An alliance is a strange thing. There is generally one country that is senior and supplies most of the weapons and directions. In our case, that was us.
In NATO we have always been the senior country. During the Cold War everybody contributed their part when it came to “ponying up” enough so that one country was not left hanging.
Everything was done according to size, so the small countries contributed less than the large ones. During those years, things seem to work well.
Then about 14 years ago the Germans decided that they were opposed to nuclear energy which they thought was “wrecking” their country. Germany doesn’t have any natural sources of energy so the country began thinking about having gas, which could be burned safely and efficiently piped into the country.
The problem was finding a source of gas. The answer came bright and shiny from Russia. The fact is that Russia has ample reserves of gas.
But opponents cautioned that gas and oil are crucial parts of national security. Just think if great tank army, a fleet of ships or a great plane armada, or thousands of tanks were to run out of gas tomorrow.
The army, navy or air force would cease to exist. That is why those of us who have been tasked to calculate a country’s strength always calculate these resources as part of a country’s national security strength
If a war starts, the gas and oil become vital. Americans showed unhappiness about the German decision to build NordStream I, an offshore pipeline that brings gas directly from Russia via the Baltic Sea.
I remember at the time, I was working on Eastern Europe. The Poles were furious. Unfortunately, there was not much time available. But, Germany went ahead and started using the oil to feed its economy.
There are also rumors that Gerhard Schroeder, a former German chancellor, was more than happy. He became a top executive of the Russian controlled gas company that controlled this new company, and soon was living in a lifestyle only the very rich enjoy. I understand officials are working with him concerning NordStream II.
But Germany is an industrialized country and energy continued to seek more outlets. For some reason, American gas is available, but is more expensive.
German chancellor Angela Merkel has not been interested in exploring U.S. fields. Obviously, from a national security standpoint, taking another pipeline would make Germany even more dependent on Russia for energy.
Indeed, when Germans were asked why they pay too little attention, the answer was a blank stare. For some reason, it never seemed to occur to them that it could undercut German security.
We complained about NordStream I to the Germans, who seemed to quietly agree with us, but for diplomatic reasons, it was a very quiet and diplomatic type conversation.
That, of course, was pre-Trump. He has a different form of conversation than I was taught when I joined the State Department. I can imagine that some of my bosses, assuming they are still alive, must have literally flipped.
Looking back at some of the gentlemen (and lady) diplomats, for whom I worked, with whom I worked, or the Foreign Service Officers whom I supervised, I am sure none would ever speak to diplomatic colleagues using the approach Trump adopted.
But it appears that is the way diplomacy per-Trump goes at this point in history. Based on the bits and pieces I have picked up from Trump’s conversation with Merkel, he did not swear (at least not real crude language), but there was no doubt in her mind what Trump had in mind when they were alone.
Here is sort of what was said: “Angela, it’s time for Germany to do something. Fourteen years ago, you built the first line and you know we didn’t want you to and since then you have not done anything to see if our vast fields can be used.”
“What about your military budget? Angela, proportionately your military budget is the worst in NATO! When are you going to make 4 percent?”
As I understand it, she responded along the lines of “We decide our own policies and make our own decisions.”
There is a report that she ordered $4 million more transferred to the military budget this year which is apparently what raised the budget 1.24 from 1.20. The problem is that Germany must make a very serious decision about its military budget if it is serious about raising it anywhere near what is expected from Berlin. It is not a matter of just $4 million a year.
There is no doubt that Trump has shaken and woken up the old, lethargic NATO. Everybody, including Germany knows that the old type of behavior is just not acceptable in the future.
The Norwegian head of NATO Stoltenberg gave Trump credit several times for shaking up NATO — in a positive sense. But, then Stoltenberg wants to see more money spent on NATO. So, it is not surprising that he is happy to see even a modest movement in its budget. Based on what has happened so far — the alliance decided in their final agreement to include the 2 percent goal, so that will remain part of the requirements of the alliance.
For at least the near future, Brussels will be able to keep up the pressure.
The question is what is done with them. To be effective, the money should be put into new weapons as well as into logistics, the less glorified, but in many cases just as important.
Only time will tell?
Herspring, a university distinguished professor at K-State and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, is a retired U.S. diplomat and Navy captain.