Why Trump steals Merkel on China, NATO and beyond

Why Trump steals Merkel on China, NATO and beyond

All the tensions between the USA and Germany in Federico Punzi's in-depth analysis of Atlantico Quotidiano

The same music always plays – out of tune – the mainstream media, old and new, when it comes to reporting and commenting on President Trump's decisions, in particular those concerning NATO and Europe. Here is the disengagement from the Atlantic Alliance, it wants to abandon the European allies, do Russia a favor, and so on.

So the decision to withdraw 9,500 US soldiers from Germany by September, then in three months, reported by the Wall Street Journal – not yet formalized or communicated to the allies and NATO, but confirmed Wednesday in Bild by Richard Grenell, was read in recent days. US ambassador to Berlin resigned. The partial withdrawal would be expected in a memorandum signed by White House National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien. Considering that there are currently 34,500 American soldiers in service on German territory, it would be a reduction of more than 25 percent. The same memorandum would set the maximum number of soldiers usable in Germany at 25 thousand (it would still remain the largest contingent in Europe), while the current ceiling is 52 thousand, therefore the theoretical reduction would be 50 percent. More than economic damage to German local communities that house thousands of American families, the defeat for Berlin is political.

"A strategic and economic threat to NATO and all European allies," said the decision Paolo Mastrolilli, US correspondent for La Stampa .

On closer inspection, it seems that on this side of the Atlantic we are concerned not to weaken NATO and the West only when it comes to decisions and positions taken by the White House. Never evaluate the impact on transatlantic relations of foreign and security policy choices, or of the careless declarations, which come from Brussels and the main European capitals – Berlin, Paris and Rome. French President Macron who speaks of NATO's "brain death", admitting that he would not be willing to defend one of the allies, Turkey, from Russian aggression; or Chancellor Merkel, according to whom Europe "must do it alone", because "we can no longer count on Americans and English as reliable allies"; not to mention the pro-Iranian and anti-Israeli policy of the EU …

In words, when Trump's slaps arrive, European partners suddenly remember being Atlanticists, fear US disengagement, warn of the Russian threat, while in fact, as we will see shortly, they are the first with their choices (and not chosen) to erode the Alliance's deterrence and to flirt with rival powers, China and Russia.

Some have seen in the US President's decision to cut troops in Germany a retaliation for the refusal of Chancellor Merkel to be present in person at the G7 summit that should have been held in Camp David, in the United States, just in these days. A refusal, officially motivated by the gravity of the Covid-19 emergency, which prompted Trump to postpone the appointment in September, but above all it prevented the American president from further increasing the pressure on Beijing, putting the serious ones on the table now responsibility of the Chinese communist regime in the global spread of the virus, as well as the tightening on Hong Kong.

But Trump has re-launched, expressing his intention to invite South Korea, India and Australia – all medium-sized powers of the "Indo-Pacific" quadrant hostile to Beijing – and Russia, excluding the G7 in September (prerogative of the rotating presidency) since 2014 as a sanction for the annexation of Crimea. Not because it is "softer in the approach with Putin", or because of "personal interests that cannot be confessed", as La Stampa insinuates. Reintegrating Russia would mean trying to disengage it from Beijing's orbit. If in the 70s Kissinger's intuition was to open to China to avoid welding an axis with the Soviet Union, today that the main strategic rival is no longer Moscow but Beijing, the operation would be the same but in roles reversed: take Russia away from the Chinese embrace.

From the perspective of a US-China G2, which seemed inevitable only a few years ago, to the embryo of a new format, G11, with China the only power left out. The idea in Washington is to make it a sort of international concert to contain Beijing's hegemonic ambitions. For the president of "America First", the G7 is a useful forum as long as it responds to the US national interest, while for Europeans it is the maximum expression of multilateralism, which however appears increasingly end in itself, incapable of decisions and exceeded from events, from the return of competition between great powers.

But if in this new course the Anglosphere is compacting, as the joint declaration on the Hong Kong of the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia shows, this new Cold War was experienced with great embarrassment by the German-led EU, which invested much in the relationship with Beijing, both from an economic and political point of view – chasing the unrealistic (and dangerous) idea of ​​a strategic autonomy to carve out precisely in the equidistance between the US and China.

And it puts Germany in great difficulty, which on the one hand cannot do without the NATO umbrella for its defense (ie to "scrounge" security from American taxpayers), but on the other it also needs a close relationship with China, to which its economy is particularly exposed. As recalled by Francesco Galietti on Panorama, in his recent speech to the Adenauer Foundation, before the representatives of his party, the chancellor explained that justified concerns for human rights are not sufficient reason to compromise relations with the People's Republic, which indeed they must be preserved at all costs, especially now that Washington and Beijing are at loggerheads.

It is therefore not surprising that it is precisely Germany, among the G7 countries, that is most intolerant for the full-field confrontation opened by the US administration with Beijing. By blowing up the June summit, Merkel essentially bought time, doing a great favor for President Xi Jinping and avoiding having to sign a document that however would not have paved the way for Sino-German dialogue. More tensions, less room for maneuver.

It is no coincidence of course that the EU-China summit in Leipzig, initially convened for mid-September, has been postponed. Merkel aims to keep it anyway by the end of the year, therefore within the German EU presidency, but after the American presidential elections, between late November and early December. Not only because the negotiation with Beijing for the investment agreement objectively presents many obstacles. But also because he hopes to find a new tenant in the White House. With Joe Biden, in fact, a prospect of progressive easing of US-China tensions would open and Berlin could aim for a more ambitious result in dialogue with Beijing without irritating Washington.

