Henry Ridgwell, Voice of America
European leaders were left shaken following U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent comments that NATO is "obsolete". The organization has formed the bedrock of Europe’s security since World War II, but some EU leaders say Europe must now take responsibility for its own defense. The continent would face a huge deficit in military capability if the NATO alliance broke down.
German troops are making final preparations for their deployment to Lithuania, part of NATO’s 4,000 troop reinforcement in the Baltic States and Poland.
The deployment is meant to reassure frontline states. But U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent comments that NATO is "obsolete" have shaken European allies.
Wolfgang Ischinger is head of the Munich Security Conference, an annual global summit on defense due to take place next month.
“In addition to the crises we had last year, Ukraine, Syria, the South China Sea, North Korea etc., now we appear to have almost panic in the trans-Atlantic space," said Ischinger. "Is NATO obsolete or not? Is the European Union something which the U.S. can or should ignore or is the EU America's most important partner?”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Europe now has its fate in its own hands. But Jonathan Eyal of Britain's Royal United Services Institute says it will take a dramatic shift in EU policy to make up for any rupture in the U.S. alliance.
“While there is a lot of discussion about closer cooperation in the European Union, there simply is no substitute for American military power," said Eyal. "Up to 75 percent of all the military assets in NATO belong to the United States.”
Currently Germany, along with several other European NATO allies, spend far less on defense than the two percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) they pledged to spend in 2014.
“There is a commitment in Germany to increase defense expenditure, but we are far off, and especially in an election year in Germany we will remain far off, any chance of a major boost in defense expenditure," said Eyal.
Core members including France, Germany, Spain and Italy want closer EU military and intelligence cooperation, a move backed by the bloc’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
"First of all it means that Europeans are started to take seriously their security," said Mogherini. "We have started to do this ... well before the UK referendum, well before the U.S. elections because security is a priority for Europeans.”
Britain has blocked efforts towards building an EU military alliance, fearing it could undermine NATO.
But with Britain set to leave the bloc within the next few years, the calls for a European Union military force could grow louder.