NATO Spark Notes for President Trump

by Stephen Saideman

Dear President Trump,

I see that you are still confused about how NATO works.  While there is, indeed, some money that goes to keep the lights on at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Mons, and elsewhere, and there are a few key NATO military units (early warning planes, some drones, a few other bits and pieces), the burden-sharing problem is not about that.

In your meeting with Chancellor Merkel, you said:

I reiterated to Chancellor Merkel my strong support for NATO, as well as the need for our NATO allies to pay their fair share for the cost of defense. Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe.

No, that is not how it works.  The burden-sharing problem that has been the subject of many NATO meetings, including the Wales Summit, is about each country paying enough (the 2% of GDP aspiration) for their own defense.  It is not about Germany or France or Estonia giving money to Brussels or to the US, but about Germany spending enough on new tanks, planes, ships and enough on a large enough armed forces and enough on fuel and all the rest.  The idea is not that the US is getting ripped off, that somehow countries owe the US money, but that the alliance would be better off if all the allies spent more on their armed forces.  The past shortfalls do not mean that countries are in debt to the US or to NATO–it just means that their militaries are not in as good shape as we would like.  It means that they don’t have as many tanks or planes or whatever or that their personnel are not as well trained.  The underspending over the years is problematic, but these countries do not owe any debts from the past to catch up in their accounts at NATO HQ.  Again, this is not how it works.

So, next time you complain about burden-sharing, don’t suggest that the US is owed money.  Because it is simply wrong.

Thanks,
Sincerely,
Steve

Scariest News Today: China Edition

by Stephen M. Saideman

I am tempted to make this a daily feature: what have we learned about the Trump Administration on each day that scares us the most?  But that will be exhausting as Jon Stewart suggested on the Colbert Show.  Still, I think this might be a regular feature.  So, which is it for the last 24 hours?

Is it the spat with Australia?  No.  That is just stunning, since it is incredibly hard to screw up that relationship.  The Aussies are perhaps the people on the planet most like the Americans for a variety of reasons, and they still feel a keen debt for that World War II thing.  They have showed up in every American war, no matter how misguided, even when other allies will not (Vietnam, Iraq 2003).  But this does not quite scare me the most.

What does?  Learning that President Bannon, oh, I mean, Rasputin, oh I mean the Trump Whisperer believes that the US will be at war with China in the next ten years.  Why does this bother me so?  Holy self-fulfilling prophecy, Batman!  If one believes that war is inevitable, then one begins to behave in ways that make war more likely.  Instead of trying to avoid war, one tries to find the right moment, the most opportune time for oneself.  Oh, and since this is international relations, where the other side is aware and reacts, they start doing the same thing–making moves to put themselves in the best position to win.  Usually, this means figuring out how to land a decisive first blow.  Which means in a crisis, the US and China would be looking for opportunities to strike first and also fearing the first strikes of the other side, making it hard to manage the crisis.  Neither side would be as willing to play for time to figure a way out because, hey, war’s gonna happen.

Whether it is the US launching a preemptive attack to hit Chinese forces before they hit American bases in the region or China launches first to hit American bases and ships in the area (sorry, Japan),  it is easy to imagine the fears of first strikes and how exaggerated they become when war is seen as inevitable.

Yes, this screams to the IR scholar World War I.  There is much controversy about the historiography of that war, but one thing that did operate at the time–the sense that war was inevitable, which encouraged all kinds of behavior that led to the war.  So, yes, IR scholars are extremely nervous right now.  The informal discussion revolves around the question of which war comes first: Mexico, Iran, or China.  As it stands, I would prefer the first two wars to the third, which again reminds me of how low our expectations have become, thanks to Donnie Trump.

Returning to Bannon, he probably doesn’t mind a war or two, perhaps would not even mind the US losing a war with China, as his main goal is to break the United States in pretty much every way so that he can usher forth a New Order with white nationalists running everything (into the ground).

So, yeah, I am scared.  How are you doing?