We do not believe, as many think, that the US-China opposition of recent years is destined to continue anyone who will be in the White House on the morning of November 4th. Of course, the rivalry between the two powers is now registered in the history of this century, but Biden would aim at a normalization, to resume relations with Beijing where Obama had left them: engagement, albeit in a competitive key, not a new Cold War. The human rights issue would be relegated to mostly symbolic initiatives by Congress and to some investigation by the New York Times. And the Trump presidency would be remembered as a parenthesis with some annoying aftermath. That engagement is the most effective way to contain the rise of China is to be seen, indeed one would say no, judging by the expectations unfulfilled in the last twenty years, since its entry into the WTO, but this is the road on which fatally Biden would return if elected, the only one he knows all too well, even if during the election campaign he will not be able to avoid appearing hard with Beijing.

Conversely, if Trump were to be re-elected, the opposition will become structural. And already today the Trump administration expects from the European allies, Germany in the lead, a realignment, the renewal of a field choice, and by NATO that will focus on the Chinese threat. Cyberspace, critical infrastructure, Beijing's growing military power, as Secretary Stoltenberg explained to the BBC, are all issues to be addressed, while European allies still seem to ignore them. Josep Borrell's recent statements, Mr Pesc, say that the Chinese "have no military ambitions, do not want to use force and participate in military conflicts", when the continuous increase in military spending, the threats of invasion of Taiwan and the provocations in the South China Sea or on the border with India they testify exactly the opposite.

Third ways are not tolerated. The United States has supported the European project since its inception because a cohesive and prosperous Western Europe could have better resisted the influence and threat of the strategic rival of the 20th century, the Soviet Union. Just as German reunification would not have been possible without American support. It is therefore unacceptable now for Washington to see Europe slip into the arms of its 21st century strategic rival.

This does not mean that the reduction of the US military presence in Germany is a retaliation for Merkel's rudeness, it would be too impromptu motivation and in reality there has been talk of a downsizing for some time (if anything, it may be that the news has filtered precisely in these days), but certainly the Ostpolitik of Berlin towards Beijing (and towards Moscow, as we shall see) is one of the main reasons for President Trump's irritation towards the German leadership. If a few days ago Bloomberg titled "Trump is undermining Merkel as she tries to stand up to Putin", almost the opposite is true: "Merkel is undermining Trump as he tries to stand up to Xi".

Another reason for the White House's severe irritation is that Berlin continues to disregard the commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense and has not yet a plan to achieve the goal over the next few years. President Trump, with even greater harshness than his predecessors, has raised the issue on several occasions, warning that America is no longer willing to shoulder an unjust, unbalanced burden, for the defense of allied nations that are very rich . Message that Ambassador Grenell has delivered to Berlin several times with great clarity in recent years.

Drop that may have overflowed the jar of American patience, the request made in a debate to the Bundestag by the SPD – the German Social Democratic party that expresses the foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in the coalition government led by Merkel, and which is on pro-Russian positions – for the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons deployed in Germany as part of NATO's nuclear deterrent system. A move that Grenell, as director of the US National Intelligence, has interpreted in recent days as the willingness of the German government to undermine NATO's deterrence.

On the other hand, Berlin's ambiguities with Moscow had been openly denounced by President Trump himself already at the NATO summit in July 2018: "Germany is Russia's prisoner on energy and should we protect it from Russia? Explain it to us. " “Very sad that Germany will conclude a massive oil and gas deal with Russia, paying billions over billions of dollars a year when it is supposed that we should protect it from Russia. It does not make sense".

Just last week, some Senators both Republicans and Democrats asked for an increase in the US sanctions already in place against companies engaged in completing Nord Stream 2, the pipeline that would double gas transportation capacities from Russia to Germany, increasing dependence energy of the latter, and of the whole of Europe, from Moscow.

No, the Trump administration does not intend to abandon Europe, if only because it certainly does not intend to give it to China, which on the Old Continent has evidently launched a takeover bid.

We would not be surprised, however, if at least a part of those 9,500 American soldiers recalled from Germany were stationed in Poland, thus maintaining, indeed increasing, and not easing, the pressure on Russia. The United States has already started a substantial strengthening of its military presence in Poland, aimed at increasing the deterrence capacity towards Russia, and who knows if some thousands of soldiers are not now destined for that "Fort Trump" on Polish territory we have been talking for some time. After all, Poland respects the commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense, while wealthy Germany disregards it; buys American gas, while Berlin buys it from Putin; he ordered a few dozen F-35s, while the Germans didn't want to know about it and now they don't even want US nuclear weapons on their territory.

Who is it, therefore, that weakens NATO and the transatlantic link, Germany that still disregards the commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defense, which increases its dependence on Russian gas, which seeks a greater equidistance of Europe between Washington and Beijing, or President Trump, who merely takes note of it? If the German leadership does not consider China and Russia to be threats, so as to expose their economy and energy needs to them, why worry about a few thousand US soldiers less? Or maybe they know all too well in Berlin that their game is a geopolitical gamble, sustainable as long as they have their backs covered by the US?

(Article published on Atlantico Quotidiano)

This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Start Magazine at the URL https://www.startmag.it/mondo/perche-trump-stanga-merkel-su-cina-nato-e-non-solo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=perche-trump-stanga-merkel-su-cina-nato-e-non-solo on Sat, 13 Jun 2020 05:25:15 +0000.