Threat of US withdrawal from NATO spooks Baltic allies

Threat of US withdrawal from NATO spooks Baltic allies

By Luke Vargas   
Published
Troops attached to NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Latvia participate in a change of command ceremony in Ādaži, Latvia. July 12, 2018. Photo: Luke Vargas/TMN
Troops attached to NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Latvia participate in a change of command ceremony in Ādaži, Latvia. July 12, 2018. Photo: Luke Vargas/TMN

With fresh memories of Soviet occupation and decades of American aid, the Baltic takes in Trump's NATO tough-talk with concern.

RIGA, LATVIA – Fears of a U.S. withdrawal from NATO prompted an emergency alliance meeting on Thursday, after President Donald Trump demanded member states hit a military spending goal of 2 percent of GDP by year’s end, well before a 2024 target date:

“I told people that I’d be very unhappy if they didn’t up their commitments very substantially.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said Trump didn’t formerly warn of a U.S. pullout from NATO, but some officials apparently heard that threat between the lines.

“I think he behaves in, frankly speaking, an unstable way.”

Kalev Stoicescu is a research fellow at the Estonia’s International Centre for Defence and Security and says Trump’s rhetoric makes predicting NATO’s fate a challenge.

“It’s even hard to answer now. It’s floating, I would say.”

At least today, Trump’s spending demands were clearer than his threats.

“After we’re at 2 percent we’ll talk about going higher…I think 4 percent is the right number.”

In the Baltic states bordering Russia, military spending is up and slated to keep increasing, a model Stoicescu says more NATO states should follow.

But for others like Germany, it could be a waste to throw vast sums at militaries not equipped to absorb it.

“Four percent is something fantastic. Even the U.S. doesn’t spend that much.”

Latvian State Secretary Jānis Garisons (center) reviews NATO troops during a ceremony at the alliance's Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Latvia in Ādaži, Latvia. July 12, 2018. Photo: Luke Vargas/TMN
Latvian State Secretary Jānis Garisons (center) reviews NATO troops during a ceremony at the alliance’s Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup Latvia in Ādaži, Latvia, on Thursday. (Photo: Luke Vargas/TMN)

A better option might be for NATO members to buy military equipment together, saving money and harmonizing assets in the process.

But that’s a distant concern in Latvia, where the present fear is off a less involved United States:

“We always believe in American leadership and hope that this American leadership will stay.”

Jānis Garisons is Latvia’s State Secretary, the most senior civilian in the country’s armed forces.

“We of course would like to live in an environment which is peaceful and nobody threatens us, but unfortunately we’ve seen different events in our Eastern neighborhood – what Russia has been doing – and I somehow don’t see how these events might change very quickly.”

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