'World still needs NATO' writes German defense minister in New York Times op-ed

With NATO rattled amid pressure from Donald Trump, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen made an appeal for the alliance in a New York Times op-ed. She described NATO as an "emotional bond" between the US and Europe.

In an appeal to the American public, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen penned a New York Times opinion piece on Friday making a case for the continuation of NATO.

The western security alliance, which turns 70 this year, has been repeatedly criticized by US President Donald Trump, who has reportedly expressed doubts about remaining in the alliance.

In her opinion piece entitled "The World Still Needs NATO," von der Leyen said that NATO is an "irreplaceable building block for an international order that favors freedom and peace."

The "international order" is under threat from military actions by Russia and China as well as "Islamic State" (IS) terrorism and nuclear weapon production, she writes.

"Maybe the most basic benefit of NATO is that it provides reliability in an unreliable world," the Christian Democrat politician wrote.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

Trump on NATO: A war of words

Even before taking office, US President Donald Trump's relationship with NATO has been a tumultuous one, to say the least. He has disparaged the trans-Atlantic alliance, once describing it as "obsolete" and a relic of the Cold War. Here are Trump's most memorable quotes about the military alliance, even if they are at times false.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'Days of the Soviet Union'

While on the campaign trail in 2016, Trump made clear that he saw NATO as a relic of the Cold War. "You know, we're dealing with NATO from the days of the Soviet Union, which no longer exists. We need to either transition into terror or we need something else." But his remarks didn't account for how the alliance backed the US well after the collapse of the Soviet Union, especially in Afghanistan.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'Germany owes vast sums'

Trump has made defense spending his main talking point on NATO. But he has falsely accused member states of owing money to Washington, saying: "Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO, and the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany." The problem is NATO doesn't work like that. No money is owed to the alliance for defense or otherwise.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'Obsolete'

Days before his inauguration, Trump caught NATO members off guard when he claimed the alliance was "obsolete" and threatened to withdraw support. "I said a long time ago that NATO had problems: Number one, it was obsolete, because it was designed many, many years ago." Months later, he retracted his statement, citing changes within the alliance. "Now they fight terrorism," he said.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'Doesn't sound very smart'

Trump had tended to lump trade between US allies with how much Washington spends on defense. "We are spending a fortune on military in order to lose $800 billion (in trade losses). That doesn't sound very smart to me," Trump said. The problem is that while NATO members have agreed to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, the alliance has nothing to do with international trade.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

'We are the schmucks'

During a 2018 rally in Montana, Trump hit out at European allies, saying: "They want (us) to protect against Russia, and yet they pay billions of dollars to Russia, and we're the schmucks paying for the whole thing." Trump was referring to Russia as Europe's primary source for oil and natural gas, but he created a false dichotomy between energy reliance and NATO's defense spending goal.

Donald Trump on NATO: Top quotes

Montenegro 'may get aggressive and congratulations, you're in World War III"

In an interview with Fox News, Trump was asked why the US should jump the defense of NATO ally Montenegro in the event of an attack. The president said he'd asked himself the same question, appearing undermine the military alliance's collective defense clause. Trump went on to describe Montenegrins as a "very strong" and "very aggressive," and that that aggression risked starting World War III.

Describing what the alliance has meant to her personally, von der Leyen said that Germany was grateful for the security provided by NATO and that in her mind, the alliance was inextricably linked to her memories of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"It represents a special, even emotional bond between the American and European continents," she wrote.

Defending the weakest, and strongest

Von der Leyen doesn't explicitly name the United States or Trump in the piece. She does, however, note that the one time that NATO's "an attack on one of us is an attack on us all" maxim was activated, it involved the alliance's other members coming to the aid of the US.

"We will help our weakest ally just as we have helped our strongest by invoking Article 5 — for the first and only time in NATO's history — after September 11, 2001."

At a NATO summit last July, Trump voiced doubts over whether the US would honor Article 5, the alliance's collective defense principle, for Montenegro — NATO's newest member.

Now live
03:00 mins.
DW News | 31.10.2018

NATO military exercises largest since end of Cold War

Trump putting pressure on allies

Von der Leyen's op-ed comes on the heels of a New York Times report that said Trump spoke with senior US officials about pulling the US out of NATO.

On Thursday, Trump told military members at the Pentagon that Washington was fully committed to the security alliance, but repeated his demand for other countries to increase their defense budgets.

He also reiterated his belief that NATO allies in Europe have been taking advantage of US security for decades.

"We cannot be the fools for others. We cannot be. We don't want to be called that. And I will tell you for many years behind your backs, that is what they were saying," said.

Germany is one of the members currently falling well short of the 2 percent of GDP target for military expenditure recently set by NATO. As defense minister, von der Leyen has been at the forefront of calls for a higher budget, but with only limited success.

Every evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Germany's NATO missions

Germany's role in NATO

West Germany officially joined the trans-Atlantic alliance in 1955. However, it wasn't until after reunification in 1990 that the German government considered "out of area" missions led by NATO. From peacekeeping to deterrence, Germany's Bundeswehr has since been deployed in several countries across the globe in defense of its allies.

Germany's NATO missions

Bosnia: Germany's first NATO mission

In 1995, Germany participated in its first "out of area" NATO mission as part of a UN-mandated peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the deployment, German soldiers joined other NATO member forces to provide security in the wake of the Bosnian War. The peacekeeping mission included more than 60,000 troops from NATO's member states and partners.

Germany's NATO missions

Keeping the peace in Kosovo

Since the beginning of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, some 8,500 German soldiers have been deployed in the young country. In 1999, NATO launched an air assault against Serbian forces accused of carrying out a brutal crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists and their civilian supporters. Approximately 550 Bundeswehr troops are still stationed in Kosovo.

Germany's NATO missions

Patrolling the Aegean Sea

In 2016, Germany deployed its combat support ship "Bonn" to lead a NATO mission backed by the EU in the Aegean Sea. The mission included conducting "reconnaissance, monitoring and surveillance of illegal crossings" in Greek and Turkish territorial waters at the height of the migration crisis. Germany, Greece and Turkey had requested assistance from the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Germany's NATO missions

More than a decade in Afghanistan

In 2003, Germany's parliament voted to send Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Germany became the third-largest contributor of troops and led the Regional Command North. More than 50 German troops were killed during the mission. Nearly a thousand soldiers are still deployed in Afghanistan as part of Resolute Support.

Germany's NATO missions

German tanks in Lithuania

Forming part of NATO's "enhanced forward presence" in the Baltic states, 450 Bundeswehr soldiers have been deployed to Lithuania so far in 2017. The battalion-size battlegroups there are led by Germany, Canada, the UK and US to reinforce collective defense on the alliance's eastern flank. It forms the "biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defence in a generation," according to NATO.

Germany's NATO missions

Taking over the leadership

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO's multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of 2019. The rapid reaction force has been set up to counter potential Russian aggression on the alliance's eastern flank.