The last few weeks have seen efforts and rhetoric by NATO members to mollify the U.S. President following Donald Trump’s various remarks during last year’s campaign and following his election that NATO was obsolete, that the U.S. was paying too much for the alliance and that most other countries were not pulling their weight financially. Only 5 of the 28 members, for instance, meet the commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on the military.
The UK, for example, pays more in absolute terms than Germany, which has a much bigger economy.
This has been a U.S. beef for decades. The only difference now is that a U.S. president seems more determined to rectify the situation and stop the Europeans in particular from free riding and hiding under the U.S. nuclear and conventional umbrellas.
Attempts to discredit Trump, however, often end up discrediting the “discreditors.”
On 30 March 2016, for instance, The Washington Post ran an article under its rubric Fact Checker entitled Trump’s claim that the U.S. pays the ‘lion’s share’ for NATO – and yet, ironically, managed to get basic facts wrong itself, writing that
NATO was established in the aftermath of World War II, originally with 12 members and the intention of binding together Western Europe in a defense alliance with the United States and Canada to counter the Soviet Union and its satellite countries in Eastern Europe (known as the Warsaw Pact).
This formulation makes it easy to conclude – erroneously – that NATO was established to counter the Warsaw Pact.
In fact, NATO was founded in 1949 and the “Soviet Union and its satellite countries in Eastern Europe” were not “known as the Warsaw Pact” until it was founded in 1955 – six years later.
So why the long delay?
The Warsaw Pact came into existence not as a response to NATO, but due to the London and Paris conferences in 1954.
The resulting Paris Agreements laid down that the occupation of West Germany would be ended and that the country would be granted full sovereignty and admitted to NATO.
On 23 October 1954, West Germany and Italy also joined the Brussels Treaty, which was originally signed on 17 March 1948 and contained a mutual defence clause.
In short, the Warsaw Pact was created in response to West Germany’s re-militarisation and accession to NATO.
The wider context, however, is of course the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, which ultimately led to the creation of the Soviet Union, the rise of Nazism and the Second World War.
After 1945, the Soviet Union advanced far into Central Europe and enjoyed overwhelming superiority in conventional forces over the Western allies – hence the West’s reliance on nuclear, which freed up billions for development.
Without the Soviet Union and its communist ideology, Russia and Eastern and Central Europe could have joined the capitalist world after 1945 – and enjoyed decades of spectacular increases in health and wealth.
The Third World, too, would have been spared much death and misery.