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U.S. and NATO Current State and Trump Demands

August 20, 2017
Following World War II, the European continent was left ravished and defenseless. With the rise of the Soviet Union as a threat to democracy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed.

The most famous aspect of this alliance is the collective defense aspect in which the nations promise collective defense. Article five states; “[5] The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all”.  This corner stone of NATO has only been invoked once following the September 11th attacks. A stable and democratic Europe partnered with the United States was able to hedge against the growth of communism and defeat the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Today the Alliance is composed of twenty-nine members. You can explore and read about them here. [3]

Today, unlike the Cold War Era, NATO faces many threats, pockets of terrorist organizations, the pivot to Asia trend, recent Russian actions in the Crimea regions. Terrorist organizations present a unique challenge to NATO. While most nations have been affected negatively by these organizations they do not present as an unified front. Terrorist organizations many times are found in pockets dispersed through multiple nations spanning, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. This lack of one front makes it difficult for a unified NATO response and spreads resources thin. The Pivot to Asia [4] trend sparked by the regions growing industrial capabilities has put a strain on European unity. Russia remains an ever-present threat and their recent actions invading Crimea in 2014 has called NATO’s response into question. Finally newly elected President Trump’s campaign criticisms threaten the reliability of NATOs most important Western ally. 

In the alliance NATO members agree to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defense. This spending is to ensure equal responsibly and commitment to the alliance. Charts show that many countries have fallen below this mandatory spending including Germany and France. A NATO summit in 2014 reintroduced this idea giving countries who are spending below the two percent a decade to get that number up. The chart bellow provided by CNN Money [1] shows GDP spending as of 2015. The United States largely increased defense spending following the September 11th attacks.  The United State’s increased spending has allowed NATO allies to become dependent and over reliant for defense capabilities. 

Image: This graph shows spending as percentage of GDP.Source: CNN MoneyImage: This graph shows spending as percentage of GDP.
Source: CNN Money

http://money.cnn.com/2016/04/15/news/nato-spending-countries/index.html

As President Trump comes into his presidency he has demanded that fellow NATO allies pull their fair share in defense spending. On May 25th, during President Trump’s first official abroad trip he met with NATO leaders. In his speech [6] at the new NATO headquarters he drew controversy in demanding NATO allies pay up and meet their two percent. He stated, “Over the last eight years, the United States spent more on defense than all other NATO countries combined.  If all NATO members had spent just 2 percent of their GDP on defense last year, we would have had another $119 billion for our collective defense and for the financing of additional NATO reserves”. These remarks left European leaders appalled. Canada ended up 

increasing their spending but claiming only because they feel they can no longer rely on the United States. Although President Trump has come under fire for his remarks, he is not the only United Sates President to call out NATO members. President Obama made statements calling out low GDP spenders in a bilateral news conference [2]with the Greek Prime Minister back in late 2016. He stated,  “I want to take this opportunity to commend Greece for being one of the five NATO allies that spends 2 percent of GDP on defense, a goal that we have consistently set but not everybody has met…Greece has done this even during difficult economic times. If Greece can meet this NATO commitment, all our NATO allies should be able to do so”. 

Image: Trump speaking at conference with NATO leaders.Source: GstaticImage: Trump speaking at conference with NATO leaders.
Source: Gstatic

NATO is an important international alliance that has proven effective in protecting democracy and promoting peace.  The United States remains a corner stone ally and therefore does have the leverage and leadership to make such comments. Leadership means leading by example and the United States has lead by example in spending well over the two percent GDP spending. The United States is not asking its allies to do something they have not already done, which in theory is good leadership. The United States has the responsibility to protect its interest both domestically and abroad. Abroad NATO spending ensures that the United States remains protected and can fall back on allies in times of need. Domestically the United States need to focus on the needs of its citizens. With equal spending from all NATO allies the United States can begin to focus inward in making a stronger nation for itself by focusing on economic growth, job building, and education. A strong United States means a stronger ally to NATO. 

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.

References:

  [1] Kottasova, Ivana. “Which NATO Members Are Falling Short on Military Spending?” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, n.d. Web.

  [2] MCCASKILL, NOLAN D., Adam Goodheart, Rich Lowry, Sam Kriss, and Jeff Greenfield. “Obama Urges NATO Members to Pull Their Weight.” POLITICO. N.p., 15 Nov. 2016. Web.

  [3]”NATO / OTAN.” What Is NATO? N.p., n.d. Web.

  [4] NATO and the Asia-Pacific: Preparing for Conflict in 2026 - Your Opinion - Atlantic Community. N.p., n.d. Web.

  [5]Nato. “The North Atlantic Treaty.” NATO. N.p., n.d. Web.

  [6]”Remarks by President Trump at NATO Unveiling of the Article 5 and Berlin Wall Memorials - Brussels, Belgium.” The White House. The United States Government, 25 May 2017. Web.

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