Richard Epstein reacts to the first round of balloting in the French presidential election and explains the implications for the broader state of politics in Europe.

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As recently reported General Mad Dog Mattis met with NATO allies and made a rather non-mad request to other NATO members: “Pay your fair share for your own security”. Matties continued “No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of western values”. Of the 28 members of NATO (the world’s […]

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Mattis to NATO Allies: Pay Your Fair Share


Defense Secretary James Mattis met in Brussels Wednesday with the defense ministers of our NATO allies. His message was characteristically honest and blunt:

“I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” Mattis said. “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense.”

…Mattis, a retired Marine general, recalled Wednesday that when he was NATO’s supreme allied commander of transformation from November 2007 to September 2009, he watched as then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned NATO nations that Congress and the American people “would lose their patience for carrying a disproportionate burden” of the defense of allies.

NATO East Europe report: Romanian politics in 2017


The Romanian legislative elections of December 2016: A disaster for decent people, a bitter victory for the anguished majority deprived of a sense of its dignity, a season of fearful Socialism to come, and an opportunity for American grand strategy. Though the picture is bleak, this is what NATO-Eastern Europe will have to work with in the coming years. Before I attempt to write something worthwhile about Poland, the other country of some importance in Eastern Europe, let me wrap up the series I started on the political situation in my native Romania with a report about the anti-government protests. I’ll tell you how this new government got into office which in one month managed to create the scandal I’ve already covered for Ricochet.

We have to talk foreign affairs, the less urgent half of politics, but the one concerned with war and the threat of war. Conservatives now run America’s foreign policy and that seems rather providential, because the world stage is bleak and unfriendly, and conservatives are the less likely party to believe in a fairy tale peace. Foreign affairs, after all, means dealing with America’s enemies and the threat of war. The oldest and most openly bellicose of America’s three major enemies is Russia, and therefore Americans who are interested in politics should care to an extent about Eastern Europe, where lies my unhappy native country, Romania.

The Anti-Business Businessman


We’ve been instructed not to take our new president literally, but instead seriously (in the felicitous phrasing of Salena Zito). As I write, there are hints that the inaugural address will focus on the theme of “America First.” President-elect Trump may or may not be familiar with the historical taint of that phrase, but in any case the meaning he attaches to it has been clear enough.

Throughout his career, Mr. Trump has been consistent on two issues: trade and admiration for strong men. He departs from the consensus about American leadership in the post-World War II era. Rather than seeing US security guarantees and promotion of trade as providing the means through which the world (and the US) has seen unprecedented growth, peace, and prosperity, he thinks we’ve been chumps.

“America First” is a declaration of No More Mr. Nice Guy. This is the link between his views on NATO and trade. In the former case, he appears to think that the NATO alliance is a favor we do for an ungrateful Europe. While it would be a very positive development if every NATO member were to spend the agreed-upon two percent of GDP on defense, there is reason to doubt that Trump’s comments are simply veiled threats to achieve that. Is it pure coincidence that while denigrating NATO, Trump has shown excessive friendliness to Putin, whose chief goal (just ask Gen. Mattis) is undermining the alliance?

Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America get the popcorn ready as the Hillary and Sanders Democrats feud over the future of the party.  They also rip the media for overblowing Donald Trump’s statement on NATO being obsolete but also scold Trump for stoking some of the confusion.  And they unload on the radical leftists Project Veritas caught trying to ruin an inaugural ball with stink bombs and triggering the sprinklers.

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I’ve been given a writing assignment this week, and I was hoping that Ricochet members could counsel me. I got an email yesterday for an Estonian daily newspaper to write a piece for this weekend’s edition of their weekly supplemental magazine about what, from the perspective an American, the “feelings, fears and hopes” are of the […]

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Do NATO and the EU Have a Future?


I was recently asked to contribute to a series on the website of the Hoover Institution Working Group on Military History. The topic was “The Unraveling of the EU and NATO,” and the precis I provided took the following form:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union are in disarray. The former has fulfilled its mission. Were it not for Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and invasion of Ukraine and the refugee crisis in Europe spawned by the sectarian Muslim conflict raging in Iraq and Syria, it would be an empty shell without any obvious function. The latter has overreached. A great success as a customs union, it is a disaster as a currency union; and the attempt to turn it into a federation—oligarchic in governance and equipped with an intrusive administrative apparatus—will end in tears.

Russia Is a Threat, But Not Because They’re Hacking John Podesta’s Emails


A Russian fleet is steaming toward Syria from the North Sea through the English Channel. The New York Times, formerly a newspaper, has no information about this anywhere on the front page and none on its world page either. You can read about how Egypt is having a sugar shortage and people with a sweet tooth are undergoing hardship because of it — no, really, you can — but you won’t be able to read about the real growing threat from Russia.

NATO in the 21st Century


Truman_signing_North_Atlantic_TreatyWhen I was a senior in college, I was enrolled in two different seminar classes taught by the same professor. He was a very wise and experienced man who fought with MacArthur in the Philippines before receiving his doctorate in history. He is the preeminent NATO historian as well as a distinguished early American history scholar. The two classes were called “NATO: A Modern History” and “Jeffersonian America,” and both of those courses have been on my mind recently.

The Jeffersonian America class began with Washington’s Farewell Address from in 1796. Washington used the address to discuss what he believed should guide American foreign policy. He expressed a desire to uphold current alliances, but also cautioned against creating more alliances, “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements.” Washington feared a United States being pulled into the conflict because of rivalries that have defined much of European history. “Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe,” he asked “entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?”

