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It is the U.S. that needs NATO, which allows the US to bypass the UN Security Council and engage in military adventures abroad, while keeping a safe distance across the Atlantic, says Eirik Vold of the Red Party of Norway

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

President Donald Trump arrived in Brussels on Wednesday, where he is attending a summit of NATO member countries. This is a part of a three-country trip to Europe, and he will be heading to Britain next for a state visit with Prime Minister Theresa May, followed by a trip to Helsinki, Finland, where he will meet with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. In the lead up to Trump’s visit, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, tried to warn Trump about the importance of the NATO alliance. Let’s listen.

DONALD TUSK: Dear President Trump, America does not have and will not have a better ally than Europe. Today, Europeans spent on defense many times smaller then Russia, and as much as China. America, appreciate your allies. After all, you don’t have that many. Mr. President, please remember about this tomorrow when we meet at the NATO summit, but above all, when you meet President Putin in Helsinki. It is always worth knowing who is your strategic friend and who is your strategic problem.

SHARMINI PERIES: Well, Trump shot right back just before leaving for Belgium.

DONALD TRUMP: We do have a lot of allies, but we cannot be taken advantage of. We’re being taken advantage of by the European Union. We lost $151 billion last year on trade, and on top of that we spent at least 70 percent for NATO. And frankly, it helps them a lot more than it helps us. So we’ll see what happens. We have a long, beautiful week.

SHARMINI PERIES: Immediately upon arriving in Belgium, Trump caused plenty of controversy by repeating his main complaint about NATO allies, that they do not spend enough on defense. According to a 2014 NATO resolution, member countries are supposed to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense by 2024. However, many member countries are still significantly below that threshold.

And joining me now from Oslo, Norway to discuss Trump and NATO’s summit is Eirik Vold. Eirik is a Norwegian analyst and author who is currently working as a foreign policy advisor for Norway’s Red Party. Thanks for joining us, Eirik.

EIRIK VOLD: It’s a pleasure to be here.

SHARMINI PERIES: Now, this was a very interesting comment on the part of Donald Trump, particularly given what’s going on at home in relation to Russia’s alleged involvement in the U.S. elections here in 2016. And, of course, because of the upcoming meeting with Vladimir Putin in a few days. Now, he charges here that Germany is becoming beholden to Russia for its energy needs. And why, why do you think Trump is so upset and concerned about this?

EIRIK VOLD: Well, I mean, the one hypothesis, I’m sure, is that he’s sort of hedging, he’s trying to shield himself from future allegation of him colluding, or, or caving in to Putin if he gives-. Which is, which are sure to come, if he gives even the slightest, tiniest concession to the Russians, or try to sort of deescalate the very dangerous and unnecessary tensions between the nuclear powers, U.S. and my neighbor country, Russia. So I’m sure he-. That’s one hypothesis.

Now, I think a more compelling hypothesis is simply that Trump is being, just as he’s being a salesman for, for the U.S. arms industry when he’s pushing Europe to, to increase its military spending, and particularly buy U.S.-made weaponry. He is being now, he’s speaking on behalf of the U.S. oil and gas industry, the petroleum industry, trying to convince Europe to substitute Russian petroleum for U.S. gas, and basically capturing the European market for U.S. gas exports. That is a more compelling hypothesis.

Now, let’s keep in mind that I think that Trump can better be understood as a businessman than as a person who is particularly ideological when it comes to international relations. And in this case I don’t think it’s particularly interesting to see his personal opinion. Putin doesn’t really count, because Trump wants a more, he probably wants a more constructive relationship between the U.S. and Russia. But he doesn’t necessarily want a constructive relationship between Europe and Russia, because that relationship would mean further economic relations between Europe and Russia, and it would mean a bigger difficulty, would mean an obstacle, particularly the Nord Stream pipeline which he’s talking about, will mean an obstacle for U.S. petroleum exports to Europe.

So I think this is, what we’re seeing here, is Trump the oil industry and arms industry salesman, and that’s both in the case of his demand, his complaints about Europe’s military spending, and his, to some, very surprising rant against German imports of Russian energy resources.

SHARMINI PERIES: Eirik, Trump’s main complaint here, that NATO partners are not spending as much as the U.S., and that they should pay what he calls their fair share. What’s the reality of the situation?

EIRIK VOLD: Well, the numbers really speak for themselves, in the sense that the U.S. does spend a significantly higher proportion of its GDP on the military, on military spending, than the European nations. I think that the number that Trump cited was correct. The U.S. currently, even though the U.S. accounts for around 50 percent of the NATO allies’ GDP combined, it spends around 70 percent of, of the, the whole NATO area’s military spending. So, so in that sense, he’s right.

Now, the big question is, is really, does that mean that, that Europe should adjust to the U.S. levels? Should Europe rise its military spending to please Donald Trump and his U.S. allies? I think that’s a whole different question. And also, especially if we enter into the discussion about who does NATO benefit, I mean, that’s a long, historic discussion.

