series with Alexandr Buzgalin on his experience within the Soviet Union. As an old Russia hand I thought you might find it interesting.

  • Thanks. I’ll check in on it as they post more.

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