Last Friday the Leader of the Free World, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, met Donald Trump. The meeting did not go well. Merkel brought some German CEO’s with her to talk to President Trump on his level about trade between the two countries. Instead, President Trump hit Chancellor Merkel up for money for NATO dues… Now we find out that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is missing the first NATO summit of foreign ministers so he can hang out with his buddy Vladimir Putin. Either President Trump doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the institutions that have kept the United States and our allies safe since World War 2. I think it’s time for a little history lesson.
About every 100 years there is an international conflict that shakes up the hegemonic order of nation-states. Usually this is achieved through military conflict. The last major hegemonic shakeup was the end of World War 2. Prior to the war, England and their overseas empire was the strongest country in the world. Germany tried to challenge this world order twice and lost. At the end of the war the British Empire was overextended and the United States was the strongest military and economic country remaining. I think this was the first time the new world order changed without a military conflict between the two nations.
The United States was not the sole superpower very long. The Soviet Union began challenging us militarily, economically, and ideologically. What developed was two worlds: one, a group of democratic, capitalistic nation-states protected by the United States. Two, a group of communist, authoritarian countries protected by the Soviet Union. The United States protected their allies in many ways. Our allies France and England were given permanent seats on the United Nations with full veto power. The United Nations was chartered after World War 2 as a place to air international disagreements, and the three Democratic nations argued with the two Communist countries, the Soviet Union and China, for decades.
The United States also formed NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) to protect our allies. President Trump thinks NATO is irrelevant but he doesn’t get it. With our allies under the protection of the United States, it means our allies don’t have to develop nuclear weapons of their own. Less nuclear weapons on the planet means terrorists are less likely to steal components to develop a nuclear bomb. We only have one planet. There are already more than enough nuclear weapons in existence to destroy Earth many times over.
NATO keeps the United States and our allies safe militarily. Free trade unites our allies economically. The United Nations, when functioning properly, uses international diplomacy to air grievances without resorting to violence. The United States created all of these institutions after World War 2, when we were on top of the New World Order, to make our country stronger. 70 years later, the institutions still serve us well.
The Soviet Union challenged us anyway but ultimately collapsed because our institutions were stronger than their institutions. The Soviet Union shrank back to Russia and former Soviet nation-states like the Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, and Estonia joined NATO in the 1990’s. At that point the United States became responsible for their protection. Russia, naturally, has always been threatened by NATO expansion. That is why Vladimir Putin keeps provoking these countries. He wants to restore the former Soviet Union. To do this Putin must weaken or dismantle NATO. But Russian hacking of our election goes beyond reclaiming their former territories. It’s a declaration of war. Now, more than ever, we need NATO.