Elbridge Colby: One Other Country Poses a Much Bigger Threat than Russia

Trump's ally and potential future member of the Washington administration gave a very interesting interview to Politico

by Sededin Dedovic
Elbridge Colby: One Other Country Poses a Much Bigger Threat than Russia
© Providence Magazine / YOutube channel

"I think transatlantic relations are truly important, and I think Russia is a very serious threat," said Elbridge Colby, a former senior Pentagon official who is now being proposed for a significant role in national security if former U.S.

President Donald Trump is elected in November. "I don't think it's as big a threat as China, or as big a threat as the Soviet Union was in 1953. But if Putin isn't contained, he'll be incentivized to go further," Colby told Politico.

Recent opinion polls showing Trump ahead of President Joe Biden in key states have increasingly preoccupied European policymakers, with leaders wringing their hands and talking about Trump protecting the continent. In this regard, Colby emphasizes the importance of NATO, which will undoubtedly help calm the nerves of those trying to understand what another Trump term would mean and whether transatlantic relations will be as tumultuous as last time, when Trump threatened to withdraw from the Alliance, the foundation of European security since 1949.

But they'll have to read the fine print. Because, as Colby has made clear before, he harbors a deep affection for Europe. The grandson of William Colby, the CIA chief under U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Henry Ford, Colby is a longtime China hawk who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense in the first Trump administration.

He's now among the most prominent names for top foreign policy roles in a potential second Trump term, and his emphasis on transatlantic relations will somewhat soothe European allies — though he opposed Biden's long-standing aid package to Ukraine.

Colby makes it clear that transatlantic relations will only be healthy if Europe pulls its weight, takes on a larger defense burden, stops merely "staging photo ops promising to spend more in the future," and continues with "credible displays of military strength capable of assuming the primary burden of Europe's conventional defense against the Russians." He also advocates for incentivizing the continent to do so.

"For countries that meet their defense obligations, and not in terms of accounting tricks, but with real forces, those countries should be treated best by America," he told Politico. On the issue of imposing tariffs on exports to the U.S.

from disobedient allies, he explained, "We should look at our alliances and partnerships in an integrated way. And we should be prepared to use carrots and sticks to encourage the right kind of behavior from our perspective." Colby emphasizes that he doesn't speak on behalf of Trump or his presidential campaign.

But as he sees it, China is the number one threat the U.S. must focus on.

Elbridge Colby© CDA Institute / Youtube channel

To achieve this, there must be a global division of labor, with Europe strengthening and contributing much more, so that Washington can prioritize China.

"We think we're far more powerful and capable than we actually are. That's a simple fact. When I say 'we,' I mean the established leadership — President Biden, but also many old-school Republicans — who think we can do it all.

But have you looked at the size of the Chinese economy? Have you looked at the size of the Chinese industrial base? Have you looked at the state of our own industrial base, especially our defense-industrial base? Have you looked at the readiness of our armed forces? Have you looked at the growth of their armed forces?" he questioned.

"In the past quarter-century, we've gone through an unprecedented financial crisis, deindustrialization, several wars in the Middle East that haven't ended well and certainly aren't worth the cost. China has become a real chance for us to lose a war against it," he noted.

Colby is encouraged by signs of increased European seriousness, though he's not yet convinced that action will match rhetoric. He also says that NATO European members should "absolutely" spend more than three to four percent of their GDP on defense — as most of them did during the Cold War.

"That's entirely reasonable," he added. "Only Germany is a bigger economy than Russia, let alone NATO as a whole," he said, noting that Europe has long wanted to retain the peace dividend afforded by the end of the Cold War.

"The only thing I really object to is when, especially Germans, with all their history, try to suggest they can't be militarized for historical reasons. But when their necks were on the line during the Cold War, they militarized pretty quickly," he said.

He also dismissed British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's recent promise to increase defense spending in the future, as he's unlikely to be in power to fulfill it. In an interview with Politico, Colby nevertheless approved parts of French President Emmanuel Macron's recent marathon address at the Sorbonne, praising him for calling on Europe to be more self-confident, take on more responsibilities, and improve military readiness.

But he disdains the French leader's talk of strategic autonomy and Europe being an independent player in the conflict between the U.S. and China. "That's self-defeating because you can't have an energetic Europe without U.S.

support, and if Europe is going to be some kind of third pole, then why would we help you become that?" he questioned. Moreover, Colby is increasingly intrigued by European hawkish politicians of the center-left — among them, Britain's David Lammy, the opposition Labour Party's foreign affairs leader, and German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius.

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