“They go out and make a gas deal, oil and gas, from Russia, where they pay billions and billions of dollars to Russia. They want (us) to protect (them) against Russia and yet they pay billions of dollars to Russia, and we’re the schmucks paying for the whole thing...” - Donald Trump, in Great Falls, Montana, 05/07/2018
An un-Presidential, but very Trumpian quote, to say the least. At the crux of it, Trump is asking: if the Russians aren’t a threat, why is America paying millions of dollars to protect Europe from them? However, if Russia is still a threat to Europe, why are they making trade deals with them? A logical enough question.
The American contribution to defence in Europe is astronomical and disproportionate. There are around 63,000 members of the American military deployed in Europe, with around 32,000 of these operating in Germany. On top of the personnel, America spends roughly $340 billion more than the 28 EU member states do, combined, as well as spending four times as much on equipment per soldier than their European counterparts. Even more dramatically, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, believes EU members could cut their defence spending to 1%. No wonder the Americans are alarmed. The point of this being that, what America contributes to keeping Europe safe is, as Presidents have been saying for decades, not far off grossly unfair.
The Trump presidency may well prove to be a fleeting occurrence, but the narrative he has set, that America is being ripped off by their allies, may well outlive him. With America unhappy about its defence contribution, there are things Europe will have to do to try and make this more palatable for the nation picking up the bill. Firstly, and obviously, Europe should vastly up their defence budget, to get at least closer to America’s. Secondly, Europe (and particularly Germany) should stop making major agreements with the very people they are asking America to protect them from.
In Trump’s Montana speech, when he spoke about European countries, it was clear to anyone paying attention that he was thinking about Germany. When he spoke about making oil and gas deals with Russia it is likely he was talking about either the Nord Stream or the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Nord Stream being an underwater gas pipeline which runs through the Baltic Sea to Germany. On top of the original pipeline, there are plans to have Nord Stream 2 functioning by the end of 2019. The second Nord Stream will transport gas to the broader territory of the European Union area, as well as Germany.
On top of strong government support, the second pipeline is backed by two German companies, Uniper and WIntershall. These Nordstrom pipelines are a hill that the Germans are prepared to die on. As Britain exits the European Union, and despite the domestic political turmoil, Germany is the major power in Europe. So as they hook themselves to Russian oil and gas, Europe becomes equally hooked. What is to be done from an American point of view, if they see Europe making major deals with Russia, then expect major protection from them? As aforementioned, America is already spending more on defence than any of their NATO allies, and more than all the EU member states combined. It could easily appear to them that Europe is saving the money they promised to spend on defence in 2012, and spending it on luxurious gas and oil deals with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. How long can Europe realistically expect America to protect them from the very same country they pay for gas?
The answer is probably not wrong.
On the first day of the recent NATO summit, Trump was claiming victory. He had, he said, convinced his allies within the organisation to increase their defence spending to 4% (spoiler alert, he hadn’t). The French President Emmanuel Macon soon poured cold water on this and rebuked Trump’s claim, pointing to a prior agreement to increase defence spending to 2% (of GDP spending) by 2024. Regardless of what happened behind closed doors, what is clear is the extent to which Mr Trump is unhappy with European allies.
Coupled with his unhappiness at allies’ defence spending, Trump is seriously aggrieved about Russia. Well, not about Russia, per say, but about the allied relationship Russia. Trump’s unhappiness comes from a feeling that Germany is having their cake and eating it. And he is damn right. Yet this is an issue which is best dealt with by removing him from the situation. The extent to which he polarises issues is astonishing, even when he is right, to his detractors, he is wrong. Only by removing the distraction of Trump can we think seriously about the issue he raises.
America contributes $686 billion, or 72% of the total defence expenditure by NATO members. This disproportionate amount of American money is being used to protect Europe from Russia by stationing thousands of troops on the continent. While Germany is being protected from Russia, they are making deals such as Nord Stream. Deals which see the gas pipelines bypass Eastern Europe, giving Russia a chance to cut them off while still supplying the EU. If Russia was to do this it would weaken Eastern European states like Ukraine and increase the possibility of Russia making further military moves in that part of the world, similar to the annexing of Crimea in March 2014. As well as the increased security risk, it will lead to increased German subservience to Moscow for oil and gas. It seems absurd for Germany to then demand protection against a nation to which it cosies up financially.
Ultimately, Germany and the rest of Europe have a choice to make. Nord Stream 2 should not go ahead. Reliance on the Russians for gas and oil, to such an extent, cannot continue. If it does, America should not be expected to continue keeping them safe from Russia.
As such, they must choose wisely.