April 4, 2019

NATO Turns 70

“President Donald Trump said on Tuesday his pressure on NATO nations to pay more for their defense is leading to tens of billions of dollars more in contributions, but the allies may need to boost their budgets even more.” Reuters

“In the first address to Congress by a NATO head, Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday acknowledged serious divisions within the alliance and called for bigger defense budgets to cope with global challenges such as Russian assertiveness, the core reason NATO was created in Washington 70 years ago this week.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left is critical of Trump’s rhetoric toward NATO and stresses its importance to defend western democracies from Russian and Chinese aggression.

“Since taking office, President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO over how the alliance is funded and pressured other member states to increase defense spending. In the process, he has made a number of misleading claims about NATO,distorting how it works and why it exists in the first place… Moreover, Trump's remarks on NATO seem to suggest that Europe must pay the US for protection from Russia, when this is not how the alliance is meant to function.”
John Haltiwanger, Business Insider

“Russia has interfered in elections in Europe, the U.S. and Latin America. China uses influence operations and economic coercion to bend democracies to its will from Oceania to Eastern Europe. Analysts can argue about whether this is a ‘new Cold War.’ Yet it is undoubtedly a high-stakes struggle over both the balance of power and the balance of ideas. It demands that the world’s democracies band together to defend their geopolitical interests and their political institutions…

“The Trump administration deserves credit for re-energizing the Quad and pushing the NATO allies to take the Chinese threat seriously. Yet the president deserves blame not simply for questioning the defense commitments that hold U.S. alliances together, but also for denigrating democratic norms and procedures, fawning over powerful autocrats, and often treating issues of democracy promotion and human rights as mere distractions. The Trump administration calls this ‘principled realism.’ But it’s no way to catalyze the global democratic response that today’s authoritarian challenge demands.”
Hal Brands, Bloomberg

Troublesome anniversaries are not new for NATO. The alliance has developed effective coping mechanisms to maintain its relevance and cohesion… [But] Trump’s hostility to NATO and the lack of U.S. leadership make the situation in 2019 quite different from past challenges… The big question for 2019, perhaps, is whether the presence of these… coping mechanisms, absent U.S. leadership, will be sufficient to lift NATO from its anniversary blues.”
Garret Martin and Balazs Martonffy, Washington Post

“Strains were evident during Vice President Pence’s afternoon speech at an international conference marking the 70-year anniversary…

“Previous presidents have raised the spending issue, though Trump has stood out for the harshness of his rhetoric, including a reported threat at a NATO conference in Brussels last summer to ‘go it alone’ if the allies didn’t pay up… [One Western diplomat] told The Atlantic that Trump should avoid the appearance of bullying Germany on military spending. Such aggressive messages can boomerang. The diplomat said that ‘it can actually be harder for Germany to spend more if it looks as though they are bowing to U.S. pressure.’”
Kathy Gilsinan & Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic

Many note that “Canada and the European allies came to our defense on 9/11 and invoked the Article 5 mutual-defense clause of the treaty. They viewed Osama bin Laden’s attack on the United States as an attack on them as well. NATO allies went into Afghanistan with us where they and partner nations have suffered more than 1,000 combat deaths. Most of those countries remain on the ground with our soldiers to this day. NATO allies have also fought with us in the successful campaign to defeat the Islamic State caliphate in Syria and Iraq. They conduct counterterror operations with us in Africa. The European allies have assumed full responsibility for peacekeeping in Bosnia and the bulk of the burden in Kosovo… NATO is still the world’s strongest military alliance.”
Nicholas Burns and Douglas Lute, Washington Post

Regarding the Cadillac tax, “high-premium employer-based plans raise the cost of health care for everyone by encouraging the overconsumption of expensive services. This means that even Medicare and Medicaid face higher prices. Quite aside from its benefits for the health-care market, the Cadillac tax would also have the effect of expanding the tax base and making the tax code more efficient. It would raise revenues by about $15 billion a year… Rather than killing or delaying the Cadillac tax, Democrats should be trying to make it operational. The tax would raise revenue, lower costs, increase the efficiency of the tax code and give the Obamacare individual market its best chance at success.”
Karl W. Smith, Bloomberg

“The two issues with which he is most often associated, support for a balanced budget and opposition to free trade, put him at odds with both of our major political parties. An old-fashioned, soft-spoken Southerner, he nevertheless held views on so-called ‘social issues’ that would be to the left of the mainstream of the Republican Party, both then and now. He was a fervent supporter of the Vietnam POW/MIA movement in the late '80s and early '90s, but he was not in any sense a hawk. Never mind 2003. Perot opposed the first war in Iraq in 1990… Perot's death should be mourned by all Americans who regret the fact that it is no longer possible to make reasoned, non-ideological arguments about questions of public import, and by the devolution of our political life into mindless partisan squabbling.”
Matthew Walther, The Week

From the Right

The right generally supports NATO but stresses that Germany and other member nations must spend more on defense, and questions the usefulness of some NATO allies.

