By Vincent J. Truglia
European allies were unhappy that when visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels, President Trump did not provide a restatement of US willingness to come to the aid of any other NATO member under attack. Rather, he stated, the US would “never forsake the friends that stood by our side.” This would represent a far smaller number of nations than the present 28 NATO members. This centers on Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which relates to mutual defense.
Mutual defense sounds like a nice idea, but when explored more deeply, it is not in the national interest of the US to abide by it as required by the antiquated NATO treaty. Article 5 basically says that if any NATO country is attacked, it would be considered an attack on all NATO countries, and therefore all other NATO countries would have to come to the aid of that country. Sounds benign, but it isn’t.
The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
This made sense when the West faced a Communist threat centered in Eastern Europe. During the Cold War, when NATO countries pledged to protect each other, they were promising to protect what were regarded as their own vital national interests.
Rapid Accession of Small Countries
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Communist threat disappeared. Then a number of smaller former East bloc countries joined NATO, including Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Slovakia, and most dangerously, the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. None of these countries represent a vital national interest to the US. I doubt they even represent any national interest to the US. I am pretty sure most Americans don’t realize that if there is a Russian move into Estonia or Latvia, that the US might be drawn into a nuclear war with Russia. That is bizarre idea.
Estonia and Latvia
The risks are especially high regarding Estonia and Latvia in that both countries have large Russian-speaking minorities, which are generally, by most international standards, treated as second-class citizens. Given developments in Ukraine, it would not be surprising if at some point, Russia demands better treatment for Russian speaking minorities in both these countries even more forcefully than in the past. Lithuania is far less a risk because it doesn’t have a large Russian-speaking minority.
Frankly, I would hope that before Russian military force becomes a real threat, that Estonia and Latvia would better respect their Russian-speaking minorities. If they don’t, and Russia intervenes in either one, I would absolutely oppose the use of force by the US to prevent such intervention by Russia.
Poland is one Eastern European country, which I believe is of vital national interest to the US. As a result of World War II’s redrawing of boundaries in Eastern and Central Europe, Poland got shifted westward, so that now the Polish border is a mere 60 miles or about 100 kilometers from Berlin. Any attack on Poland should and would require a military response because of its proximity to Germany.
Turkey represents a peculiar case, even if we recognize Trump’s statement as a new Trump Doctrine. The reason is that Turkey has indeed stood by NATO and the US for many decades. However, the nature of the Turkish government has changed radically in recent years. Islamization of the government has steadily progressed, a change, which is diametrically opposed to what past Turkish governments stood for. Automatically pledging to go to Turkey’s aid seems problematic.
How could this problem be resolved? The US could invoke Article 12 of the Treaty, which allows for a review of the Treaty. The US could then demand that it will only come to the defense of certain NATO countries, not necessarily all of them, or in some way make it discretionary. The Treaty says:
After the Treaty has been in force for ten years, or at any time thereafter, the Parties shall, if any of them so requests, consult together for the purpose of reviewing the Treaty, having regard for the factors then affecting peace and security in the North Atlantic area, including the development of universal as well as regional arrangements under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security.
If other NATO members do not agree, then the US could invoke Article 13, which allows any country to leave the alliance with one year’s notice.
I believe that instead of dismantling NATO, the core NATO states would prefer an amendment to the treaty rather than a US departure from the alliance.
I don’t want to put our military at risk to protect Estonia and Latvia, especially since their treatment of their Russian-speaking minority is poor. Also, I strongly believe almost all Americans would not want to go to war if Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, or Slovakia were attacked. Most Americans don’t even know where these countries are on a map. They are certainly not of any vital interest to the US.
As always, Clear and Candid.