By Finian Cunningham
The capo-in-chief flew into Brussels like many feared he would, beating up on other NATO members with a combination of blackmail and extortion.
President Trump wants the others to cough up more dough for the “protection” provided to them by the United States. The American leader berated European heads of state as if they were naughty children, accusing them of “freeloading” on US military power for their defense over many decades, and of giving nothing back.
Trump singled out Germany in particular for his sharpest dressing down. He accused the top European economic power of being “controlled by Russia” owing to its supposed dependence on Russian oil and gas. Trump used that claim as a form of blackmail, alleging that Germany has been giving billions of dollars to Moscow for energy supplies, while cheating on financial payments to NATO because it relies on US military defenses.
It was a shocking display of contempt by the American president, the like of which has never been seen before from any US leader in the almost 70 years of the NATO alliance’s existence.
“It’s all gone crazy,” said one European envoy referring to the turmoil in Brussels this week caused by Trump. And Trump was not backing down either. He told the NATO members that he expected them to double their national military budgets – to a level of 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product.
NATO’s titular head, Jens Stoltenberg, tried to placate the bullish Trump by saying that other members of the alliance were planning to increase aggregate spending by some $266 billion over the next seven years.
Some observers noted that the behavior of Trump was like a gangster boss driving into a neighborhood, demanding that protection fees be hiked.
Christopher Black, a Canadian-based lawyer and analyst, described the proceedings as “an American shakedown” of the other 28 NATO members.
“Every American president has complained that the US is fronting the bill while its allies get a free ride. But nothing could be further from the truth… It is an aggressive military alliance created to serve mainly US interests,” wrote Black, in a commentary this week.
To underscore that point, this week the NATO summit agreed to expand military training programs in Afghanistan and Iraq. Britain and Canada are to send more forces to those countries to alleviate American troops who have been there for nearly two decades.
So America starts dubious, illegal wars overseas, but it is other countries that end up becoming embroiled, to give a political, quasi-legal cover for American imperialist adventures.
In his opening remarks to the summit, Jens Stoltenberg tried to appease a furious Trump but in doing so inadvertently revealed the real function of NATO. As if pleading with the US president to not break up the alliance, Stoltenberg said it played an important role to “help project US power in the Middle East and Africa”.
It is true the US military budget accounts for about 70 per cent of the total expenditure by NATO members. America’s annual military spend is about $700 billion or around 3.5 percent of its GDP. That compares with Germany’s $43 billion or 1.2 percent of GDP.
But to portray the discrepancy as being due to chivalrous American defense of allies is a self-serving distortion.
For a start, the United States’ gargantuan military spend is not out of altruistic commitment to “defending allies”. The gross misallocation of resources is a function of American capitalism and how its economy is dominated by a grotesque military-industrial complex.
What Trump is seeking to do is to get other NATO members, the Europeans and Germany in particular, to in effect prop up the American economy through spending ever-increasing amounts of money on military industry. The anticipated purchase of US missile systems and warplanes – like the overpriced F-35 fighter jet – will feed into the American economy as a de facto subsidy.
Trump and America’s priority is not about “protecting” allies. It is about protecting the US economy through ramping up contributions to American capitalism.
In all the bluster this week in Brussels about the imperative need for NATO members to spend ever-more lavishly, there was a distinct lack of a justifying purpose for the presumed need.
Jens Stoltenberg spoke about how the alliance was “facing unprecedented security challenges and threats”. There was the usual mantra about “standing strong together”. But what exactly comprised these specific threats was not convincingly elaborated.
Stoltenberg said the agenda for the summit would include: Raising military readiness, stepping up the fight against terrorism, and fair burden-sharing of expenditure.
The first day of the summit was taken up with bickering from Trump about Europeans being “freeloaders”. The second day was preoccupied with the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, where Taliban fighters have renewed their offensive against NATO-backed government forces.
Yes, of course, Russia was alluded-to as a security challenge to the military alliance. Although Stoltenberg barely mentioned Russia in his opening remarks, the Summit declaration cited standard accusations against it: “Russia’s aggressive actions…challenge the Alliance and are undermining Euro-Atlantic security and the rules-based international order”, “Russia is also challenging Euro-Atlantic security and stability through hybrid actions, including attempted interference in the election processes.” However, it reiterated that “NATO does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to Russia.”
Trump’s derogatory talk about Germany being “a captive of Russia” had the implication of Russia as a security threat to Europe. But it was all implication and no detail. In any case, Trump is soon off to Helsinki to hold a full summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the hope, he said, of restoring friendlier relations. That hardly affirms Russia as a unique threat to Europe.
The “Russian scare” that NATO keeps banging on about is, in reality, the “biggest fraud” of modern times, as former US diplomat James Jatras points out. That fraud works by giving a veneer of justification to ongoing massive military spending by the US and its NATO allies.
Without Russia as a pantomime villain in the wings, it would not be possible for the US and its military racket to keep going.
European states are planning to spend some $266 billion over the next few years on NATO. The European Union is also integrating more of its infrastructural planning with NATO’s expansion towards Russia’s borders.
None of this obscene mis-spending would be possible without the invocation of Russia as some of kind of unique danger.
In truth, the NATO alliance should have been dismantled more than 25 years ago, when the Soviet Union collapsed – its supposed original purpose. It has become a travesty of a defense organization. NATO is nothing but a cover for American-led illegal wars and a giant laundromat for pumping billions of dollars into military-industrial capitalism.
The American leader is the linchpin of this racket that ultimately screws the ordinary citizens of Europe and the US. Trump’s conduct this week was proof of the charade.