For the first time since its creation, U.S. support for NATO is in question. The main reason given publicly is the failure of many NATO countries to reach the agreed goal of two percent of GDP spending for each country’s defense budget. The corollary to this is that the U.S. is being taken advantage of—we spend 3.1 percent of our budget on the military to defend Europe, and Europe is not pulling its weight. I think the phrase has been that we are no longer going to be Europe’s piggy bank. We first need to correct some misconceptions in order to develop a policy to deal with NATO’s problems.
There is no doubt that NATO’s military situation as a whole is problematic. Germany’s military, for example, is in an abysmal state, with the vast majority of its aircraft, armored vehicles, and naval ships unready or unavailable for any type of operations. Britain is also facing a military crisis in terms of not spending enough money to keep all its military forces viable. But, as usual, there is more to this than is being discussed.
First, the U.S. does not spend 3.1 percent of our GDP to defend Europe. This is an easy and common misconception. We spend 3.1 percent of our GDP on the military because we want the best, most powerful military in the world. We spend 3.1 percent of our GDP to defend ourselves and to be able to project our military power offensively anywhere in the world, period. We maintain 662 military bases overseas for those very same reasons. Whether that is a good investment or not, we spend hundreds of billions of dollars to maintain our military lead throughout the world. NATO is part of that effort to defend the U.S.
Second, we do not defend Europe out of the goodness of our hearts or because the Europeans somehow bamboozled numerous U.S. administrations for the past 70 years. We have been defending Europe because it is in our national interests to do so. We have defended Europe because it benefits us. NATO has served as a buffer to Russian expansion, especially during the Cold War. It provided allies in several military campaigns, most recently Afghanistan and Syria. It has helped us forge a western alliance that has supported trade, democracy, and an overall world order benefitting U.S. national interests. This is one of the reasons we are the superpower we are today. In short, the NATO consortium benefits the United States.
We have never been an altruistic nation. We have always looked out for our own national interests; it has always been America first. There have been times when NATO members disagreed with a particular U.S. action, but NATO has generally been a win for the U.S.
National security is seldom about money. If that were the case, we could cut our military budget by two-thirds and still have enough left to defend the U.S. proper, forgetting the rest of the world. National security is about ensuring that our interests are protected, whether they are economic interests, political interests, or the safety of U.S. citizens. We do this, in part, by forging alliances that benefit U.S. interests. The set of alliances and treaties in place, including NATO, have allowed the U.S. economy to benefit from free markets and capitalist economies. It has allowed U.S. influence to spread. It has helped make us the world power we see today. You cannot put a price on that, and that is the problem. Business people see everything in terms of dollars and cents. You cannot reduce our national security to a profit margin.
NATO members do need to address their military budgets and the negative impact on readiness. However, bullying, threatening to withdraw, and alienating our closest allies is not the way to go about improving NATO’s capabilities. Frankly, recent U.S. actions do not even look like there is any interest in fixing NATO’s problems; rather, they seem to be an effort for the U.S. to withdraw from its alliances and treaties, further isolating us and leaving the playing field to the opposition. We seem to have Russia’s interests in mind rather than our own.