Global Review had the honour to have an interview with NATO-General (retired) Hans-Lothar Domroese who gave us insights about NATO, the relations with Russia and perspectives of the transatlantic treaty organisation in the Trumpatlantic era. Domroese, born in 1952, son of Bundeswehr general Lothar Domroese, married, two sons, was working at the NATO headquarter since 1995, since 2009 he was commander of the Eurocorps in Strasbourg and since 2012 commander of the Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum. He retired in 2016. After his retirement he is consultant. The views expressed in this interview are his own and not that of any organization, institution or goverment.
Global Review: General Domroese, Trump called NATO „obsolete“, retreats 10000 troops from Germany and wants to deploy them in Poland, while Poland is glad to have US troops in Poland and maybe US nuclear weapons in the future, even if this undermines the NATO-Russia Act. However, Poland on the other side declared that it was not happy about the weakening of Germany and the NATO hinterland as it seems to see that a solely East European Intermarum and Entente could invite Russian expansionism. And maybe Poland also has doubts that Trump would defend Poland in war with Russia or not just to give it away. What is your opinion on the US retreat from Germany?
General Domroese: Thank you very much for your great questions. There are no easy answers to the current global challenges.First, I do not see a strategy behind the recent US approach to NATO or on US force reductions. My best guess would be that these US decisions were triggered emotionally by the former US Ambassador to Berlin; he’s called MEPHISTO GRENELL, allegedly a close supporter and friend of the US President. In fact, the envisaged reduction of US forces in Germany is exactly a U-turn – a 180 degree change- from their current policy. Because of the Russian threat the US had reinforced their capabilities in Europe in order to demonstrate US commitment in Europe. If the US really moves troops from Germany to Poland then it is okay with me as long as they respect the NATO-RUSSIAN-FOUNDING-Act i.e. as long as they do not deploy a divison. Smaller units are legally okay, however, think of the consequences: Russia may perceive this as a „hostile/non-friendly act“ and may consider to deploy Russian forces into BELARUS, vic of the Polish or Baltic border. That would be the unintended effect! I hear already the Polish politicians loudly cry….So, the president’s decision to reduce the US footprint in Europe has something to do with the American election campaign and, indeed, is a gift to president Putin, who does not deserve being honoured militarily. In other words: I miss a clear, straight-forward US strategy; a world power has a certain responsibility whether you like it or not. There are obviously bigger global challenges to deal with than US-force-design in Europe: Climate. Pandemia Covid 19. China, the ongoing wars in SYRIA, LIBYA and the SAHEL Zone, not to forget IRAN and NORTH KOREA just to mention a few. I very much regret that US influence is going to be marginalized by stupid emotional actions and a „zick-zack-course“ that has the potential to weaken NATO, the transatlantic relations and the USA. This president is different and has the tragic talent to destroy trustful cooperation and fruitful relationships across the globe.
Global Review: While Trump called NATO „obsolete“, Macron called NATO „braindead“. We are experiencing fundamental changes in NATO. Prof. Rahr, member of the Valdai club and Gazprom adviser for the EU thinks that Trump wants to dissolve NATO and replace it by a bilateral security network of core states as GB, Poland, Rumania and Bulgaria. Joschka Fischer in his new book „Welcome to the 21st century“thinks that Europe should not wait till the next Trump tweet will dissolve NATO , but to act as NATO has been already dissolved and to build European sovereignty and a Gaullist turnaround of Europa as Macron proposed. Therefore an own European defense would be a necessity. However, this discussion has tradition, but nothing really happened expect PESCO, the ad-hoc-alliances with GB for foreign interventions which never materialized till yet or some closer cooperation in the armaments industry. To which degree could a European initiative create a reliable European defense without NATO and the US nuclear umbrella? How could such a European defense be structured? As GB exits the EU and France wants to have the Force de frappe for a European deterrence, but not under the framework of an EU command, could a trilateral security alliance with a nuclear umbrella of GB and France and some sort of article 5 for the defense of former NATO territory be an alternative to NATO outside an EU framework? Could this deter nuclear-armed Russia and is Russia able to occupy or attack Europe sustainably?
General Domroese: Your question centers around DETERRENCE. I say reliable deterrence. We must believe in it, i.e. we must have the means and the will to use these strategic weapons as a last resort and a potential aggressor / competitor must be convinced that we would go nuclear if attacked. Mutual destruction would be the result. And as this price is too high – so the aggressor does NOT attack. That’s the theory and I do believe it still works.
Could the French nuclear weapons substitute the US ones? Not really in my opinion. First, I doubt that France guarantees to use this deadly force for friends / third parties. So far it has always been said that it is exclusively for the defense of France. Also, I see no offer to do „nuclear planning“ together, as NATO does it with those five NON-NUCLEAR-States who participate in nuclear missions.The so-called NPG, Nuclear Planing Group. In short: a French nuclear umbrella is unrealistic and not reliable. That’s why it will not work. Similar with British nukes ( that are „US-rent-weapons“). The third option would be a European Nuclear Force – no signs of realization.
