After the Nazis were finally beaten and the little man with the pedophile moustache had done what he should have done a couple decades prior (kill himself), there existed a new threat: Communist expansion into Europe.
And so to counter this, the United States and what was at the time 11 other Western countries, sat down, sipped some aged Scottish whiskey, smoked some cigarettes (they were still good for us then), and promptly formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
The idea was simple and elegant: Protect North American and European countries from attack, primarily by the USSR. The North Atlantic Treaty stated that:
Any and all attacks made against any member of NATO would be considered an attack against them all. Should an attack occur, each of them would come to the aid of the country or countries being attacked by any means necessary, including the use of armed force to rescue the attacked party and maintain stability of the North Atlantic region.
In response, angry Ivan with his hammer and sickle scuttled together their affiliated Communist nations in Eastern Europe and founded a rival alliance, the Warsaw Pact, in 1955.
This consisted of the USSR and a number of countries that, if we’re going to be honest, the Ruskies had managed to nick from the retreating Nazis at the end of WWII.
Thus the Cold War began with nearly every European nation falling into one of the two opposing camps. Those in NATO and those in the Warsaw Pact.
The dead hadn’t long been buried from the Second World War and NATO began furiously installing military bases and various defence systems designed to counter Ivan and his ilk. The Ruskies, under the Warsaw Pact, did the same.
Thus began “the Cold War” and it wasn’t until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that the world realised that the USSR was completely and utterly broke.
A Diminishing Threat — And Expansion Continues
During the Cold War NATO added to their ranks, but it was after the collapse of the USSSR that membership became de-rigueur with many of the former Soviet satellite states joining NATO, which, if you’re perceptive, you’ll find ironic.
Here’s a list of the expansion of NATO since its founding members laid the groundwork way back after our grandparents had enjoyed those all expenses paid (often one way) vacations to French and Turkish beaches:
- Greece and Turkey (1952)
- West Germany (1955)
- Spain (1982)
- Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary (1999)
- Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia (2004)
- Albania, Croatia (2009)
- Montenegro (2017)
At its height, the USSR maintained over 300 military bases in Eastern Europe. THAT was undoubtedly a threat.
But after it collapsed the 280 million odd people that called the USSR home, shattered and its 15 republics all splintered leaving us with a Russia of just 145 million Ivans. A fraction basically and clearly much less of a threat even if they weren’t broke… which they were. In fact, its military, what remained of it, was left as a small fraction of its former self.
Today, Putin’s Russia isn’t quite so impoverished but it’s still not the terrifying bear that NATO was designed to counter. With the Soviet threat massively diminished NATO seems like an organisation built for a different time. And everyone realises this.
This is why the US is less excited about NATO and why they’ll be withdrawing from European soil in the near future. Ivan and his hammer and sickle aren’t about to invade anytime soon, and they all know it.
US Shifting to the New Threat
You may remember the Obama administrations “Pivot to Asia” trumpeted as “strengthening economic ties” and other such political speak. In reality, the US have long focussed on two regions:
- Countering Ivan and his hammer and sickle from their allies in Europe, and
- The assorted head severing thugs in the Middle East.
The US has come to realise that a different and far larger threat is increasingly exerting economic, political and military influence around the world. That threat comes in the shape of China.
Under the Obama administration the strategy was one of strengthening ties with Asian countries, ex China. The Trans-Pacific-Partnership (TTP) was part of that.
The Trump administration is taking a different angle, preferring to hit China economically to weaken their influence, rather than cozying up to China’s neighbours.
Either way it doesn’t really matter. What is important with respect to Europe is this.
The US realises that the growing threat comes from those fiendish Chinese and so we’re going to continue to see US military spending at NATO decline, and we’re going to see an increasing number of US military bases in Europe greatly diminished and shut right down.The US realises the growing threat comes from China. We're going to continue to see US military spending at NATO decline.Click To Tweet
The Europeans don’t like this new reality much because they quite fancied having US troops keep angry Ivan at bay without bearing much of the cost of doing so themselves.
Sure, local Europeans may sometimes get annoyed that there are guys in fatigues stomping about their home towns who go by the name of Joe, Bob, or Billy and say things like “roger” and “negative”.
To the European pointy shoes in Brussels it’s a been a great gig, but it’s ending.
Take a look at the breakdown of spending.
Simply put the US funds around 70% of NATO, which tallies up to roughly £501billion… or two thirds of total spending on national budgets.
For many years the US were happy to do so when their main threat came from angry Ivan, but that’s just not the lay of the land anymore.
Today, not only is angry Ivan nowhere near as mighty as he used to be, but Russia is subservient to a greater power, and that’s the power that the US worry about.
This is why the Trump administration is hell bent on punishing China economically while shoring up their defences and alliances in Asia to counter the growing expansion of China and its interests.
In part 2 we’ll look at what comes after the NATO we’ve all got to know and love.
“I said a long time ago that NATO had problems: Number one, it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago.” — Donald Trump