Even the most passionate admirers of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, must have been perversely delighted when Donald Trump recently added it to his long list of national grievances.
In his angry and self-righteous way, Trump now argues that NATO cheats the United States, which invented it in the glory days of George C. Marshall, Dean Acheson and other seers of American diplomacy. He believes, apparently, that in the pre-Trump era, America signed agreements that harmed America. The U.S., he argues, bungled trade with China, killing off thousands of jobs, and tolerated illegal immigration from Mexico, leaving more Americans jobless.
As for NATO, Trump calls it "as bad as NAFTA," apparently another blunder he's determined to correct. NATO suggests that each member country should spend about two per cent of its economy on defence. Most of the 29 nations spend less than that. Trump says that means they aren't paying their "dues." More than that, they are "delinquent."
He finds this outrageous, a betrayal of their duty. He has said it will become "increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries fail to meet our shared collective security commitments." That sounds like a threat, as if angry citizens were reaching the point of withdrawing from the alliance. But in fact Trump's is the only voice heard on this point. And in truth, several countries were increasing their arms budgets well before Trump suddenly decided this was a vital matter.
Most people, including most politicians, seldom give a thought to NATO. They know it's been around a long time and probably will go on forever without anyone discussing it.
It deserves attention as one of the truly successful instruments of international governance. In the late 1940s it was invented to contain the Soviets, but in the past two decades it's helped to make peace among the once fractious nations of Europe.
In the first half of the 20th century, Europe was the catastrophe of continents. In the years up to 1914 it was dominated by unashamed chauvinism and proud nationalism. Countries, out of greed or fear, thought often about the coming war. Germany and Britain competed in building warships and great stores of artillery. It was generally agreed that if war came, it would be brief.
Instead it was long, bitterly fought and disastrous for all nations involved and many across the world. Empires were wrecked -- Germany's, Russia's, Austria's, the Ottoman. Nations tried to conquer other nations by reaching into ethnic groups to encourage rebellion, as Germany did with the Irish and Britain did with the Arabs living under the Ottomans. Genocide became a national tool, in the Ottoman treatment of the Armenians. Soldiers perished in the trenches or went home with missing limbs or with lungs damaged by poison gas. During my 1930s boyhood I grew accustomed to seeing wounded veterans on the streets of Toronto; one of them was my uncle.
And that was the prelude to worse. Hitler came to power because he exploited the German view that they had suffered by their loss in 1918 and the peace treaty that followed. Lenin and the Bolsheviks conquered Russia because war had destroyed the stature of the czars. Both the Nazis and the Soviet Union were the products of the First World War.
All this was the result of nations gone mad, with nothing to stop them. NATO is the work of a more thoughtful time, and Trump may have inadvertently been good for it and good for peace. Seeing NATO attacked by him may incite others to come forth with a more positive view. NATO deserves a few unabashed defenders.