So what? In order to deter any „bad state“ from attacking Europe we need the US guarantee of a nuclear umbrella. Our European responsibility is therefore to be a strong conventional force provider; as long as we fulfill this obligation we are safe – together with the US. We call it „burden sharing“. We cannot ask the US to help protect us and then not deliver. At this point I should mention that GERMANY delivers second most (after the US) in the conventional arena – despite the nasty 2% discussion. The better we cooperate in defense relations the better it is for our common future and security.
Regarding US bilateral agreements with Poland, the Baltic States and other nations I do not see a contradiction to NATO membership. I consider these agreements as an „add on“ in order to clarify bilateral issues, like housing, medical treatment, jurisdiction, SOFAs etc. Has nothing to do with dissolving Nato.
Finally, Joschka Fischer: I agree that Europe as a whole ( ca. 450 million people) should act with one voice, however, when I observe how difficult it was to only financially and economically overcome the COVID crisis at the recent EU-Summit, I doubt that his / our dream of „United States of Europe“ will ever become true… The differences are too big to create unified Europe. But the good thing is: our common values and similar threat assessment form the basis for a fruitful, long-lasting and strong „European Team“. I don’t see a proper alternative.
Global Review: Fischer is more thinking about a German-French axis for a European defense that integrates other European states, but not even about the Weimar triangle with Poland or the other nuclear power Great Britain. However, what happens if Marine Le Pen seizes power in France and the German- France axis, the motor oft he EU is destroyed and Le Pen teams up with Putin against non-nuclear armed Germany and Poland? Would GB defend Germany and Poland or just being deterred by Russian and French nuclear weapons? Could conventional wars then return tot the European continent? Wasn´t this an invitation to reverse the „greatest geopolitical catastrophe oft he 20st century“ as Putin called the dissolution oft he Sovjet Union?
General Domroese: I think there are too many „what…if’s..“ in your question. First, let me repeat: I strongly believe that only the US can guarantee nuclear deterrence and provide the umbrella. Neither France nor the UK can and will offer this for third parties. Clearly, if the US were gone and Madame Le Pen would form a coalition with Russia then a conventional war would be theoretically possible. What for??? Real-politisch, I don’t see this scenario! Even if she wins the national elections the French people would NOT give up their LIBERTÈ – that is what they fought for in 1789. Do NOT underestimate the French deepest appreciation of freedom, civil and human rights, freedom of gathering and speech. The French DNA does NOT fit to Putin’s. To conclude: I would rather be worried about a weakening / break-down of BELARUS thus inviting Putin to „unite“ with Minsk in order to overcome the prescribed „geopolitical catastrophe“…
Global Review: Trump is no accident. He might be a personal problem but is much more a structural problem as his voters will outlive the next elections. The Republican party was radicalizing since Newt Gingrich and the Tea party movement and is not the old Grand Old Party like under Bush senior anymore. Trump was also the reaction on US exceptionalism and globalism oft the former governments. He is no Manchurian candidate of Putin, but homegrown. He criticized the Iraq war 2003, the intervention in Lybia, the financial crisis, the free trade agreements, the unfair practices of China, and the engagement philosophy of most establishment politicians with China and Iran. The USA as the EU thought in the 90s Big is beautiful, we have the unipolar moment and will bring democracy, the Washington Consensus, Global NATO, and the EU expansion in each part oft he world. Big is beautiful. However, the Democrats, be it Clinton or Biden don´t correct their own mistakes and ideology, but try to blame Putin for their own mistakes. Don´t you think that a self-critical readjustment oft he former policy oft he Democrats and the Republicans which caused Trump could be the only way to rejenuvate America and the transatlantism? Including the mistakes oft he EU expansion which made Greece a member oft he Euro and wants now to have Bulgaria and Romania in the Eurozone and to make the nationalist mafiaeconomies oft he Balkan states as next EU-members or Ukraine which caused Putin´s reactions?
General Domroese: We always have to analyse the situation and to adapt our measures. In our globally linked world where everybody knows everything (theoretically) things are moving fast and we are all challenged to understand the changes and their consequences. Take the Internet for example. Or China’s development from a developing country to a world power. Or Artifical Intelligence / AI. So-called „small states“ can achieve great things – and „big countries“ can fade away.
So what? Our values stand for character and form a solid baseline for decisions. We are obliged to maintain a high standard. That is the standard of our rights since the French and the American revolution. These standards are also the common ground in the UN Charta. We do NOT distinguish between the UKRAINIAN, BULGARIAN, RUMANIAN people and the GERMANS, FRENCH or BRITISH. These values are valid for everyone.
And if the political system changes into this direction then we should offer our assistance to maintain peace, stability and justice. That means for example: Geo-politically the bi-polar-world has fade away and now we have to find a new „balance“ between four pillars/powers: Russia, China, the USA and Europe (although I hesitate to call Europe a power…).
