President Trump Right to Demand NATO Meet its Spending Commitments

President Trump has apparently sent some “tough letters” to various NATO leaders, warning them to increase their military spending, or the United States will pull out of Europe. Trump’s often seemingly erratic behavior has raised the eyebrows of many, including myself. Yet when it comes to NATO spending, I have to agree with the President.

When members of NATO fail to meet their spending requirements to prepare their military and contribute to their own defense, it falls upon the United States to pick up the slack. In effect, the United States ends up subsidizing the defense budgets of the many European nations in NATO, and to a lesser extent Canada, which is protected by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. (Note: NATO allies have until 2024 to raise their spending to 2%. This was agreed upon at a summit in 2014. However, NATO members had already agreed to 2% all the way back in 2006.)

Given that the United States is already $18.96 trillion in debt, it’s unfair to ask American taxpayers to foot the bill for Europe’s defense. Europe has already enjoyed decades of American protection and now benefits from a huge trade surplus with the United States. Further, most European countries are fully developed. As such, they can foot their portion of the bill.

In 2014, during negotiations with the Obama administration, NATO itself had already committed to increase its spending by 2 percent. Indeed, a 2-percent increase was even agreed upon in 2006 but members simply didn’t bother with follow-up. Problem is, this underspending puts more of a financial burden on the United States. With American military expenditures already at a hard-to-afford $600 billion-plus per year, increased spending is a strain for American taxpayers.

NATO Headquarters in Brussels – main entrance. (Credit: Facebook/NATO)

President Trump was right to point out these burdens. Europe has to pull its own weight, and with Russia flexing its muscles, European leaders need to work to ensure their own security. However, I must take issue with another point Trump made in his letters. He claimed that, “It will, however, become increasingly difficult to justify to American citizens why some countries do not share NATO’s collective security burden while American soldiers continue to sacrifice their lives overseas or come home gravely wounded.”

American troops are not dying to defend NATO. Certainly, American soldiers have died and will continue to die in America’s many conflicts. Whenever soldiers are being thrown to the dogs of war, we should consider the heavy costs inherent in their casualties. I always opposed the war in Iraq, with the cost of American troops being among my biggest concerns.

But American troops aren’t dying to protect NATO members. The war in Syria has certainly affected Europe owing to the mass influx of immigrants, yet it remains a distant and isolated war. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan was a direct threat to Europe. Surely, the United States is neutralizing some threats to Europe in its ongoing war on terror. Still, it is misleading to make it sound like American soldiers are dying to defend European soil.

That doesn’t mean that Americans aren’t putting their lives on the line for Europe. They are, but thankfully there’s no active war directly threatening NATO members. Still, should such a war ever evolve, American troops would be expected to defend our European allies. Further, NATO’s military capabilities are a deterrent to war, helping to check could-be Russian aggression. This makes it all the more important for every member of NATO to contribute their fair share.

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Brian Brinker

Brian Brinker is a political consultant and has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.

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