A Chance to Make NATO Great Again
ON DEC. 12, THE European Council, the European Union’s highest deliberative body, made a historic decision – to set up an European defense force that can act independently of NATO; and to strengthen the EU’s ability to deploy forces anywhere the EU feels European security is threatened.
The EU defense pact, known in the EU’s sometimes labored jargon as Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, has also established a European Defense Fund, and is off to a running start with 17 defense projects that will be undertaken jointly by the EU countries.
This pact offers President Donald Trump a unique opportunity to refashion the transatlantic security relationship for the 21st century. He should take it.
The historic nature of this decision lies in the fact that the EU has never developed a capacity to defend itself, mainly because of opposition from the United Sates. Because the EU’s security interests are not always congruent with America’s, an independent European military force could, and probably would, act independently of U.S. led NATO, which is anathema to a Washington establishment that considers American leadership of European security matters akin to the holy grail.
The Europeans in turn are happy to let U.S. taxpayers foot the bill for defending Europe because it allows EU politicians to create and maintain duplicate defense jobs in their countries on overlapping projects that squander European defense euros without any increase in defense capability. For instance, as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute points out, the EU countries field 17 different main battle tanks, 29 different Destroyers/frigates and 20 separate fighter planes compared to one battle tank, four Destroyers/frigates and six fighter planes in the Pentagon.
The United States and EU should agree on a firm date by which the EU will assume responsibility for its own defense. 2025 would be my choice, being the 80th anniversary of the victorious end of World War II. At that point, the U.S. should close its European military bases and end the American military presence in Europe.
To underline its seriousness, the U.S. should immediately turn over the position of NATO’s military chief, the supreme allied commander europe or SACEUR, to a European general, and then systematically replace all the Americans in key leadership positions in the alliance with Europeans.
During the transfer of responsibility for the defense of Europe to Europeans, however, the U.S. must be unambiguous about its commitment to Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty, which states that an attack on one NATO member will be treated as an attack on all the members. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the United States will always meet its treaty commitment to NATO.
As the EU stands up its own defense force it may want to use existing NATO command, control and training facilities to eliminate duplication. The U.S. should welcome the opportunity to let the Europeans find a way to integrate NATO into the EU’s defense plans.
With Europe’s decision, Trump has a unique opportunity to re-fashion the transatlantic alliance for the 21st century while deploying the dollars now being spent to defend Europe on America’s needs. It is an opportunity that will help Europe and America, and make for a stronger transatlantic relationship. It is an opportunity that he should not miss.