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Nato’s ‘Trump-proof’ $100-billion fund is anti-democratic

European leaders could anger Trump over the new funding plan. Credit: Getty

April 4, 2024 - 11:40am

The first secretary-general of Nato, Hastings Ismay, famously said that his organisation’s aim was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”, and for decades, this held true.

This week’s news that the summit of foreign ministers in Brussels is considering — and planning for — a proposal by outgoing Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to establish a Nato support fund for Ukraine of $100 billion suggests, however, that the German, or in a wider sense European, part of Ismay’s formula may soon become more pronounced.

According to the Financial Times, Stoltenberg’s rationale for his proposal is to shield Nato’s commitment to Ukraine “against the winds of political change”; or, in plainer words, against Donald Trump — who apparently has said that he would “not give a penny” in support of the alliance’s Ukraine arms programme. The Ukraine fund’s five-year rollout plan would obviously extend beyond a second Trump presidency.

“Some resistance is expected from states,” the report notes. Yet one Nato diplomat confidently remarks, “I see consensus emerging and I think [the support fund] will be there by the time we get on the plane to Washington” in July to celebrate the alliance’s 75-year anniversary.

The Atlanticist establishment is thus evidently counting on those member states that are sceptical of the proposal to eventually be brought to heel. But does this way of proposing and deciding policy not remind us Europeans of something familiar?

What appears to be happening is that Stoltenberg — whom no popular parliament has elected as secretary-general — is in fact drawing up plans to make Nato independent of national political authority. If his Ukraine fund is approved, it would not matter if US and European voters, on an issue as vital as war, preferred a different strategy to further military support packages, since supranational elites have already reached a consensus to – in the FT’s words – “lock in long-term financing”.

This anti-democratic move therefore has a distinct EU flavour to it. And such an unprecedented step could also Europeanise the alliance in a different way. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken apparently expressed “some concerns” about the fund at the summit, but a second Biden administration would probably welcome the opportunity to bear a smaller part of the economic burden for assistance to Ukraine (the US share of the $100 billion might be as low as $16 billion) and begin to focus on the envisioned “pivot to Asia”.

By contrast, for the entirety of his presidency, this fund could put Trump in an antagonistic relationship with the Europeans in Nato, with uncertain consequences for the post-1945 transatlantic link. A perpetual state of conflict within the alliance is likely to encourage those prominent voices on both the Left and the Right in the US who already believe that an American strategic departure from Europe is overdue.

Some European leaders might favour an inversion of Ismay’s quip, in which the Americans are knocked down or even out of Nato altogether. Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock notably sounded a positive note about the Ukraine fund: “For us, it is essential that we pour the ad hoc structures into reliable, long-term structures.”

But if the EU is any indication of how well European states cooperate in other important matters — for instance, Covid-19 — one can only imagine the turmoil that could be created by attempts to coordinate a military response to an expansionist Russia.

The “Trump-proof” fund for Ukraine, as the FT calls Stoltenberg’s pitch, is a nascent idea of a Nato removed from both its national and transatlantic moorings. Whether it is an idea worth pursuing is another question entirely.


Johan Wennström is a Research Fellow at the Swedish Defence University, currently writing a book about Sweden’s stay-behind network during the Cold War.

johanwennstrom

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago

So a bunch of NATO countries won’t pay their 2%, but they will set up a $100 billion fund.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Look forgive me if this is a stupid question but is this fund a means in which the Europeans are stumping up for their own defence?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago

Honestly, I have no idea. It just seemed a bit contradictory to me.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Stoltenberg and his EU buddies are not friends of American citizens; they are immoral criminals.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

It beggars belief.

Michael Lipkin
Michael Lipkin
3 months ago

If the Russian threat is considered existential then democracy is suspended to create a wartime economy. If its a ‘war of choice’ such as the interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan etc then that’s a completely different thing and for sure should be under democratic control.
Example: Britain under WW2, during the war democracy was suspended with a coalition government of national unity which took extraordinary wartime powers. When the war ended there was reversion to full democracy.
So you have to decide which it is first before discussing. Are the politicians grabbing power when the threat is not existential – or is it actually existential?

