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Opinion: A slap in the face for NATO partners

Michael Knigge Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*
Michael Knigge
June 10, 2015

According to recent polls, a majority of Germans are against helping NATO allies militarily in an emergency. Not only is that shameful, DW's Michael Knigge writes, it erodes the alliance altogether.

Stoltenberg, Merkel
Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

It's honest. It reflects the mood. And it is a pathetic display. According to a new Pew Research Center poll, most Germans say that if a NATO partner were attacked by Russia they would be against offering military help. The poll's results are not necessarily surprising. The cooling of the trans-Atlantic alliance has been diagnosed and criticized time and again since the fall of the Berlin Wall. For instance, last year a poll by the German Marshall Fund showed that, for the first time, a majority of Germans thought that Germany should seek to be more independent of the United States in questions of foreign policy and security.

Despite a number of soapbox oratories about the need for a reorientation of the trans-Atlantic alliance, with initiatives like "pooling and sharing" and "smart defense," not much has changed over the years. There's also NATO's oft-repeated, self-imposed - and with few exceptions - narily attained goal that each member should devote at least 2 percent of GDP to defense. The fact remains: The alliance has always been worth the cost.

This new poll calls into question the foundation of the trans-Atlantic alliance, namely the clause of mutual self-defense anchored in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty. As stated in the defense pact drafted in 1949, "the parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all."

Michael Knigge Kommentarbild App *PROVISORISCH*
DW's Michael Knigge

The core of the contract is obsolete

Sixty-six years later, and in light of Russia's interference in Ukraine, confronted with at least the conceivability of a possible mutual self-defense situation, the majority of Germans have declared the core of the NATO Treaty practically obsolete. Military aid for a Baltic state in the case of a Russian invasion? Fifty-eight percent of Germans say: No, thank you, that's not really what we meant by collective defense.

Considering Germany's past, that attitude is shameful as well as historically ignorant. It is a stinging slap in the face for East Europeans, but in regard to the Berlin Blockade, also for the Americans. The message to the Balts, the Poles and the Americans is: If things get really serious we might support you morally, but certainly not militarily. With all of the materiel problems that the German armed forces have at the moment, our allies may not be at such a loss. But the symbolic damage is immense, and it will have consequences.

The NATO Treaty is not sacrosanct. One can certainly argue that the trans-Atlantic alliance is anachronistic and needs to be adjusted or dissolved. But then one should address that fact openly and do something about it. If the Germans and two other major NATO partners are not willing to give military aid to an alliance member in an emergency, then the erosion of the treaty has probably already begun. If so, it would be high time to either oppose such a tendency in order to save the alliance, or present realistic alternatives for a solution to the problem. Unfortunately, history tells us that neither the Germans, nor the Europeans are likely to do either.

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