By Patrick BAHZAD
Very shortly, Donald Trump will be sworn into office as the 45th President of the United States. By all accounts, his Inauguration will resemble no other in recent history. The country is deeply divided and the gap between the pro- and anti-Trump will be very visible, even today, when the whole country should regroup around its new elected leader. To a European audience however, Donald Trump's recent comments about NATO being "obsolete" and "not dealing with terrorism" matter much more than the internal dissent in the US itself. Those statements have created a spark of outrage across NATO members and triggered a salvo of reactions pointing to POTUS' ignorance about NATO's record in both regards. While Mr. Trump's statements are definitely debatable, there is lots to be said about his critics as well. Here are a few thoughts on the topic.
The latest controversy touches on two core issues: 1) NATO's commitment to defending its members and 2) NATO's record when it comes to dealing with terrorism in general, and global terror organisations in particular. Both issues are closely linked to highly volatile situations: the new "cold war" with Russia on the one hand, and the fight against IS (or AQ) on the other.
Remember what NATO was meant for ?
NATO itself was created in 1949 as a system of collective defence aimed basically at defending Western Europe (and North America) against the Soviets first, and more broadly against the Warsaw Pact after 1955. Large scale engagements in faraway lands were never supposed to be part of NATO's core business, which is one of the reasons some NATO members – Germany in particular – had a hard time adjusting to the concept of "out of area" missions, after the end of the Cold War. While there is no doubt as to NATO's essential contribution to peace and stability in Western Europe, NATO itself was not the only decisive factor in this achievement.
What has kept us safe from war is not so much the existence of the Alliance as the inherent risk of "mutually assured destruction" that any conflict between East and West could have morphed into. There has also been a dynamic at work in Western Europe , based on the realization that war as a means of achieving political gains was no longer an option. Without such fundamental awareness, it is difficult to imagine NATO could have united countries that had just emerged from the most devastating war the continent had witnessed since the 30 Years War. After the unravelling of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact however, the main "raison d'être" of NATO disappeared and the Alliance should have undergone major restructuring, yet it maintained its "business as usual" stance.