From the Right

The right generally supports NATO but stresses that Germany and other member nations must spend more on defense, and questions the usefulness of some NATO allies.

“Stoltenberg skillfully articulated why NATO is a uniquely special alliance: it matches the sovereign authority of democratic governments to mutual efforts in common interest… The former Norwegian prime minister was clear that the alliance serves its 29 members by enabling each to be ‘stronger than any potential challenger.’ In an era of rising Russian aggression and continuing terrorist threats, NATO continues to be an alliance of paramount importance.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

“NATO’s efficacy defending Europe has allowed successive U.S. Administrations to shift their focus elsewhere, lately toward China and domestic concerns. Yet Russian revanchism under Vladimir Putin shows NATO’s continuing relevance… The challenge for NATO’s future is for Western Europeans to overcome their entitlement complacency to spend enough for their common defense. As for the U.S., NATO is a modest investment in deterrence to prevent a European war that America would have to return to Europe to fight. NATO at 70 is a challenged alliance but still a necessary one.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Dated But Relevant:Germany, one of the wealthiest countries in Europe, spends just 1.24 percent of its gross domestic product on defense — in the bottom half of NATO allies. (The U.S. spends 3.5 percent of GDP on its military.)... a German parliamentary investigation found that ‘at the end of 2017, no submarines and none of the air force’s 14 large transport planes were available for deployment due to repairs,’ and ‘a Defense Ministry paper revealed German soldiers did not have enough protective vests, winter clothing or tents to adequately take part in a major NATO mission’... NATO needs some tough love, and Trump is delivering it.”
Marc Thiessen, Washington Post

“The time has [also] come for NATO and American leaders to say publicly what has long been known privately: that the actions of the current Hungarian government, both at home and in their relations with Ukraine, run counter to their longstanding commitment to NATO and do not keep faith with the commitment the United States has made to Hungary… Since 2017, the Hungarian government has blocked meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, the official body for consultations between the alliance and Ukraine. Hungary did so over U.S. objections and at a time of ongoing Russian military hostilities and political subversion against Ukraine.”
Scott Cullinane, Washington Examiner

Some argue furthermore that “increasingly, [Turkey] is no friend to America or the West. In fact, Turkey would not be invited to join the alliance today. Its international objectives are too divergent and its domestic institutions are too authoritarian… Rather than desperately attempting to hold Ankara in NATO, the allies should begin considering how to ease Turkey out. There will still be issues where we need to cooperate with Ankara. However, Washington should stop making policy based on illusions of friendship with a government seeking to revive the Ottoman Empire. Turkey today is neither friend nor ally. The U.S. should treat it accordingly.”
Doug Bandow, The American Conservative

Minority view: “With the Soviet Union a wasted corpse twenty-seven years after its death, what is NATO’s purpose? Is a revanchist but nonetheless economically stagnant Russia really interested (let alone capable) of invading the Baltics? And with so many other priorities on its desk, is it time for the United States to at the very least transfer more security responsibility for Europe to the Europeans?”
Daniel DePetris, The National Interest

“NBC and MSNBC embraced Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the first debate of Democratic presidential candidates Wednesday night, treating her like the star of the show. The debate led off with Warren, who had a huge popularity advantage from the start… NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie started it off sounding more like Warren’s press secretary. ‘You have many plans – free college, free child care, government health care, cancelation of student debt, new taxes, new regulations, the breakup of major corporations,’ Guthrie said, before teeing up an economy question. Guthrie even used Warren’s plan to break up tech companies as the foundation for a question for Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey… the round-robin final comments also ended with Warren, as Maddow asked her for the ‘final, final statement.’ That let NBC bookend the entire debate with Warren and Warren.”
Dan Gainor, Fox News

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

Outside Hong Kong, the silence Is deafening… Some protesters in Hong Kong today are adopting the British Union Jack flag, the American flag and the ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ as symbols, yet that doesn’t seem to have stirred our collective imaginations… Americans are preoccupied with fighting each other over political correctness, gun violence, Trump and the Democratic candidates for president. To be sure, those issues deserve plenty of attention. But they are soaking up far too much emotional energy, distracting attention from the all-important struggles for liberty around the world…

“It’s 2019, and the land of the American Revolution, a country whose presidents gave stirring speeches about liberty and freedom in Berlin during the Cold War, remains in a complacent slumber. It really is time to Make America Great Again — if only we could remember what that means.”
Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg

On the bright side...

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