Terry M
Terry M
3 months ago
Reply to  Michael Lipkin

Many in the EU do, and should, see the Ukraine invasion as potentially an existential threat. Most in the US certainly do NOT.
When Trump regains office he could well suspend US involvement in NATO altogether over this type of armtwisting. I could not blame him, although I’d hate to see that happen.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  Michael Lipkin

Putin has been in power for more than two decades. If he was an existential threat, he would have shown that by now.

Dennis Roberts
Dennis Roberts
3 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Maybe he’s patient?

If you cared to look you’d at what Putin’s actually said, eg “I would like to make it clear to all: This country will continue to actively defend the rights of Russians, our compatriots abroad, using the entire range of available means — from political and economic to operations under international humanitarian law and the right of self-defense”, you’d maybe realise why the threat of war is real. It’s pretty unequivocal.

The statement above was made in 2014 and was aimed at Ukraine after violence between the Ukrainian Govt and the ethnically Russian separatists. It took a number of years but he eventually went fully into Ukraine. There are a lot of other east European countries, NATO members, with significant numbers of ethnically Russians amongst their populations.

I get that Americans and Canadians think it’s a long way from them, but at the moment the US and Canada are NATO members, so you would be involved. As it is Transnistria is probably next, so not NATO, but after that who knows. And it doesn’t have to make sense – Germany made strategically ridiculous ethnicity-based decisions Germany in WW2.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 months ago

Where exactly is this $100bn going to come from? European nations largely don’t spend enough on defence. The US government will struggle to get this through Congress. So, presumably the private sector and the arms industry which will be told it will get its contributions back in arms sales. Is therefore NATO going to be privatised?

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
3 months ago

It’s not clear how this fund binds or limits Trump. The rumored $19B US commitment presumably would be signed by a US official, but any such deal could be undone by Trump. By why bother? That $ amount is a pittance compared to the hundreds of billions already thrown into that money pit.
If the issue is not the $ amount but instead NATO taking the lead – that is exactly what Trump has been pushing for!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago

The collective value of the rent-free head space that Donald Trump occupies has to be equivalent to the GDP of a mid-sized nation, perhaps even larger. Far from being ‘Trump-proof,’ this fund is essentially an endorsement of his call on NATO to start its fair share of the tab.
Left unsaid is the larger reality – NATO no longer has a mission. The Soviet Union is gone and it is not coming back. The hyperbole about Putin is belied by his more than 20 years of NOT doing what the screeching crowd claims he will do. Put this money toward something useful, like helping Ukraine rebuild while there is still a Ukraine worth rebuilding.

Martin M
Martin M
3 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Russia under Putin is exactly the same as the Soviet Union was – an undemocratic entity that goes around invading other countries. Therefore NATO’s mission is the same as it always was, namely to oppose it.

David Barnett
David Barnett
3 months ago

Alternatively: NATO has had its day and is more likely to endanger its members than protect them. If it takes a war to preserve the NATO bureaucracy against its own irrelevance, then that is what we will get!
————————–
P.S. It has been suggested that the western interference in Ukraine was engineered to impoverish western Europe so that it can’t compete in the coming resource crunch. Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse is de-industrialising fast now that it has lost access to cheap Russian energy.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  David Barnett

Is this your way of saying that this is tied to the de-growth push?

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
3 months ago

Why is the EU so afraid of peace in Ukraine? Is it because Russia’s conservative, Christian ideology is antithetical to everything the EU stands for?

Martin M
Martin M
3 months ago
Reply to  Bryan Dale

No, it’s because whatever “deal” Putin might sign, he won’t stick to it, and he’ll be invading somebody else as soon as he can re-arm.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
3 months ago

Should Trump win, which is unlikely, such a program will be recognized as extortion by him and a very large part of the US polity. And say what you will about US political culture, it has never taken kindly to being bullied.
If the goal is to get the Americans out, this will be highly successful. A cynic might even think that Stoltenberg is the oft-claimed but not heretofore seen “Putin stooge.”

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
3 months ago

Pay 2%+ of GDP for defense (and not on bloated salaries and pensions) and you’ll be able to handle European defense just FINE.

Martin M
Martin M
3 months ago

Times change, but the one constant is that Russia is still the enemy.

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
3 months ago

NATO should have been wound up when the Cold War ended.
Instead it became the military arm of US Neocon hegemony, with disastrous results for many countries.