February 16, 2017
No, the US is not going soft on Nato
We never thought that the seemingly contradictory positions on Nato between Donald Trump and his pro-Nato defence secretary Jim Mattis were unbridgeable. And that is precisely what happened yesterday. The US is shifting from unconditional support for Nato, to conditional support - conditional on the other member states meeting the target of spending 2% of GDP on defence.
While Mattis was full of warm words for Nato, which he called his second home, he remained tough on the substance. AP quotes him as saying that Washington would "moderate its commitment" to Nato, as he put it, unless the other member states agreed to higher defence expenditures. There were no details of what this would entail, but he did insist that Nato members must adopt a plan this year to set binding dates to reach the 2% target. The politics in countries like Germany is currently moving in the opposite direction. A majority of Germans oppose higher defence spending.
The decision by the US to switch its position from one of absolute support for Nato to one of relative support could also impact the Brexit negotiations. The case for a close EU-UK military alliance is now more urgent.
Anne Applebaum argues that we should be under no illusions that the real position of the White House is firmly anti-Nato. She said Trump is the first modern US president never to have expressed an interest in democracy, the rule of law, or the shared values that have held Nato together. The choice for the UK is to pretend that this is not happening, and to seek comfort in the special relationship with the US, or to seek a leadership role in Europe.
“Britain is leaving the EU, but it still wants a European role. Here is a role for the taking: Britain, together with France, Germany and others — perhaps including non-Nato members like Sweden — should launch a new European security pact that actually reflects political reality. In other words, Europe’s leading defence powers should create an organisation that is compatible with Nato, but which also starts preparing coldly for the day when the US security umbrella might be withdrawn.”