Differences Within the U.S.-Led NATO Alliance

Despite a show of support for NATO by the executive during the 70th Anniversary summit that took place in Washington, DC April 3-4, Trump has made clear the possibility of U.S. withdrawal remains. These conflicts in the United States within and between the Executive, the Congress and NATO members reflect the serious conflicts within the U.S. ruling circles over how to control Europe and dominate Asia, including holding Russia and China in check.

The conflicts and contradictions within NATO ranks and within the United States itself continue to find expression and were a feature of the 70th Anniversary Summit despite declarations of unity and strength.

On April 3, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was invited to address a joint session of Congress by Nancy Pelosi, Democratic head of the House of Representatives and Mitch McConnell, Republican head of the Senate. It is an honour usually reserved for select heads of state. The invitation was part of the efforts by a majority in the Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to counter Trump's repeated threats to withdraw from NATO. The invitation followed several other actions by Congress, including the passing of a bill in the House in January, by a vote of 357-22, to support NATO and block funding for withdrawal (28 Republicans and 26 Democrats did not vote). That bill is now before the Senate.

Trump Continues Issuing Threats

Once it was known that Congress had invited Stoltenberg to speak, Trump invited him to the White House on April 2. While both used the opportunity to say NATO members have responded to U.S. demands for member states to put more into war funding, at a joint press conference held before their meeting, Trump continued to say that more is needed. "We have seven of the 28 countries currently current and the rest are trying to catch up, and they will catch up. And some of them have no problems because they haven't been paying and they're very rich. But we're looking at the two per cent of GDP level. And at some point, I think it's going to have to go higher than that." This provides him the continued pretext to withdraw from NATO. When a reporter asked him directly if the U.S. would withdraw, he did not say no but repeated the same story. "People are paying, and I'm very happy with the fact that they're paying," Trump said.

Shoring up the idea that the U.S. may withdraw from NATO is the fact that some forces within the military and Trump administration consider that the U.S. would be better able to secure its aim of world domination without the NATO commitment to defend Europe. The U.S. extensive bases throughout Europe, including in Germany where it still has 32,000 troops stationed, shows it has greater military capabilities than all the other NATO countries put together in terms of nuclear weapons, bombers, battleships, drones and Special Forces (which now number 80,000 troops). In other words, the U.S. does not rely on NATO's military capabilities. Without NATO the U.S. would be free to act unilaterally since it would not have to take into account concerns expressed by European members like Germany and France.

U.S. Military bases in Europe.

This includes the constraint of Article 5 of the treaty to provide defence to any of the members in the event they are attacked. Trump questioned having to defend smaller countries that are now part of NATO, like Montenegro, saying it could trigger World War III. As well, a U.S. withdrawal from NATO permits the Trump administration to enter into whatever alliances it likes, such as an alliance with Russia to counter China while still controlling Europe. He could also enter into stronger bilateral agreements with countries like Poland and those of Eastern Europe which have integrated their forces with those of the U.S.

Relations with Russia are also a disputed area. At the press conference Trump said, "I think we'll get along with Russia. I do -- I do believe that." Meanwhile, the Pentagon has said Russia and China now pose the greatest threats to the U.S. How to maintain an upper hand while both colluding and contending remains, as Trump has indicated, a source of conflict.

NATO members which are in their majority European, commonly emphasize Russia as a major threat but concerns over energy supplies also mandate relations with Russia. When speaking to the Congress, Stoltenberg said: "We do not want a new arms race. We do not want a new Cold War. But we must not be naive." He said NATO had "no intention of deploying land-based nuclear weapons in Europe" but would "always take the necessary steps to provide credible and effective deterrence." "We need to maintain credible defence and defence for all NATO countries," he added, which of course means relying mainly on the U.S. For Russia, however, the claim of not positioning land-based nuclear weapons rings hollow. Previously, the U.S. promised that NATO would not expand eastward to encircle Russia, which it has done. And the U.S. can position nuclear weapons on its bases whether or not NATO members agree.

The reality that those favouring withdrawal from NATO currently have the upper hand within the administration is evident from the resignation of Secretary of Defense General James Mattis. A long-time Trump supporter who remains well-respected within the military, in his resignation letter, he emphasized: "One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests and serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies."

What the rulers hold in common despite their differences is the view that the U.S. is "indispensable" and must dominate. How to maintain that domination is what the in-fighting is all about. Trump's refusal to rule out withdrawal from NATO along with the resignation by Mattis are indicators that withdrawal from NATO remains a serious consideration.

