With the new Trump administration asking its European allies to take on a greater share of military defense expenses, one of the unintended victims could be Russia’s military-industrial complex.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump introduces retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as his appointed secretary of defense while speaking to supporters during a rally in Fayetteville, N.C. Photo: AP
Donald Trump, President-elect of the United States, is still viewed with apprehension and uncertainty both by the public in the United States and by its closest allies in Europe. In Russia, however, Trump’s victory has led to an expectation of changing relations and another “reset” between Washington and Moscow.
However, when discussing his unexpected victory, many don't mention that the first battle for American interests has already been won by Trump in the realm of NATO. He is forcing NATO allies to play by his rules, and that could have an important impact on America’s military-industrial complex.
In 2015, the amount of U.S. military “exports” was around $41 billion, which is 44.7 percent of all worldwide weapons exports. By comparison, in 2012 the U.S. military-industrial complex exported just under $24 billion. Russia, with its exports of “only” $14 billion, is still safely in second place.
What is the driving force behind the increase in weapons exports by more than two-thirds over the last four years? The explanation lies in the situation in the Middle East, as well as the desire of NATO to strengthen its bases against a potential threat: Russia.
This is especially true after the events in Ukraine in 2014, and the continued planned modernization of Eastern European armies, in conjunction with the continuously tense political situation in the world as a whole. In 2015, the EU alone received 9.9 percent of U.S. weapons exports through NATO. Turkey received an additional 6.6 percent of exports.
However, Trump and his advisors will likely be able to increase these figures. After the election, Trump seems willing to make good on his campaign promise that countries that America protects must pay for their own protection. By doing this, he is making NATO play by his rules.
And so, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, soon after a conversation with Trump, announced that NATO would increase its military expenditures by 3 percent. In his speech, he underlined the leading role that the U.S. plays in the organization. He also mentioned the necessity of NATO members to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on NATO expenditures, a figure that is currently reached by only four participating nations.
Trump will have many assignments for his allies. This involves the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) and the increased problems of building stability in Libya, as well as the creation of new mobile military units that both Washington and Brussels can activate in any part of the globe. Most importantly, NATO, where the U.S. bears 70 percent of the expenditures, seems willing to lessen the American burden and spread the costs more evenly among the allies.
In this way, as some Russian experts predicted, the U.S. is “leaving Europe.” Businessman Trump will make Europeans pay for their security, and the times of “free protection” are clearly over. The money that the U.S. saves would be used for strengthening U.S. national security. Trump plans to increase and further invest in the Marine Corps, increase the regular army, modernize the nuclear arsenal and develop new weapons. When it comes to NATO allies, their agreement to follow U.S. politics will involve the increase in personal expenditures on defense, and the increase of their military exports.
It is also important to mention that members of NATO like Turkey and Greece (two members of the alliance that harbor serious disagreements) actively import Russian weapons. Some Eastern European Nations (Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary) still use large amounts of Soviet military equipment, which is left over from the Warsaw Pact era. They are forced to pay Moscow for spare parts and yearly maintenance.
The increase in defense spending will mean that a quick re-armament of the Eastern European members of NATO is imminent. This, considering the complications caused by the sanctions on Russia for continuing maintenance of weapons, is something that will definitely keep Eastern Europe interested.
For example, in October 2015, Bulgaria faced a scandal, when the government refused to repair their military aviation fleet of MIG-29s in Russia. After the attempts of the Bulgarian army officials to repair the planes in Poland, the representatives of Russia’s corporation RSK MiG protested, and stated they had no intentions of giving their Polish counterparts a license to repair the plane engines.
And so, of all the countries in NATO, only Greece and Turkey have an interest in diversifying their weapons arsenal, with the rest ready to spend money on American armaments.
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One must not forget that the U.S. is currently the only country in possession of fifth generation jet fighters (Russia and China are finishing testing). But the U.S. is already actively supplying these jets to Europe.
At the same time, the producer of European jets, Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH, is far behind its American counterpart, and is not planning an improved model of the Eurofighter jet anytime soon. This allows the American corporation Lockheed Martin to monopolize the European jet market for years to come. The Trump administration will do all it can to support America’s military-industrial complex.
This is not a surprising conclusion, considering the people who Trump might appoint to his cabinet. Consider, for example, Michael Pompeo, who might lead CIA in the future. As the former army officer and graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School, he founded a company called Thayer Aerospace in 1997. It received large orders from companies such as Boeing (which participated in the development of fifth generation jets). In his new position, he might continue to defend the interests of the U.S. military-industrial complex, and his new position as CIA director could give him a lot of room for that.
The candidate for National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is viewed by many in the U.S. as being sympathetic to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Many experts see him as a likely intermediary between Moscow and Washington. In addition to this, he is one of the U.S. most competent experts on NATO’s potential. He has an excellent grasp of the events not only in the Middle East, but also Eastern Europe. He is also aware of the real needs of NATO members when it comes to re-stocking and re-equipping their armies.
Another figure who may have a key role to play in the future of American politics is billionaire Wilbur Ross, Trump’s choice for Commerce Secretary. Ross is a competent businessman, who during Bill Clinton’s presidential tenure conducted investments in Russia, and is therefore closely familiar with European markets.
In this way, the fight for the weapons market is already won by Trump. Only a couple of days were necessary for the President-elect to make NATO agree to all of his terms, and bear their fair share of the financial burden. A full-scale war with ISIS, the strengthening of European armies, and the constant use of ammunition, will allow American manufacturers to increase their presence on the European and Turkish markets.
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It is also obvious that Russia is no longer able to keep its military-industrial manufacturing competitive in Europe. Firstly, the current sanctions against Russia are not likely to be removed any time soon, and secondly, during the process of modernization, any left-over Soviet technology is likely to either be sold, or discarded. In the best-case scenario, Russia can save its position in Greece and Turkey by manufacturing specialty items on demand, such as modern missile systems, hovercrafts, and anti-tank missiles.
Trump, who is being welcomed in Moscow as a possible ally, has already damaged part of Russia’s economy. But in any case, the new president has always been a businessman. So it’s not personal, it’s strictly business.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.