Europe Between Trump and Putin
It was an interview that made the whole West sit up, in July 2016. To the question whether it would be in the USA’s interest to stand by the Baltic states in case of a Russian invasion, Trump supporter Newt Gingrich stated that Estonia would be no more than the ‘suburbs of St Petersburg’. Previously, President-elect Donald Trump, still a candidate at that time, had already questioned NATO and ignored questions on a possible Russian invasion in Eastern Europe.
The fact that the statements of the moody presidential candidate were confirmed in such an unequivocal way by a well-known GOP veteran like Gingrich, ran down the hope of many observers that Trump would never be able to impose his exotic views on the Republican Party. Gingrich, who made a name for himself as Bill Clinton’s opponent in Congress in the 1990s, had been one of the most resolute advocates for the enlargement of NATO.
Trump’s criticism immensely weakens NATO
Since the end of World War II, there has never been a US president who questioned the North Atlantic Treaty as offensively as Donald Trump. He repeatedly criticized the majority of NATO-members for not fulfilling their duties. It is agreed that each of them has to spend at least two percent of its GDP on defense. Currently, only the United Kingdom, Greece, Poland and Estonia meet this minimum.
Even more worrying than his statements on NATO are Trumps openly displayed sympathies for Vladimir Putin. He regards the Russian despot as a great statesman and announced to reboot relations to Russia. His Deputy National Security Advisor Kathleen Troia ‘KT’ McFarland even claimed Putin deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is still uncertain, what the foreign policy of US President Donald Trump will look like. So far, he took back many of his absurd claims and with Mike Pence he chose a Vice President who has considerable support within the Republican basis. This religious zealot holds a tough line towards Russia. But this glimmer of hope is run down by Trump’s announcement of Rex Tillerson as foreign minister, a businessman who has close ties to Putin.
Furthermore, Trump immensely weakens NATO, no matter whether he lives up to what he promised in regards of foreign policy or not. The strength of this alliance largely builds upon the credibility of its members. Trump who repeatedly reversed his statements, harms the picture of a stable and unified bloc. In addition, his Anti-Islam rhetoric works like a catalyser for the recruiters of Islamic State.
Renewal of the European security architecture: Intermarium
Given all this, it is worth tackling a renewal of the European security architecture. The Eastern European countries’ fear of Russia is huge. Among all members of NATO, Estonia is pointing out its contribution to the alliance the most clearly. The defence spending of the small state shall exceed the agreed-upon two percent next year. Poland even spends 2.2 percent already. And also Lithuania, Latvia and Romania continually increased their military budgets throughout the last years.
Andrzej Duda, the president of Poland, re-seized an idea of Polish dictator Pilsudski from the 1930s. The so-called ‘Intermarium’ is supposed to be a defence alliance of several Eastern European states from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea (therefore the name ‘Between the seas’). This way, Poland wants to create a power bloc that protects the country against the East as well as the West, since the mistrust towards Germany is still significant.
Nevertheless, it is questionable whether this proposal could be realized. The interests within Eastern Europe may be similar, but they are still not homogenous, therefore such an alliance would require a mighty country as its leader. The last Polish state in history with a geopolitical power great enough to build up its own system of alliance was Poland-Lithuania in 18th century.
An EU army?
After all, Brussels is already reacting. Just recently, vice president of the European Commission Jyrki Katainen published a plan intending a fund of € 5 billion to buy new arms for the EU-members. Furthermore, there shall be more research on defence and arms shall be standardized.
The long-time suggested EU-army is not discussed in Brussels at the moment. This approach is probably not feasible anyway. Given the conflicts of interests within Europe, a mutual army of EU-members would likely be incapable of acting. The right of veto which would have to be granted to all states involved would completely paralyze it.
There might be requests from other European countries to arm the German military soon. Apart from France, the most powerful NATO member in Continental Europe, the Federal Republic has – in contrast to its indebted neighbour left of the Rhine – the greatest financial scope to do so. At the moment, the military budget still equals about 1.19 per cent of the German GDP which is € 37 billion. There is still room to increase expenditure; Germany will at least have to double the spendings to build up a strong army.
We need a stronger Europe now
It is easy to imagine a European defence pact taking NATO’s place. The feasibility of such an alliance is still to be discussed. The current favorites in the race for the French presidency – the conservative Francois Fillon and Marine LePen of the right-wing party Front National – are rather disposed towards Vladimir Putin.
It could be fatal if one of them took the helm next May, because France will be indispensable for a common security project. The Grande Nation is a nuclear power, has the strongest military in Continental Europe and in contrast to Germany is trusted by Poland. Regardless of what is happening in the future, we need to act immediately. In the long run, the armed forces of the European states have to gain a strength that is at least comparable to the US military. This is the only way to preserve the deterrence against Russia. And it will cost time and money.
Xaver Maximilian Spörl is working in the pharmaceutical industry, while fighting for liberty in his spare-time. When he isn’t raising funds for SFL Germany or writing articles about topics like geopolitics, free trade or entrepreneurship, he likes to travel and get acquainted to lots of cool people from everywhere.
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