Guns alone don’t make a super power

Updated 30 Jun 2018


HAVING struck at the heart of the once all-powerful Group of Seven (G7) club of industrialised countries, caused havoc among world trading nations with his punitive steel and aluminium tariffs and alienated almost all his key allies with his insulting tweets, is US President Donald Trump now going to take the axe to the Nato military alliance?

The short answer is: “yes”. The longer one is: “yes, probably.”

The US president has made no secret of his contempt for the seven-decade-old alliance. He thinks the US is being taken advantage of, European states aren’t spending enough on defence and who wants to sit around endlessly talking about cooperation and solidarity anyway?

No surprise then that Europeans are braced for another bruising Nato summit in Brussels on July 11-12. They haven’t forgotten the anti-alliance tirade they received last year or the US leader’s pre-election suggestions that Nato should be bequeathed to the dust bin of history.

The one hope is that this time around, the US president may be in a good mood given confirmation that he will meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16.

But there is also fear of the ultimate insult: an unhappy and acrimonious Nato summit, with Trump berating America’s long-time allies, followed only days later with a warm embrace of the West’s now-favourite adversary, President Putin of Russia.

That’s what happened after the G7 summit in Canada when Trump, having thumbed his nose at his six G7 partners, jetted off in a huff for a long-awaited love-in with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

Given his predilection for pomp and ceremony, military parades and admiration for “strong men”, the fear is that the US president is likely to do the same this time around. Great for TV, not so great for the future of the free world.

It’s not just about Nato, however. True, the US president has a special bee in his bonnet about European “free riders” when it comes to military expenditure — and Europeans themselves acknowledge the need to update their defence budgets — but officials at the spanking new Nato headquarters can take heart: it’s not just Nato; Trump hates any organisation, any initiative which smells of international cooperation.

Multilateralism, rules-based multilateralism, nations working together, despite their differences to meet trans-border challenges like climate change or the proliferation of nuclear weapons or keeping their markets open to foreign trade are just not his thing. Best to get used to it and move on.

And that is exactly what seems to be — finally — happening.

The EU is slowly but steadily developing its own security and defence structures, which while apparently modest at the moment have the potential to become more significant in the future. In addition, a recent EU strategy blueprint spotlighted Europe’s readiness to become a more proactive security actors “in and with” Asia.

“Collectively, the European Union and its member states have the second-largest defence budget in the world; the potential of greater European cooperation on defence matters is immense. We have taken big, important steps over the past year,” according to EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.

Mogherini and other EU officials like to underline that the bloc is engaged in 16 civilian and military missions worldwide. And while Europeans now emphasise their “hard security” credentials, the truth is that Europe’s “soft power” in dealing with human security and “non-traditional security” challenges is unrivalled.

And that’s nothing to be ashamed or defensive about. Contrary to what Trump and company may think and say, the real threats to global peace and stability in the 21st Century don’t necessarily emanate from inter-state conflict and wars.

Certainly rival territorial claims, ideological differences and fear of war — as well as the desire to modernise their armies and hedge against potential confrontation — are pushing countries to spend more on buying and making weapons.

But while they worry about confrontation with “enemies” over competing territorial claims and undefined borders, the real threats to world peace come from non-state actors, including the militant Islamic State group and other terrorists around the world.

Stability and prosperity are also threatened by non-traditional security threats, including climate change, trafficking in people, competition for water, energy and food.

Even if they tried, soldiers can’t stop climate change or put an end to poverty. And while an increase in development aid may seem unrelated to security to some people, the fact is that Agenda 2030 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is all about building a more secure and safer world. A global order based on rules is another major pillar of peace and security.

While this may not be recognised by those like Trump who desire a retreat from multilateral commitments, others are wise enough to make the link.

So, let’s not focus only on military budgets and military alliances. Nato will survive Trump and Europe’s security and global clout and reputation are not only contingent on its defence ambitions and cooperation.

In a world which will count almost 10 billion people in 2050, it’s states who invest in staving off hunger, pandemics, droughts and floods who will be the real global super powers.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Brussels

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2018