If I had a dream I would wholeheartedly want RUSSIA to change. Like the Germans did after the ugly Nazi time. This Russian change would solve most of the European problems.
Regarding the US parties I guess that there is no difference between Republicans and Democrats vis-a-vis China. Europe is kind of puzzled i.e. they don’t like the dictatorship, however, they want to maintain good economic ties in order to sell goods to the huge market. I believe, however, that on the long run we have to decide: economic gains and political/human rights. A market without rights does not mirror our values. The new Security Law for Hongkong marks a turning point in our relationship with Beijng. We cannot sell human rights. We cannot betray the population of Hongkong.
Global Review: The EU is just looking tob e global player in the international geopolitical arena. However, it looks very desperate as the Europeans cannot organize their own self-defense and try to intervene in other parts oft the planet. Be it the more symbolic marine operation Irina, be it Annegret Karrenbauer´s proposal to have EU or NATO security zone in Northern Syria with the backing oft he UNO or to send German warships in the Indo-Pacific to counter China´s new assertiveness in this region. Aren´t these just desperate moves and initiatives which have no real substance? Wouldn´t it be better if the Europeans organize their self-defense in their European territory against Russia or maybe Le-Pen- France and consolidate and to stabilize themselves instead of initiating some sort of desperate activism that becomes ridiculous for all parties?
General Domroese: I would NOT call those ideas or proposals „desperate“. It’s the opposite: the vision, as I see it, was to exercise responsibility globally and to contribute to peace and stability, thereby supporting our American friends and take some of their load off. However, I agree that these proposals did NOT really matter, sadly the echo was NOT overwhelming. From my point of view it was a long overdue approach of demonstrating European / German responsibility. Take SYRIA: after the fatal US withdrawal the WEST can do nothing but watching the desaster. Syria is bleeding since 10 years. It is a shame. It is a disgrace for Europe and the West. AKK tried to introduce a SECURITY ZONE in order to help the poorest. But it was the Assad-regime backed by Russia to deny that.
Regarding European defence: it is of utmost importance to improve our capabilities and to cooperate much closer. It’s a must! Only, when we stick together we are strong. Only a strong EU can take action….but it is along way and obviously one need patience. But we must not waste money and time. Time has come today!
Global Review: As China, Iran, Russia have cyberwar capabilities, long-range missiles and also hybrid instruments, can a European defense only be limited tot he defense oft he European territory?
Let’s be humble and realistic. Our governments must guarantee security and well-being of our people. As long as they can accomplish this mission we should be satisfied. And it is okay. Life goes far beyond the military – our global trade, our UN-commitment, our contributions to reduce air pollution and save the oceans etc. also contribute significantly to a better world.
Have you ever thought about migration and why people want to come to the US and Europe ? They want to live in peace, stability and want to contribute to and enjoy prosperity. They want to be respected and live in dignity. Europe is attractive – and we should maintain our free society. The US are proud to be „the land of the free“ . Quite right so.
Global Review: At the moment Western or EU-Russian cooperation or detente seems to be impossible. But are there not more fields of cooperation than just to focus on the Crimea issue? What if Russia doesn´t want to give back Crimea? Will web e in an eternal confrontation with Russia? John Mearsheimer predicts, that Russia because oft the rise of China and Islamism could change the sides in the next decade. Wouldn´t it be an option try to keep Russia neutral in the Sino-American conflict and see it as partner in the War against Islamism? And what about ecological cooperation to save the Siberian woods, the Arctic,etc. and to reorganize the WHO after the USA is retreating and the Chinese try to take over the UNO organization?
General Domroese: We touched upon RUSSIA already. Let me reiterate: RUSSIA should (dare I say MUST) change! That is key in order to be a a partner of equal rights. RUSSIA too often is against something. – change it and be positive to human rights, freedom of speech, press, gathering. Accept „free and fair elections“. Do not occupy foreign countries, as it was already agreed during the Helsinki-Process. Etc.
Second, obviously we cooperate with Russia in many fields: NORTHSTREAM II, UN, economy, science, space. You mentioned the Arctic and Siberian woods. Fine with me. There are many good examples of friendly exchange between Europe and Russia. CRIMEA was set aside and is NOT part of the so-called Minsk Agreement. That was put in brackets – to be dealt with in the next generation or so. That was a very wise decision by our politicians (Putin, Hollande/Macron, Merkel).
To conclude: I am convinced that Europe wants to closely cooperate with Russia. Mutual trust and a minimum of rights must be guaranteed. The independence of justice is one of the most important rights. Here, we could immediately move to the next level if RUSSIA fulfills the Minsk treaty. Sanctions would be lifted. The key for change lies in Moscow.
Regarding the Sino-American-conflict: I would NOT recommend to exercise the old game: my enemies foe is my friend and vice-versa. that is NOT wise. Instead, we all should help to overcome dictatorships and build free societies.