Many headline writers are blowing Merkel’s statement about US and UK reliability out of proportion. Putin will be happy about the display of transatlantic division. I think Merkel’s comment could be very good for transatlantic relations in the mid-term.
She was speaking in a beer tent in Bavaria. Federal elections in four months. Merkel was making the case for a stronger EU and a more active German foreign policy. Her party is in favour of increasing defence spending and working towards NATO's goal of spending 2% of GDP on defense by 2024. The second biggest party is questioning this goal, although they have been part of the coalition government which made this commitment in 2014.
Jeremy Corbyn recently won his re-election to lead Britain’s opposition party, the Labour Party. An ardent socialist and sceptic of interventionism, he has advocated leaving NATO before being leader. Now as leader, he has consistently criticised it for destabilising eastern Europe due to its Eastward expansion in the 1990s, antagonising Russia and being involved outside NATO’s traditional sphere, for example in Afghanistan. Corbyn has publically argued at Labour Party, Stop the War Coalition and Momentum rallies (extra-parliamentary organisations closely allied to Corbyn) that NATO should be ‘closed down’ to bring a halt to potential war in Eastern Europe. With his position secure in Parliament, his argument, and the movements that agree will not disappear.
Corbyn’s foreign policy argument is that NATO is a hegemonic instrument for the West, particularly America and oil companies. Recent history has shown that the United States has declared war on more states, like Iraq and Panama and non-state actors like Al-Qaeda or Somali rebels than Russia has. NATO has been used in interventions, like Libya, that in Corbyn’s eyes bring together NATO’s imperialism and oil security. Further evidence cited by Corbyn is that NATO is by far the strongest military alliance in the world– with a combined budget of $900 billion, with the United States contributing two thirds; it dwarfs Russia’s $50 billion. This hard military power can only ever be malign, military force that size cannot be benign according to Corbyn.
Hillary Clinton is much more supportive of NATO and Europe than all the other presidential candidates. Yesterday, Hillary Clinton gave an impressive speech describing NATO as "one of the best investments America has ever made". She stressed the need for US leadership and collaboration with allies in the struggle against ISIS. Bernie Sanders has yet to give a major speech on NATO. Donald Trump's opinion on NATO reflects widely held sentiments in the US.
Hillary Clinton's speech was impressive because she spoke at Stanford on the Pacific coast, and not on the Atlantic. She spoke to students, not the old Cold War generation with a stronger attachment to Europe. Often accused of pandering to the desires and needs of her given audience, Hillary Clinton here did not talk about opportunities in Asia-Pacific region, but about the threats in Europe and the Middle East and the need for strong US engagement in these regions. Moreover, the speech comes shortly after recent statements by Donald Trump and President Obama who criticized Europeans as mainly free-riders on defense in interviews with Washington Post and The Atlantic respectively.
I think it's great that Political Science professors testify in Congress from time to time. This happens far to rarely in Germany! The quality of Stephen Walt's testimony on the future of the EU, however, is underwhelming.
He describes at length five well-known EU problems/facts and then presents three scenarios. His most likely scenario for the EU is to muddle through as in the past. How brilliant or surprising is that? He also warns of the scenario that the EU might gradually unravel. He describes an optimistic scenario for a reinvigorated EU, that he considers unlikely.
Foreign Policy magazine apparently feels the need to maximize profit with clickbait, so they use the headline "Does Europe Have a Future?" for Walt's article based on his testimony. Professor Walt seems to distance himself from this sensationalism by tweeting a clarification: "To be clear: Europe does have a future. But as I told Congress, just not a very bright one."
The Pew Research Center's transatlantic survey indicates a high degree of security complacency and a lack of solidarity across NATO member publics. Evidently, the Atlantic Community is still a distant future, with this vision being marred by an absence of real unity. We must encourage more policy dialogue between citizens throughout Europe and across the Atlantic and thereby create empathy and a shared identity.
Many in the European publics, especially the Germans, take US support for granted, feel comfortable as security free-riders, and don't seem to understand NATO's concept of collective defense. From the Pew Research Center:
Americans and Canadians are the only publics where more than half think their country should use military action if Russia attacks a fellow NATO member (56% and 53%, respectively). Germans (58%) are the most likely to say their country should not. All NATO member publics are more likely to think the United States will come to an ally's defense (median of 68%) than to be willing to do so themselves. (…) Poles stand out as less certain that the U.S. would come to an ally's aid (49% would, 31% would not).
This is quite troubling and disconcerting as only a friend in need is a friend indeed. But, according to this poll, we are not even „fair weather friends", as we oppose solidarity already, before a NATO ally has even been attacked. Coming to each other's defense is the most basic principle of a friendship or partnership. Failing to do so is obviously infinitely worse than a disagreement about out-of-area missions or specific strategies.
The NATO Foreign Ministers have met in Antalya, Turkey, instead of Brussels. Various public diplomacy activities were organized as well. I think this is great, as Turkey is at a NATO “front-line” and has also been drifting away from the West as the AKP policies and public opinion polls by the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends have shown in recent years. Thus, any policy or gesture to reverse the trend is welcome.
What has been going viral from the meeting, however, is something else. A video of senior leaders singing “We are the World,” often with critical comments:
Putin's strategy is to intimidate, confuse and divide the West. He wants us to worry about his next steps. He appears stronger than he is, if Western decision-makers and opinion leaders consider Russia "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."
Churchill's famous description from October 1939 has made a comeback in the last fifteen months, but unfortunately not as the full quote:
I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest. It cannot be in accordance with the interest of the safety of Russia that Germany should plant itself upon the shores of the Black Sea, or that it should overrun the Balkan States and subjugate the Slavonic peoples of south eastern Europe. That would be contrary to the historic life-interests of Russia.
Churchill's reference to the "riddle", I believe, was mainly about forecasting Russia's actions, which is similar to the weather forecast. The next few days can be forecasted with quite some authority, but not the next weeks. Yet, we all know the not too distant future: Winter is coming. (Only stupid bureaucrats in charge of our public transport systems get surprised by the first heavy snow fall.) Russia's future looks bleak as current policies are not sustainable.
This article from March 2014 is still relevant and will most likely explain gut reactions to future crises as well. The current German and US governments cannot ignore their pundits and public opinions, but so far Merkel's and Obama's Russia policy has not been too much negatively influenced by the popular, but shallow and wrong reading of past US or German policy successes. The EU and the US have been balancing sanctions and diplomacy quite well. They have successfully maintained transatlantic unity, which is more important than higher sanctions or more diplomacy.