Of the twenty-nine NATO countries, only five (U.S., UK, Poland, Estonia, and Greece) are meeting their commitment to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. How much more lethal would NATO be if all members paid their bills and strengthened their defense capability? Such was President Trump’s message at this week’s NATO Summit in Brussels. And while previous U.S. presidents delivered the same message, Trump’s leadership, as confirmed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, reportedly convinced those deadbeat members to pay their bills. Sometimes a little intervention is necessary between friends.
Right now for example, Germany is only allotting a meager 1 percent-plus toward defense. Not only has that devastated German (and therefore NATO) military readiness, it is wildly unfair to the U.S. and other NATO Member States. Embarrassingly, severe equipment shortages have reduced German combat units to using broomsticks instead of rifles during training exercises. That sweeping development surely will keep the Kremlin up at night. Not.
The flip side of friendly readiness is that of one’s adversary, which is why Trump flagged the energy deal between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. They’ve agreed to construct a second massive natural gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2, running beneath the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. All told, Germany will rely upon Russia for up to 70 percent of its energy needs, for which they will pay Russia billions and billions of dollars. So why, President Trump opines, would Germany, a NATO Member, agree to an energy deal that will enrich and empower NATO’s biggest adversary? Let the ‘Trump colluded with Russia’ faction chew on that, by the way.
Germany maintains that its NATO responsibilities and Nord Stream 2 are unrelated. Wrong. The reality is that increasing European reliance upon Russian energy is loaded with economic and geopolitical danger. Putin has made no secret of his desire to return Russia to the glory days of the Soviet Union. To that end, Russia has been busily developing an entirely new generation of advanced armored combat vehicles, expanding and upgrading its inventory of ballistic missiles and modernizing its nuclear triad. Russia frequently meddles in neighboring states’ politics, and conducts massive military exercises right up to the borders of Poland and the Baltic states, territory that the Kremlin covets. Also, Moscow continues to expand its military footprint in Kaliningrad. Despite all of this table setting, combined with naked political will, Putin’s biggest obstacle to his expansionist goals has been a tepid economy. Enter Germany: Nord Stream 2 will help Make Russia Great Again.
Additionally, the Kremlin knows how to use energy as a weapon. Just ask Ukraine; in 2014 Putin cut off their energy flow over political differences. So why would Germany voluntarily place their fate in Russia’s hands? If Germany can’t meet its NATO spending commitments now, just wait until some frigid Bavarian winter when Bad Vlad decides a steep price hike is in order for Germans’ to heat their homes. That’s hardly a recipe for strengthening NATO.
Increased European dependence upon Russian energy could also exacerbate existing fault lines within NATO, namely between Eastern and Western Europe. Moscow considers Eastern Europe as rightfully part of the Russian sphere of control; fracturing NATO is key for Putin to make that a reality again.
Eastern European nations, particularly the Baltic States and Poland, understand this all too well. That’s why Poland has wisely sought energy deals from non-Russian sources, including the United States, which earned them a spanking from the EU, from which all European blessings must flow.
It is a fact that Europe requires sources of energy. But there’s no need to look to the East, particularly when energy alternatives exist. Enter the United States. While Russia is presently the world’s biggest exporter of natural gas, America is rapidly catching up. The Trump Administration has erased Obama’s slow-roll approach to the approval process for construction of export terminals. Only two are operational now, but a dozen or more will come online in the next few years, with our massive reserves America will have the capacity to meet Europe’s energy needs, and then some.
Increased energy trade between NATO allies only strengthens the alliance, and Germany would neither be beholden to, nor enriching, NATO’s biggest adversary. And of course, an expanded oil and gas industry at home will further energize our economy and create countless more jobs. That’s a definitive win-win.
Finally, according to figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the cost of American natural gas is less than half of that from Russia. With that kind of savings, and a modicum of political will, Germany can finally meet its NATO defense spending commitments.
Patrick Murray (colonel, U.S. Army, retired) was part of a military-diplomatic exchange program between the Pentagon and Department of State, where he served in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs in Washington, D.C. In 2005, Murray became the U.S. representative to the Military Staff Committee at the United Nations in New York under Ambassador John Bolton. After retiring from the Army in 2009, Patrick became the Republican nominee for U.S. Congress in Northern Virginia. He is the author of "Government is the Problem." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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