U.S. Congressional Actions

Part of the debate about U.S. withdrawal from NATO includes whether the President can act without Congressional authorization. The U.S. Constitution requires the Senate to approve treaties with a 2/3 majority, but it does not speak directly to withdrawal. Other presidents have withdrawn from treaties, such as Carter who withdrew the U.S. from the Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan at the time the U.S. recognized the People's Republic of China, and Bush who withdrew the U.S. from the ABM treaty with Russia. The Carter case, known as Goldwater v. Carter went to the Supreme Court which ruled in favour of Carter. Bush withdrew the U.S. from the ABM treaty with Russia.

The majority in Congress currently supports NATO. The recent bill by the House is an effort to block Trump from withdrawing from NATO. It states in part that NATO "has served as a pillar of international peace and stability, a critical component of United States security, and a deterrent against adversaries and external threats." Calling NATO "one of the most successful alliances in history," and "the foundation of U.S. foreign policy," the bill also states: The United States "is solemnly committed to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's principle of collective defence as enumerated in Article 5." All of this is directed at Trump's threats. The bill also says the Goldwater v Carter ruling is not "controlling legal precedent" and that it is the sense of Congress that "the President shall not withdraw the United States from NATO." It concludes, "No funds are authorized to be appropriated, obligated, or expended to take any action to withdraw the United States from the North Atlantic Treaty." The bill is currently before the Senate and expected to pass, possibly with enough support to counter a Trump veto. In 2017, the then Republican-controlled House and Senate passed resolutions to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the treaty.

The invitation to Stoltenberg to address the Congress was another action by Congress to both counter Trump and reassure European allies that the U.S. will remain in NATO and defend Europe. Stoltenberg drew applause for noting that NATO was founded as a counter to Soviet aggression and that it remains a counter to "an aggressive and unpredictable Russia." He claimed Russia is responsible for "attempts to interfere in democracy itself.'' House leader Nancy Pelosi, another big promoter of the view about Russian interference in U.S. elections, tweeted after Stoltenberg's speech: "For 70 years, America's relationships with our NATO allies have formed the foundation of our efforts to make the world a more secure and peaceful place. As we mark this historic anniversary, we affirm America's ironclad commitment to NATO and achieving permanent peace."

U.S. Navy Admiral James G. Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO, commented: "Given the president's evident and frequently vocalized skepticism of the alliance, it is clear that Congress -- on a bipartisan basis -- wants to put the full weight of the legislative branch behind NATO." "We will never find a better pool of allies in the world than the Europeans, and this address underscores the importance of the trans-Atlantic bridge, which has been creaking a bit lately," he added.

Stavridis is also one of many retired military, former intelligence, state and defence department officials who have publicly condemned Trump's "national emergency" at the border with Mexico, which opens the way for use of the military inside the U.S. and against Mexico. These actions show that the conflicts over NATO and how best to secure U.S. control abroad are tied to the civil war inside the country, which threatens to become openly violent.

Imperialist war abroad and civil war at home are integrally related. The current dysfunction of Congress, budget fights that end in government shutdowns, elections that resolve none of these battles, are all contributing to the intensification of conflicts among the ruling factions who have no solution to problems at home or abroad. Congress, with its actions on NATO, is in part attempting to reassert its authority. But it is unlikely to block the continued usurping of power by the executive. Rule of law abroad and at home is no longer recognized by the office of the president, something which occurred before Trump and which he is now consolidating in a government of police powers. It is the actions of the President that will be the determining factor for whether the U.S. does or does not withdraw from NATO, but a withdrawal could well trigger the very civil war the rulers are trying too avoid.

NATO as a U.S. Protection Racket

During his presidential campaign and into 2017, Donald Trump repeatedly referred to NATO as "obsolete" and criticized lack of military spending by member countries except the U.S. At the 2018 NATO Leaders Summit held in July in Brussels, he sharply criticized other NATO countries for not dedicating at least two per cent of their GDP to military spending, tweeting that the U.S. is carrying the burden of military spending in NATO, and that other countries should be spending four per cent of GDP on defence, like the U.S. does. He also accused Germany of being held captive by Russia, calling German investment in an $11 billion Baltic Sea pipeline to import Russian gas "unacceptable." In January of this year, the New York Times reported that "several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. [...] In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, [current and former officials of his administration] said Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States."

