Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, has thrown doubt on NATO before but never outright said he might allow Russia to invade a Baltic state — until now.
The property tycoon and former television star, who is due to be nominated by his party later on Thursday, told The New York Times he would only come to the aid of an ally if they had “fulfilled their obligations” to the United States.
He was asked specifically about a possible Russian attack on one of the three Baltic nations, which freed themselves from Soviet rule in 1990.
It’s an old Eastern Europe strategy: boxed in between Germany and Russia, you ally with Western nations, like France, to safeguard your independence.
It doesn’t always work. France restored Polish independence in 1807 and went to war, together with the United Kingdom, when the Germans and Russians invaded the Baltic states and Poland in 1939. But the West couldn’t kick Joseph Stalin out of Central and Eastern Europe after the war; the “betrayal” of Yalta that was only rectified 45 years later when the Iron Curtail came down.
The countries in the region then wisely reached out to United States, which is still the ultimate guarantor of their security. The Americans, after all, have no immediate stake in what the European balance of power looks like, as long as there is a balance.
Unlike the French. They have their own history of accommodation with Russia, in order to balance against German power.
It’s a history that may not be very relevant anymore, but it does help explain why France doesn’t see Russia the same way its neighbors do.
NATO defense minister have agreed to station four battlegroups in the Baltic states and Poland to guard against Russian aggression in the region.
Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States would each send some 800 soldiers to protect the three Baltic nations as well as the narrow strip of land around the city of Suwałki that connects Poland and Lithuania.
Kaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic Sea enclave, lies to the northwest and Belarus, Russia’s closest ally, borders Lithuania and Poland to the south and east, respectively.
Montenegro signed an accession protocol with NATO this week. 28 foreign ministers from the alliance’s existing member states signed the treaty earlier this month to clear the way for the Balkan state’s entry.
Expanding the alliance at a time when tensions with Russia are high due to the Atlanticist ambitions of another country in Eastern Europe — Ukraine — might strike some as unwise.
Montenegro, with its population of 600,000, also seems to offer NATO little. It has just 2,000 soldiers along with two frigates and four light ground-attack aircraft inherited from the former Yugoslavia.
President Barack Obama reiterated a long-standing American complaint when he told The Atlantic recently, “Free riders aggravate me.”
Obama only obliquely referred to his European allies and also had Arab states in mind, but the idea that nations across the Atlantic are taking advantage of American largesse has become a familiar refrain.
Let’s recognize up front that there is more than a little truth to this sentiment. Europe has a larger population than America yet accounts for only a quarter of defense spending in NATO. Few countries spend the recommended 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense whereas the American spend 4.5 percent of theirs on the military.
NATO is the most powerful military alliance in human history: it combines three of the world’s seven nuclear-armed powers and tops it off with the conventional power of the world’s lone superpower. It has potentially formidable military powers within it: France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom could all well rearm to much success should they so choose.
And the Islamic State just set off bombs right near their headquarters.
A wholly reasonable and often asked question will be: Why doesn’t NATO do something? Why, when so powerful and so unassailable, doesn’t the mighty military alliance annihilate the Islamic State?
Donal Trump would pull the United States back from East Asia and Europe, severing alliances that go back decades and putting American trade interests at risk.
The property tycoon and former reality TV star who is now the frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination told The Washington Post on Monday that America can no longer afford its military presence in Europe.
“NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money,” he said.
Poland would be more amendable to Britain’s EU demands if the island nation helped bolster NATO’s defenses in Central Europe, the country’s foreign minister, Witold Waszczykowski, has said.
Waszczykowski made his unusually forthright proposal in an interview with the Reuters news agency that was published on Sunday.
“We still consider ourselves a second-class NATO member state,” the Pole said, “because in Central Europe … there aren’t, aside from a token presence, any significant allied forces or defense installations, which gives the Russians an excuse to play this region.”
Apologists for Russian president Vladimir Putin and his aggression in Eastern Europe typically argue that the West has itself to blame because it expanded the European Union and NATO right up to Russia’s doorstep after the end of the Cold War.
During the Crimea crisis, I argued here that although Russia may see it that way — and therefore it is something Western leaders must be conscious of — it nevertheless betrays an irrational and paranoid view of the world. NATO is never going to attack Russia. The EU is only a threat insomuch as it demonstrates there can be genuine cooperation and friendship between nations.
Sadly, this paranoia is real and many, if not most, Russians have yet to come to terms with their loss of empire, evidenced in their continued admiration for tyrannical leaders from the past and willingness to believe that whatever ails their country is the result of foreign plots.