Now let us fast forward to April 4th 1949 and the founding of NATO by twelve nations. The alliance was formed less than four years after the surrender of Germany and four months before the first successful Soviet nuclear weapons test. The free world was threatened by the Soviet Union’s expansionist foreign policy in Eastern Europe and the hardcore communist philosophy that underpinned it. My thoughts on communism are pretty much in line with those of Brigadier General Jack Ripper. The Soviet Union represented a real and present danger to the entire world because of its communist philosophy. NATO was formed to protect the United States and the other member nations from Soviet aggression and was central to the eventual collapse of the USSR.

April Glaspie, Signalling, and the Baltics


Haines-Little-Green-MenYou’ll all remember the story of hapless April Glaspie, often blamed — unfairly, in my view — for the First Gulf War. She was accused of giving Saddam Hussein the very mistaken impression that the United States would remain neutral should he invade Kuwait. The transcripts of the meeting vary in their particulars, but according to The New York Times, this is what she told him:

But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 1960s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via Klibi [Chedli Klibi, Secretary General of the Arab League] or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly.

When journalists later confronted her with this transcript, she said, “Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.” As I said, in my view she’s been unfairly scapegoated. In the transcript, she’s clearly referring to his “border disagreement” and reiterating the message American diplomats had given Iraq about that disagreement since the late 1960s. No sane interlocutor could understand her to mean, “We’d be just fine with it if you moved your border to the other side of Kuwait.”

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I haven’t seen this discussed on Ricochet (or much of anywhere), but it seems significant to me. This week, NATO agreed to station troops in Latvia and Poland: 4 battalions from 4 countries (US, UK, Germany, and Canada if PM Trudeau can be persuaded). My interpretation is that NATO wants personnel from a number of […]

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Where Does the Anti-NATO Sentiment Come From?


Flag_of_NATO.svg_Rather than flapping my arms and screeching “Useful idiot!” at the television screen, I thought I’d try to explain (to the best of my knowledge) what NATO does, why, and where — I suspect — some of Trump’s anti-NATO sentiment must be coming from.

This brief history of NATO does a good job of explaining how NATO came into existence. The first paragraph is key:

It is often said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. This is only partially true. In fact, the Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration.

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Donald Trump has called NATO obsolete. He is not all wrong. NATO was formed in 1949 for the nations of the West to form a united front against the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is long gone. Donald Trump makes the point that the United States continues to fund NATO, from one-fifth to one-quarter of […]

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Why Wars Break Out: Bucharest Declaration Edition


Claire has started two excellent discussions here and here about the causes of war. I look forward to reading her argument in subsequent posts. But I also wanted to throw out my anticipatory two cents on the subject without being constrained by commenters’ 250-word limit. In the case of The Big One – China – the causes of war, if there is to be one, will be the same structural ones identified by Thucydides 2,500 years ago. Like Athens and Sparta, this is a paradigmatic case of rising and declining powers clashing. But in the case of lesser conflicts, one can never overestimate the role of ordinary human stupidity and inability to grasp the perfectly predictable consequences of foolish actions.

Dying for Narva? Our Foolish NATO Commitment.


imageI confess I have a soft spot for Estonia. I visited for my first and only time when I was six years old. Unlike the other Soviet workers and peasants, who every August flocked en masse to the rocky shores of the Black Sea, my family preferred the wide, uncrowded, sandy beaches, cool northern waters, and fragrant pine forests of the Baltic. The three Baltic capitals – Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius – were ancient Hanseatic merchant towns that, despite 30-some years of Communism, mass-deportations, and Russian colonization, had managed to preserve their distinct Baltic character and culture. To my parents, the whole region – but especially Estonia – looked and felt like Scandinavia or, at least, what they imagined Scandinavia to look and feel like.

Tallinn itself I remember as a medieval jewel straight out of a storybook, with winding cobblestone streets, Gothic windows, and a skyline marked by crow-stepped gables, church spires, fortress towers, and red tile roofs crowned by bronze weathervanes and finials. There were pubs, coffee houses, and jazz clubs. The food tasted different. This place felt … Western. Someone told my mother that, if one stood at the water’s edge on dark nights when atmospheric conditions were just right, one could faintly see the lights of Helsinki across the Gulf of Finland. I clearly remember her standing on the beach at night squinting at the horizon, trying to catch a glimpse of the world beyond the Iron Curtain.

For years afterward, I made childish drawings of Nordic Baroque towers and spires, trying to capture the magic of that place. I often wanted to return, but Tallinn was the one place where my childhood steps remained un-retraced. It was not one of the world’s great capitals, it was off the beaten track and, until the summer after my second year in law school, the right opportunity never seemed to present itself. That summer I tried to visit, but was arrested crossing the Russo-Estonian border, which is kind of a funny story.

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 2016


“Just as Iraq was President George W. Bush’s catastrophic legacy,” writes Maajid Nawaz, in an article headlined How Obama Lost the Mideast to Putin,

Syria will be Obama’s. Bush’s sins of commission wrought no less chaos than Obama’s sins of omission. If the Stop the War lobby’s primary motive was to avoid civilian casualties, then by any standard they should slither away shamefully into voluntarily redundancy.

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Turkey and Russia tell different stories about the downed Russian aircraft. You might have already chosen your favorite, but the storytelling continues in Belgium! What international thriller could not be improved by the avant garde cliché premise that everybody is lying?  It’s rare to see physics being used as an effective tool to comment on […]

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Russia, Turkey, and Article V


20150707_collective-defence-img2Two particularly interesting comments came up at the tail end of my post about Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian jet. Let me reproduce them:

Pilgrim wrote:

I’ll just say it. Dump Article 5. Mutual defense obligations are either doomsday machines or paper tigers. If the treaty is wrongly considered a paper tiger, then it becomes a doomsday machine. The treaty is no stronger than the capabilities and resolve of the allies and both are open to question.