08:13 GMT22 June 2021
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    London has called on its NATO allies to meet the 2% of GDP defense spending target following President Trump's letters to allies warning that he finds it difficult to justify to Americans why Europe continues to underspend. Speaking to Sputnik, Italian historian Luca Ratti explained why he didn't see Trump's move as a threat to the alliance.

    Sputnik: How do you think that the members of NATO who have been asked to contribute more will react?

    Luca Ratti: I believe there is a lot of discontent across Europe for the way in which President Trump is pretty much threatening the Europeans with this request. But there are also different perceptions of threats and of security that have been undermining NATO in the last few years.

    It should be fundamental that the next NATO summit sees the allies discuss not only a better sharing of the defense burden, but also reconcile the different strategic visions. I think this will be a fundamental concern to keep NATO alive and keep it relevant for the 21st century.

    Sputnik: There has been a lot of talk about the consequences of a possible major US military withdrawal from Germany amid the Pentagon's feasibility study on the matter. What are your thoughts on what this would actually cost the alliance?

    Luca Ratti: American troops have been withdrawing from Germany consistently since the early 1990s. There are now around 35,000 troops. Back in the late 1980s the US had 250,000 troops. So I don't see this as a major novelty, but again the president is emphasizing Europe's weakness in contributing to common defense, at least from an American perspective. 

    It was not President Trump that embraced the idea of the pivot to Asia in terms of American foreign relations. So the Europeans and Americans I think have been faced with systemic dynamics that have been at play now for a number of years. But I don't see that a withdrawal, which would probably be only partial if it happened, would question the fundamentals of the relationship. For the time being, I don't see the risk of any further divisions in transatlantic relations, despite claims to the contrary.

    An AH-64 Apache attack helicopter stands in front of a Galaxy C-5 transport plane at the US Air Base in Ramstein, western Germany, February 22, 2017.
    An AH-64 Apache attack helicopter stands in front of a Galaxy C-5 transport plane at the US Air Base in Ramstein, western Germany, February 22, 2017.

    Sputnik: Do you think the possible withdrawal of US troops is a likely scenario? Would he be allowed to do so if he did decide to take that step?

    Luca Ratti: If the step is taken, I still believe that it would be a very symbolic step; like in order to achieve better coordination within the alliance, or to twist Chancellor Merkel's arm a little [in which case] I'm sure the Germans would increase defense spending at a faster pace. But I don't think this would call into question the American presence in Germany.

    Sputnik: What's your prognosis for NATO in the long run? What do you think is going to happen at the upcoming NATO summit?

    Luca Ratti: These tensions will probably take center stage. So there will be a lot of reports about NATO's difficulty in adapting to the new international system. But I still believe that there will be a fundamental resilience on the part of the NATO allies. I believe that the member states will be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to make sure that the institution continues to work, at least for the time-being. 

    I don't see the risk of major transformations in the short-term. Of course in the long-term it is a different issue. Sooner or later the Europeans and Americans will have to properly sit down at the table and decide what to do with NATO. But again, I don't see the alliance running into the risk of any fast disruption.

    NATO will hold its annual summit on July 11-12 in Brussels, Belgium.

    Dr. Luca Ratti is a historian specializing in US-European relations, European security and defense policy, and post-WWII history from the American University in Rome. The views expressed by Dr. Ratti are those of the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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