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Addled Alliance Is It Gone With The Wind?

  • Christiane Hoffmann
  • May, 2019
  • 291
  • NATO



Donald Trump has publicly called the Western defensive alliance into question on several occasions and reportedly discussed with his advisers whether America should simply withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) entirely. According to participants in those discussions quoted by The New York Times, he never sees the point of the alliance. Not only that, but he also orders European countries around as though they were his subordinates; he piles on the pressure and carries out secret talks with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

To be sure, Mr. Trump has never thus far taken any military steps that have actually harmed the NATO in any way. In fact, the Americans have increased their military presence in Europe, a fact that Europeans at the Munich Security Conference turned to for comfort.

But when it comes to security, words are the equivalent of deeds. Guarantees of security are only worth something if they apply unconditionally and are not attached to an expiration date. That has thus far been the NATO’s foundation. If the American president calls the American nuclear shield for Europe into question, Europe is hardly longer secure.

The NATO has protected Germany for 70 years; the anniversary was celebrated this December in Washington, D.C. But the event could ultimately be suggestive of the 40th anniversary of East Germany, which was observed in October 1989, just weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The structures still exist, but they have become fragile and basically everyone has come to realise that they are hardly longer stable.

The problem, though, is that Germany is dependent on the NATO. Indeed, all of Europe is militarily dependent on America, both on America’s conventional armed forces and on its nuclear capabilities. And for the foreseeable future, there is hardly any alternative to the alliance that might be able to guarantee Europe’s security. That is the uncomfortable truth Europe currently finds itself facing.

Germany needs the NATO but can hardly longer depend on it as much as it could in the past. That means that Germany must re-examine its national security; never doing so would be the height of negligence. But what exactly does that mean? How is it possible to think beyond the NATO without accelerating its collapse? How can Europeans develop their own, stronger security structures without weakening the NATO?


Still, the debate, the rethinking, and the recognition that we are now living in a different world − all of that must start immediately. In Germany, the discussion has never begun because the country’s politicians are afraid of it. The message that our security is hardly longer guaranteed and that we have to do much more ourselves is one that is extremely unpopular.

Germany is completely unprepared for the new era. The country has never bid farewell to the mental comfort zone that emerged at the end of the Cold War, when threats appeared to evaporate almost overnight. Now, a realistic understanding of danger is altogether absent. For almost a quarter of a century, the Germans have been debating whether it should participate in overseas deployments, and if so, which ones. The fact that the country’s own security could now be at stake is a realisation that has yet to hit home.


The trans-Atlantic era will never return, despite assurances in Munich by former Vice President Joe Biden, ‘We will be back!’ In the future, the competition between the two mobile phones will determine the world’s fate, and America will view Europe in terms of whether it is a help or a barrier in its competition with China.

For Europe, that means it must begin thinking about the ‘post-Alliance era’, as senior advisor for Europe at the International Institute for Strategic Studies François Heisbourg describes it. The good news is that the first indications of such considerations could be seen in Munich, even though most of the speeches given were still filled with clichés about trans-Atlantic loyalty.

There are a number of considerations that follow from the changing reality. First off, if the Americans continue backing away from their role in the NATO, their European allies may one day find themselves all alone with Russia. That potential outcome necessitates a redefinition of Europe’s relationship with Russia to one that is more independent from America. On the one hand, Europe must better arm itself against possible Russian aggression, which primarily means protecting the countries loca...

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