By Vincent J. Curtis
When NATO foreign ministers gather around the conference table to grouse about their problem with two per cent, they aren’t talking about American beer. They are talking about the sober promises their countries made to each other several years ago. At the NATO meeting in Brussels on March 31, new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told members that he wanted to see each country’s plan to raise their defence expenditures to two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) at the next meeting, scheduled for the end of April.
Presently, only five NATO countries are fulfilling that commitment: the U.S., UK, Greece, Poland, and Latvia. Canadian defence expenditure presently hovers around one per cent of GDP.
All this is taking place in an atmosphere of confusion and consternation at the new Trump administration. During the election campaign, Donald Trump criticized the usefulness of a NATO that paid no attention to the problem of international terrorism and terrorist states, while at the same time he appeared to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s appearing to cozy up to Putin gave legs to the story that Trump was in Putin’s pocket somehow. Even now, the Democrats in Washington are pushing the line that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian regime to steal the presidency from Hillary Clinton.
Because most of the media are suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome, they are missing the fact that Trump is working the Russian problem from both ends.
Trump is giving Vladimir Putin every reason to relax tensions between Russia and the NATO countries that became acute after Russia annexed the Crimea, and then sent proxies into eastern Ukraine to end the sovereignty Kiev de facto and de jure exercised over that region. Russian control over eastern Ukraine gives Russia a land bridge to the Crimea, with its famous port and the home of the Russian Black Sea fleet, Sevastopol.
Czarist Russia seized the Crimea from the Ottoman Empire in the 1783 and held it after the Crimean War of 1854–56. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred ownership of Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Ukraine kept it after it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Near the end of the Obama administration, Russia began to exert pressure on NATO members Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, the so-called Baltic states. These are geographically small countries with small populations; they lie on the extremity of the NATO region but are adjacent to Russia. These countries were once part of the Czarist Russian Empire, and were incorporated into the Soviet Union after 1945. These countries gained their independence from Russia after the communist revolution of 1917, and again after the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1989.
At the same time that Trump is giving Putin the chance to relax tensions without embarrassment to either side, he is demanding that NATO countries step up their defence expenditures to the levels that they promised when east-west tensions were not as great. Thus, if Putin finally concludes that he is wasting his time with Trump, he will be confronted by a stronger NATO. Not just a NATO strong in virtue of the military power of the United States, but of every other NATO member as well.
Not only will the Baltic states themselves be harder nuts to crack, but Germany, an old Russian antagonist, will be better positioned to step in and hold the line without requiring the full commitment of the United States military, which may take a few weeks before it gets fully deployed in Europe. If Germany stands as a guarantor of NATO security in the short run, a Russian intervention into the Baltic states may be solvable by diplomacy before the situation escalates out of control.
If the United States pulls out of NATO, these European countries are going to have to dramatically increase the defence expenditures anyhow, in order to deal with the Russian threat on their own. So, spending more on defence is in the cards.
Luckily for Canadian diplomacy, it has the resources of Esprit de Corps magazine behind it. In the February edition (Volume 24 Issue 1), the Canadian plan for meeting the two per cent threshold was laid out. The plan calls for capital expenditures over four years that will require 10 years to fully implement, but meets the criterion of two per cent for the duration of the first Trump term. Essentially, the plan calls for the recapitalization of the Canadian Armed Forces with the equipment it is going to need anyhow for the next 20 to 40 years. Not one thin dime needs to be spent from the operating budget of DND to pay for one new soldier, sailor, or airman over four years.
If the Canadian government follows the Esprit de Corps defence plan, it will not only find itself in the good graces of the Trump administration, but also leave a legacy of military preparedness.