In recent months, the Trump administration has taken things a step further. It plans to impose increased financial demands on those countries that host U.S. troops and bases, such as Japan, south Korea, Germany and others on the basis of what is referred to as "Cost Plus 50" -- that the host countries should cover the cost of hosting those U.S. troops and bases plus an additional 50 per cent.

"Wealthy, wealthy countries that we're protecting are all under notice. We cannot be the fools for others," Trump said in a speech at the Pentagon on January 17.[1] There are differences of opinion within the U.S. ruling circles on this plan, as some consider that it will be unacceptable to U.S. partners, especially those whose populations have long resisted the U.S. presence. "In some cases, nations hosting American forces could be asked to pay five to six times as much as they do now under the 'Cost Plus 50' formula," Time Magazine reported on March 8. "The president's team sees the move as one way to prod NATO partners into accelerating increases in defence spending -- an issue Trump has hammered allies about since taking office," Time adds. This demand is said to have nearly derailed recent negotiations about the status of the 28,000 U.S. troops in south Korea. Reports indicate that the U.S. might "offer a discount" to countries that agree to align their policies closely with those of the U.S.[2]

Meanwhile, the U.S. has in place many bilateral military agreements, including Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) that permit its troops to operate with impunity in other countries and also provide a means to apply pressure for increased military spending to suit U.S. aims. A January 16, 2015 report by the U.S. government's International Security Advisory Board on Status of Forces Agreements gives an overview of SOFAs at that time. The Executive Summary of the report states that "The United States has some form of SOFA agreement with more than 100 nations, about half under the NATO or the Partnership for Peace SOFAs, which apply, respectively to all NATO allies and most Partnership for Peace partners.[3] In addition, there are comprehensive agreements with other nations. There are, however, still countries with which the United States has significant military relationships but no SOFA. It should be a U.S. government-wide priority to fill those gaps."

U.S. Demand for Standardization of Weaponry

One of the matters of contention and competition amongst the U.S. imperialists and other big powers at this time is the connection between NATO's development and the growth of the war economy both in the U.S. and worldwide, especially with regard to the world trade in arms. In addition to a certain level of spending on the military, NATO membership also requires standardization of weapons. This requires, in practice, the consolidation of weapons' development in the U.S. Only certain approved weapons would be allowed as part of the standardization and these were invariably made in the U.S. The Canadian Avro Arrow was one of the casualties of this demand in the late 1950s.

In Europe, the big powers resisted on the front of fighter aircraft and this led to intense competition with the U.S. which eventually spilled over into commercial aircraft with the growth of Airbus (formerly known as the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS)). Now Boeing, having destroyed the Bombardier C-Series commuter jet, is itself in trouble and Airbus is thriving.

With monopoly comes stagnation and the law of the uneven development of the productive forces takes over. Now many countries have surpassed the U.S. in missile technology and fighter aircraft.

The latest generation of Russian fighter jet is said to be superior to the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter. India announced recently that it destroyed one of its own space satellites using a ground-based missile. Japan has also leaped past the U.S. in missile technology while China is also gaining fast in the field of missile technology and the use of Artificial Intelligence amongst others things.


1. "Trump Seeks Huge Premium From Allies Hosting U.S. Troops," Nick Wadhams and Jennifer Jacobs, Bloomberg, March 8, 2019.

2. TheHill.com informs that "Countries that host permanent U.S. military installations traditionally pay a portion of the costs to house and equip the troops. The payment varies country to country and in how it is given. While some allies, such as Japan and south Korea, make cash contributions, others including Germany -- where the United States has more than 30,000 troops -- pay by footing the bill for land, infrastructure and construction of the military facilities, as well as waiving taxes and customs duties."

3. NATO says its Partnership for Peace "is a programme of practical bilateral cooperation between individual Euro-Atlantic partner countries and NATO. It allows partners to build up an individual relationship with NATO, choosing their own priorities for cooperation. [...] Activities on offer under the PfP programme touch on virtually every field of NATO activity. [...] Currently, there are 21 countries in the Partnership for Peace programme."

NATO also has individual arrangements with a number of countries that are not part of its regional frameworks which it calls "global partners." These presently include Afghanistan, Australia, Colombia, Iraq, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand and Pakistan.

This article was published in

Volume 49 Number 12 - April 6, 2019

Article Link:
Differences Within the U.S.-Led NATO Alliance


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