There’s been a predictable uproar about some of Donald Trump’s recent comments on NATO. The conventional wisdom is that, by saying a Trump administration might not come to the aid of a NATO member that wasn’t paying its way, the GOP nominee has undermined the very foundations of the alliance.
I’m not going to get into the relative merits of any of the current presidential candidates. I didn’t like it when Obama stuck his nose into my own country’s recent EU referendum, after all. But I will say that, in this case, Trump has a pretty good point.
NATO was set up to counter a potential Soviet invasion of Western Europe. The free world had just fought the bloodiest and most expensive war in history to liberate Europe from the Nazis, and nobody particularly wanted to see it swallowed up by Stalin. However there was a problem.
The European allies were tired after six years of war (some of them on the losing side). The wreck of the once-mighty Wehrmacht had been demobilized, Britain wanted to bring its troops home and get them back into the economy, and France was already getting tangled in the mess of its colonies. The USA hadn’t been fighting as long, but even so, millions of GIs wanted to get home to their families.
Meanwhile, in the eastern third of Germany, the Red Army remained at full wartime strength. Its millions of troops were battle-hardened and, overall, very well equipped. If Stalin decided to push west, no single country would be able to stop him. The solution was to form a defensive alliance with a collective defense agreement.
Obviously no other NATO member had the economic power to build a force as powerful as the USA could; in fact only a handful – Britain, Germany, France (sometimes) and Turkey – could field multiple divisions. The idea was that everyone should pay a fair share, though, and generally it worked. Often it worked very well; smaller members formed composite divisions, or used their formations to round out the divisions and corps of larger allies. For decades NATO countries made affordable but credible contributions and, in return, had the guarantee of protection by the full alliance.
Then the Cold War ended. As the Soviet Army fell apart and drifted back to Russia, western governments jumped at the chance to save money. The cuts started in the early 1990s and are still going on. The UK’s defense budget was 6% of GDP in the late 1980s; now it’s barely above NATO’s 2% statutory minimum. And the UK is one of the higher-spending members. Ten members spend 1% or less of GDP on defense, and most of the alliance is scattered around the 1.5% mark.
Meanwhile the USA is in a class of its own, committing 3.5% of GDP to defense. With a third of NATO’s population, and well under half its total GDP, it accounts for two-thirds of the entire 28-member alliance’s military spending.
It’s legitimate to argue that not everything the USA has done with its armed forces was particularly smart. The Iraq war was a less than brilliant idea, for example. But one fact can’t be argued with: Americans make a hugely disproportionate contribution towards the west’s collective power of self-defense. No sane person expects, say, Belgium to contribute as much as the USA does. But if Belgium can only be bothered to spend 1% of its wealth on defense, then it’s basically freeloading. The umbrella of NATO collective self-defense should be restricted to those who’re willing to pay a fair share of what it costs. So when it comes to putting American lives on the line for those who want the alliance without the cost, I agree with Trump.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.