PIQUERO: It is necessary for U.S. to keep committment to NATO
Opinions Column: The Principled Millennial
Of all the unconventional promises made by President Donald J. Trump during the campaign season, one in particular stuck out to me, and not in a good way. Trump’s rhetoric on the North American Trade Organization (NATO) baffled nearly any astute observer of international relations. This column is not intended to relitigate past remarks but rather to explain the significance of America's commitment to European security and the importance of the current dialogue underway between the Trump administration and Western leaders regarding the infamous military alliance.
To first understand the importance of NATO, one must retrace their steps all the way to 1949. World War II had recently ended and Europe was left ravaged and war torn. Cities were stripped of their historic glory, monuments were decimated and millions of people were left destitute and impoverished. In short, the post-war European environment was dismal. To make matters worse a conflict had begun to emerge between the Western nations anchored by America and the Eastern nations by Russia. This conflict would eventually spiral into what is referred to as the Cold War. The details of how this conflict came to be are inconsequential in regards to this conversation. But the differences between the ideologies, politics and cultures of the two opposing forces made it difficult for anyone to see how the situation could end favorably. The advent of nuclear weaponry only exacerbated the crisis, for most political observers realized that one fatal misstep could realistically precipitate the end of civilization itself.
What prevented this disastrous outcome from occurring? How was it that the two world superpowers, brimming with hatred and contempt for each other, never physically fought each other on the battlefield? How did Europe, already weak and vulnerable, resist invasion by Russia that was rivaled to possess the strongest military capability in the world?
The short answer is NATO.
NATO was a military alliance comprised of all the Western powers intended to repel any Russian aggression on the continental mainland of Europe. NATO operated under the principle of collective action, or in other words, the concept that if any member of NATO was attacked, it would essentially be an attack on the rest. Providing the most economic and military resources, the United States was the backbone of the alliance and acted as a bulwark against Russian ambitions. Between 1949 and 1991 the only thing that prevented the Russians from storming across the Berlin Wall into Central Europe was the realization that war with Western Europe meant war with the U.S. And that would not have gone smoothly.
Fast forward about 42 years later — the Soviet Union collapses, the Western democratic model wins, and the Cold War ends. Russian aggression is tamed for the first time in a generation. NATO is used in various instances like during the Kosovo War during former President Bill Clinton's administration, in Iraq and Afghanistan during former President George W. Bush and former President Barack Obama's administration’s, and counter-terrorist operations during all three.
Why, then, if the track record of NATO has proven to be such a resounding success, has Trump railed against the alliance, famously ridiculing it as “obsolete” and hinting at “rethinking” our involvement with the organization? Well, behind Trump’s flagrant misstep referring to the alliance as “obsolete” were legitimately recognized grievances. For one, out of 28 countries in the alliance, only five meet the 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense spending requirement that was mutually agreed between all member nations. This creates the perception, to use the words of Obama, that the rest of the countries are “free riders” relying solely on U.S. military support in the event of an attack. Secondly, a poorly organized intelligence-sharing dynamic between NATO members has led many, including Trump, to pin part of the blame on recent terrorist attacks in Europe on NATO. The idea is that NATO is unprepared and inadequate to deal with contemporary threats.
Despite these legitimate qualms about the organization, one must not look further than the Russian invasion of Crimea and its renewed aggressive posture under President Vladimir Putin to see the dangers of a dilapidated alliance. To renege on our agreement would be abandoning our staunchest and most admirable allies. Luckily, it seems as if Trump has back pedaled on his initial statements, perhaps cajoled by the brilliant Secretary of Defense James Mattis who has enthusiastically supported the alliance. Recent signs have pointed to increased defense spending by NATO allies, specifically Germany, which will undoubtedly soothe some of the organizations harshest denouncers.
With upcoming talks between the Trump administration and European leaders amid a rapidly changing global environment and a resurgent Russia, one can only hope that reason will prevail and the U.S. will uphold its security agreement with NATO to secure peace for us all.
Michael Piquero is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and history. His column, “The Principled Millennial,” runs on alternate Fridays.
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