My introductory comments at the GMFUS conference on regional security 25-26 October in Warsaw.
I will comment on two aspects – one where the result will be the same regardless who wins the election and one where the damage is already done.
A credible defence, or deterrence, in the region is totally dependent on American military support. The capabilities of Nato´s European members are totally insufficient to conduct large scale military operations anywhere in Europe. Especially on short notice, here I am speaking of months.
The logistic apparatus is not there, and the training and knowledge when it comes to handle large formations as divisions and corps size units has deteriorated drastically during the last 15-20 years.
Only the US has the means to fight a full spectrum war.
Although Europe is making some efforts to catch up, some countries are doing more than others, Poland and the Baltic States being the good examples. Germany and Norway have also started do something. But it will take several years before the European part of Nato is back on the playing field.
We need US support. Mr. Trump has made it quite clear that he regards the present situation when it comes to defence spending to be “unfair”. But he is not alone in his assessment, the same goes for Mrs. Clinton, perhaps not to the same degree, but nevertheless.
So, regardless of the outcome of the elections in the US we, the Europeans, will have to spend more on defence.
That is a practical problem. It can be quite easily solved given time and money, if we want to. Money might be found, but do we have the time?
In the meantime, before we have rearmed, perhaps we should consider to cover the costs for the US for an early increase of its military presence in Europe. If the US has the resources to spare? Things are not getting better in other parts of the world.
Although Europe´s military weakness is a serious problem, there is one other aspect that to my mind is far more important and dangerous.
That is how the presidential candidates are assessed in Moscow. Will the new president stand up for US allies regardless of what the consequences? Is the US prepared to risk a major war for Riga, Warsaw or whatever territory in Europe.
Here the damage has already been done by Mr. Trump and his associates.
Just two quotes:
When asked by the New York Times in July if he would come to the aid of the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – if they were attacked by Russia, Trump said he would only do so if the countries “have fulfilled their obligations to us,” (N Y Times)
.” And Newt Gingrich has amplified Trump’s words by declaring that it’s not worth risking a nuclear confrontation over Estonia, since it is hardly more than “the suburbs of St. Petersburg.”(Washington Post)
Regardless of any excuses or clarifications, comments like that made by men that might have decisive influence on US foreign policy, are extremely dangerous.
Not because of negative reactions among allies and friends but how it might be interpreted in the Kremlin.
Decisions regarding war and peace are seldom made on the basis of detailed calculations regarding measurable, objective, factors. They are very often based on attempts to analyze what your opponents might do or not do.
Two key factors play an important role in such deliberations:
- An analysis of the innermost mindset of the opposing leaders and their advisors, a very subjective science to say the least, but here Clausewitz has a point – your will against the will of your opponent.
- What do, often more or less convoluted, signals sent by officials really mean?
History is full of examples how brinkmanship based on such calculations has led to disaster.
Just to mention some:
The perhaps most obvious one is Hitler´s belief that Great Britain and France would not go to war over Poland, based on earlier behavior of British and French leaders.
Here one could also add the resolution in the Oxford Union 1933 when the students voted no - if it came to fight for King and Country. It is said to have influenced both Hitler and Mussolini to regard the British as soft and decadent. They were not alone at that time. Another man who made the same interpretation was Mr. Joseph Kennedy, later US ambassador to the Court of St. James.
The Cuban Missile Crisis 1961 could be an example of how Mr. Chrustjev misinterpreted President Kennedy´s resolve, nearly starting the Third World War in the process.
Another example, in this case interpreting official signals, was Mr. Saddam Hussein who probably thought that some less careful statements by the US ambassador Ms. April Glaspie meant that he had a free hand in Kuwait in 1990.
We should do well to remember that the truth is in the eye of the beholder (our opponent) – not what we know, think or assume.
I am afraid that when it comes to the mindset and inner convictions of Mr. Trump and his advisors the Russian analysis already has led to a quite clear conclusion. Quite scary for us who live here.