On March 8, 2017, Reiner Braun spoke to a group at Tufts University. In a world where global military expenditures top 1.8 trillion dollars, Reiner Braun urged his audience to find common points of understanding to avoid conflict. Braun cited the expansion of NATO alongside European national armies, and the increasing connections between these military structures’ command and control systems, as signs of increasing militarization of the European Union, a development that could prove to be confrontational vis-à-vis Russia. He also spoke of NATO’s post-Cold War expansion. As NATO looked for new reasons to exist, it began to increase its reach not only through expanded membership in Europe but also through a panoply of other global programs. At the same time, the EU also expanded, harmonizing the economic and military networks that guide a European approach to global affairs and security, and pushing further east beyond points that formerly had served as consensus limits of the western alliance.
Braun detailed the history of NATO’s rise and how it became the only global acting military alliance in the world. He contrasted its size and reach with that of Russia’s, noting that NATO, with 763 military bases all over the world, has an operating budget of 800 billion, versus Russia, operating 3-4 bases with a budget a tenth of that size. He also detailed the dynamics of EU membership in NATO, highlighting that even European states that are not members of the EU, like Switzerland and Great Britain post-Brexit, remain part of a de-facto political alliance despite their outsider status. This is particularly salient, he argued, regarding military policies throughout the EU. Braun argued that the EU has a military leg that is “independent but connected to NATO.” It’s independent in the sense that it can act freely without NATO’s permission, but connected in the sense that it can use NATO’s military structure. These relationships, and the ways in which national armies are intertwined with each other and NATO forces in Europe, are first steps towards the creation of a unified EU army, in addition to the national armies of member states. Furthermore, he argued, in areas not considered “priority” by the Trump administration, there will be more interventions by the EU, as they utilize NATO systems to take independent military action in North Africa and Eastern Europe.
This expanding militarization has implications for Russia’s military strategy toward the EU. Braun argued that traumas from the past remain in the hearts, souls, and minds of the Russian people, and that the military “lessons learned” of the past make Russia less tolerant of the EU and NATO’s increasing militarization and expansion. This confrontation, Braun argues, brings several myths of the arms industry to the fore. For example, currently NATO is developing a missile defense system on Russia’s borders. The justifications for this development included a desire from the EU to defend itself against North Korea and Iran. However, as the urgency of those threats has lessened, development of the missile defense system continues. Braun argued that now it’s very clear that the EU “needs” this system because of a potential confrontation with Russia.
This confrontation between East and West, Braun said, makes the need for new politics much more urgent. He offered the “politics of common security,” a framework that requires decision makers consider the interests of the opposing side, and to incorporate those interests into political actions, as a way forward through this confrontational context. He believes that the Trump administration’s policies and tactics will only continue to develop the politics of confrontation. “’America first’ inherently means someone else is second,” noted Braun.
While Trump’s relationship with Putin fascinates the media and angers the public, Braun argues that Trump will never have truly positive relations with Russia, as his politics, including supporting Western opposition in the Ukraine, remain against Russian interests. Add to that a skewering of his administration’s relations with Russia by both Republicans and Democrats, the anti-Russian sentiment in the U.S. remains strong. Additionally, the military strategies that the Trump administration has pursued in Yemen and Syria indicate an enlargement of military intervention in US foreign policy. Not only are an increasing number of sophisticated weapons and military capabilities being developed, but the environment of increasing militarization is being cultivated by these strategies as well. In this atmosphere, Braun argues, the politics of confrontation thrive, and fuel the potential for overarching conflict between East and West.
While NATO continues to play a role in interventionist politics over the world, military expenditures, developments of nuclear programs, and the expansion of military bases are on the rise. Braun argued that money for sustainable development is what’s needed, not another arms race. However, the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals included no financial commitments to reduce military spending. The funds being mobilized to enlarge militaries, he argued, could be put to better, more sustainable use. Braun argued that the EU, US, and Russia must reduce their military budgets or face confrontational consequences. The world cannot coexist with this amount of financial burden on military spending. Now more than ever, Braun concluded, “we need to come back to a place of common security and end the politics of confrontation.”