Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Tadae Takubo

【#529】Shock to NATO Likely to Spill over to Japan

Tadae Takubo / 2018.07.18 (Wed)

July 17, 2018

     Hastings Ismay, chief military assistant to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II and the first secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, made a famous remark that NATO was created “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” The remark summarized the then NATO military strategy to counter the Soviet Union as great Cold War adversary, woo the United States as the world’s largest military power and prevent Germany from rising again.

Changing Atlantic alliance
     Sixty-nine years after its creation, however, NATO faces either dismantlement or fundamental reform. While Russia still remains as a threat, the positions of the United States and Germany have dramatically changed.
     Having shouldered 35.7% of NATO defense spending and led the Atlantic alliance, the United States at a July 11-12 NATO summit openly complained about other NATO members’ less burden sharing, reaffirmed that its NATO allies should raise their defense spending to 2% of respective gross domestic product and asserted that the percentage should be increased to 4% eventually. U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed not to withdraw the United States from NATO if its NATO allies share the burden sufficiently.
     Germany, which should have been kept down, is now urged by Trump to substantially increase defense spending. In stern remarks to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump complained that Germany spent only 1.2% of GDP on defense while purchasing natural gas and oil worth billions of dollars from Russia, thus eliminating NATO’s raison d’etre.
     Merkel said apologetically that Germany’s defense spending was the second largest after the U.S. level among NATO members as Germany had the largest GDP in Europe. Such an excuse failed to calm Trump who is urging Germany to share the burden commensurate with its power.

U.S. criticizing lightly armed allies
     NATO has drastically changed since its creation. While Russian threats remain, NATO countries are plagued with fears of international terrorism, with some of them facing a serious refugee influx problem. While NATO member Turkey is buying weapons from Russia, Germany is launching the Nord Stream II gas pipeline project to purchase natural gas from Russia, as noted by the United States. Meanwhile, the United States has been strengthening its inward-looking tendency that began even before the Obama administration.
     Germany, which lost World War II along with Japan, has come under U.S. pressure to stop lightly armed, economically strong nation policy. It’s only a matter of time before Japan is put in the same circumstances. Will Japan take this as an undue foreign pressure or an opportunity to transform itself from an abnormal country into a normal one? Its wisdom and courage will be tested.

Tadae Takubo is Vice President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.