But if we look at-. Let’s just have a quick look at NATO’s two last interventions, that were Afghanistan, the regime change war in Afghanistan, and the regime change war in Libya. Both of these wars have caused massive havoc in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood. We are talking about a massive increase in Islamist terrorism right outside the doorsteps of Europe, and a huge refugee crisis. Now, of course those countries who were invaded are the principal victims, and the refugees are the principal victims of this. But let’s not forget that this has also had a very high price for Europe in terms of a sharp increase in the number of, of Islamist terrorist attacks, out of which many originated from Libya lately, for example, and a sharp increase in refugees, and the refugee crisis that Europe has not really been able to handle in a constructive way, leading partially to a rise in right-wing populism in Europe.

So Europe has paid a very big price, whereas the war hawks in Washington have planned these military adventures from a very safe distance, and with the whole Atlantic Ocean shielding them from all those adverse consequences of these military adventures; illegal military adventures in the case of Libya, at least, with no UN approval, Security Council approval. So in that sense, it’s clear that Europe has paid a very high price, and I’m not sure how we can defend Trump’s thesis that NATO in that sense has protected Europe. I mean, to me it’s pretty obvious that these interventions have created more security problems, and economic problems, and other political problems for Europe than they have solved. And they have certainly created greater problems for Europe than for the U.S. Now, the second question is-.

SHARMINI PERIES: And looks like it will continue to do so. Now, it’s very interesting that throughout this summit, Eirik, Trump is acting as if NATO is not that important to the U.S. In fact, that has been his stance all along. Shortly after he was inaugurated, too, he made very significant remarks about NATO. Now, he even called it obsolete at one point. This is a dramatic turnaround from how previous U.S. presidents saw NATO. Given that the U.S. uses NATO to flex its muscles, especially in Europe and in its relations with the U.S., what would you say is NATO’s significance to the U.S., its foreign policy, and its military policy?

EIRIK VOLD: Well, I mean, this has changed through history. NATO was seen much more as a defensive alliance at the beginning of the Cold War. By the end of the Second World War it was-. At least it was much easier to to call NATO a defensive alliance, because there was an adversary, a big, well-armed military adversary, in the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Now, this has changed after the fall of the Berlin Wall, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that point, NATO’s sort of reason to exist changed, it had to change, because the main enemy, the main threat that held NATO together, disappeared at least temporarily. So then you had terrorism as the big threat.

But NATO worked, even, even in the ’90s, NATO worked in many cases as a way of sugarcoating U.S. military aggression. For instance, in the case of Yugoslavia, where it was difficult or was impossible for the U.S. to get U.N. Security Council backing for some of its military actions. But then you had NATO step in to at least give it a veneer of, of being a multilateral military action, and not a unilateral U.S. military aggression. So that was maybe the main function of the U.S. I mean, you have even, even an agency like an open source intelligence agency such as Stratfor, that delivers its services, sells its services to several U.S. civilian and military government agencies, would call NATO an extension of U.S. global power.

So I don’t think there’s any doubt that NATO’s function has been to prop up U.S. global hegemony, at least for a big part of its, of its existence, especially after the Cold War.

SHARMINI PERIES: And Eirik, generally speaking, leftist parties and movements in Europe would like to see less military spending, and in many cases have even called for dissolving NATO altogether. Should they welcome Trump’s criticism as a step forward towards that mission? Or could his criticism trigger greater military spending, as some countries have done; actually, Germany and Canada.

EIRIK VOLD: Well, I don’t think Trump is really the kind of president who can easily convince the European left about anything, due to his style and his politics on other issues. So, so he’s definitely not the perfect salesman, at least not when it comes to the European left. Now, he is able to put significant pressure on European governments. And, and I do not, I do not rule out the possibility that he might be able to pressure our governments into increasing their military spending, which is a serious issue.

I mean, here in Norway we don’t necessarily want to decrease military spending a lot. It’s more a question about how we spend it, about do we spend it on extremely expensive U.S. military equipment that is specifically designed to draw Norway or other NATO countries into U.S.-led regime change wars against other countries? Or do we spend it on maintaining a stable, adequate, defensive defense, which is what defense is about; military forces that are able to defend our territorial integrity. That’s the question. Now, if you go further south in Europe where you have serious, I would say even humanitarian, crisis, such as the case in Greece, and serious economic and social crisis in Italy, in Spain, partially in Portugal. And in those countries, any kind of increased military spending is not going to be popular. And especially since the boogieman that is used to inspire to justify this increased military spending is Russia, which is a country that most people in those countries do not perceive as an imminent threat at all, or not even close to it.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Eirik, I guess this will be unfolding over the next few days. I’ve been speaking with Eirik Vold from Oslo, Norway, and we’ve been discussing the NATO summit. Eirik is a Norwegian analyst and author who is currently working on foreign policy with Norway’s Red Party. Eirik, I thank you so much for joining us today.

EIRIK VOLD: It was a pleasure.

SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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Sharmini Peries

Sharmini Peries was a co-founder of TRNN, where she harnessed the power and expertise of civil society institutions. Previously, Sharmini was Economic and Trade Adviser to President Hugo Chavez at Miraflores and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela. Prior to that she served as the executive director of the following institutions: The Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System, The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She also managed the Human Rights Code Review Task Force in Ontario, Canada. She holds a M.A. in Economics from York University in Toronto, Canada. Her Ph.D. studies in Social and Political Thought at York University remain incomplete (ABD).