Two points, as a matter of fact.
First, all NATO countries do display criminal negligence in their defence policy, relying on the US to protect them against the Russian threat.
Why should America foot a disproportionate part of the bill? Trump’s question is legitimate, and one can only be amazed that no previous US president asked it with the same forcefulness.
Of course, Trump is being slightly disingenuous there. He knows that some of America’s defence spending is actually a payment for her playing the role of global leader. When the British Empire was cast in that role, Britannia didn’t rule the waves for free either.
Yet the T in NATO stands for Treaty, and any treaty is a contract. A contract always involves terms and conditions with which all the parties must comply for it to remain valid.
One such term is that all NATO members must spend at least two per cent of their GDP on defence. Sure enough, the US pays roughly double that. However, of the 28 other NATO members, only the UK, Greece, Estonia and Latvia meet that requirement, just.
The UK apart, but only slightly apart, the other four dutiful members hardly represent a formidable military force. But all other NATO members are in default of the contract.
Trump is demanding that they raise their expenditure to the same four per cent that the US spends. This may be fair, but it’s utterly unrealistic – that’s like demanding a million-pound ransom from a hostage who lives in a bedsit. But the stipulated two per cent is indeed a must.
However, Germany, NATO’s richest European member, spends a pathetic 1.24 per cent. Then of course she faces exorbitant bills to accommodate all those millions of Muslims who bring welcome cultural diversity to Europe.
Trump is right to point this out, as he’s also right on his second point: Germany’s dependence on Russia. I don’t know if Germany is totally controlled by Russia, as Trump claims, but she’s certainly greatly controlled.
How can it be otherwise if Germany gets 70 per cent of her gas courtesy of Gazprom (one of whose employees is Germany’s former chancellor Schroeder)? And this percentage will go up even further in two years, when the new pipeline comes on stream.
Now energy, quite apart from its immediate use, is a strategic commodity. At wartime it becomes as critical as any weapon system, even more so. If Britain had depended on Germany for much of her energy, we’d have had a swastika flag flapping over Westminster in 1940.
It’s such strategic considerations, rather than just the billions flowing into Putin’s coffers, that should concern Trump.
But then the president sees life mainly in financial terms, just as he sees foreign policy as merely a series of deals to strike. There’s nothing to be done about that; a man in his 70s isn’t going to change the philosophy of a lifetime.
“What good is NATO?” asks Trump, and this is a valid question to which there’s only one possible answer, one I offered above. NATO’s principal role is to protect the West against the Russian threat.
The West’s commitment to NATO is thus bound to hinge on how clearly and realistically it perceives the Russian threat. If they regard it as non-existent, one can’t blame European governments for their reluctance to shell out billions for protecting themselves against nothing much.
If there’s no threat, then it’s much more important for any German government to spend money on enabling Germans to retire on practically their full pay. Pensioners vote; tanks don’t.
It’s reasonably clear that Merkel doesn’t see Putin’s Russia as a threat. But does Trump?
Here we again re-enter the murky waters of Trump’s relationship with Putin. These waters may never become limpid because a US president has enough power to side-track an investigation into his affairs, even if he can’t stop it altogether.
However, it’s still possible to get to the bottom of at least some areas. One such is the profits Trump derived from Russia, and these were sufficiently large to invoke words like ‘kettle’, ‘teapot’ and ‘black’ whenever he accuses Germany of living off Russia’s gas.
Trump’s son Donald Jr., who in the run-up to the election had regularly shuttled between New York and Moscow, clarified matters a few years ago, when he happily admitted that “… Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
On record, Trump tried to negotiate huge property development deals with the Russians some 10-15 years ago, but nothing much came of it. He did get a few million for organising a beauty pageant in Moscow and building a golf course or two, but such amounts would hardly have constituted ‘a disproportionate section’, nor really ‘a lot of money pouring in’.
So where did the ‘disproportionate section’ and ‘a lot of money’ come from? From off-record deals, obviously.
One can only guess there, although some researchers, such as Yuri Feltshinsky (Litvinenko’s co-author), add a fair amount of substance to the guesses by providing much circumstantial evidence of how laundered Russian cash saved Trump from his latest bankruptcy.
Yet staying in the realm of facts, Trump is on record regularly expressing his admiration for Putin – and the president isn’t on record saying one bad thing about him.
Whether this comes from genuine admiration or something underhanded is interesting but irrelevant. Both are equally reprehensible.
It’s also a fact that the Russians pumped a lot of money and effort into trying to boost Trump’s presidential campaign.
Whether or not that had any appreciable effect is open to question, but the effort itself isn’t. And the gangsters manning the Russian government and ‘parliament’ are also on record cracking champagne and dancing in the aisles on hearing the news of Trump’s victory.
The gangsters were in for some let-down because neither they nor perhaps even Trump himself appreciated the constitutional limits on presidential power in the US. Thus Trump has been unable to repeal anti-Putin sanctions, as he promised to do during the campaign. But he did make the promise.
Dipping into even murkier waters of the What If? genre of geopolitics, we might go all the way and ask all sorts of unpleasant questions.
What if Trump indeed isn’t an entirely free agent? What if his threats to dismantle NATO have an ulterior motive? What if the deal he seeks to strike with Putin will involve dividing the world into spheres of influence, the way Hitler did with Putin’s role model Stalin?
Trump’s tête–à–tête with Putin on Monday may answer those question, or then again it may not. But don’t think for a second we have no reason to worry.
P.S. Two excellent reasons to support Trump’s visit to London: Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan. They both protest against it.