Jul 25, 2024  |  
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Dave Patterson

NextImg:Trump and NATO: Can They Kiss and Make Up? - Liberty Nation News

Once again, the far left, elitist progressives, and never-Trumpers are in a manic kerfuffle. To get his point across, the “Don” went after what he sees as NATO deadbeats for not paying for their own defense. However, as Mr. Trump is inclined to do, he threatened NATO members that they should pay up or be on their own. Furthermore, he told them if they didn’t want to pay for their security, Putin could have at them. National security pundits became apoplectic.

Raising all the Russia collusion hoax rhetoric, national security policy wonks went berserk, railing against the former president for being anti-American and unfit to lead. All of this, of course, is a reminder of Salena Zito’s observation in an article she penned for the Atlantic: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally,”

And so it is with the fuming Trump detractors. But what are the critics of the former US president so upset about? Donald Trump has had the same message for NATO members since he began campaigning for the presidency in 2015. NATO countries must invest in their militaries and stop relying on the US and a few others who meet the 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for defense obligation, which is the NATO guideline on which the members agreed. What is different now is that Trump has put the spotlight on NATO countries to pay for their defense in blunter language: Pay or face the possibility of Russia doing to them what it is doing to Ukraine. Sure, it is direct, plain communication. Why would the former president make such comments?

Looking at the most recent statistics on what NATO members are paying toward their defense, it would seem Trump has a point, regardless of how inartful his comments might be. According to the latest estimates  by World Population Review for 2023, the United US defense budget of $860 billion is more than ten times Germany’s national security budget of $68 billion, and Germany’s expenditure for defense doesn’t meet the 2% goal. In terms of percentage of GDP, Poland, a country that became a NATO member when the Soviet Union dissolved, spends the most on defense at 3.9%.

Seven of the top eleven NATO nations meeting the 2% objective belong to what the late former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld called “new Europe.” Not surprisingly, those meeting the objective were under the yoke of the brutal authoritarian Soviet regime. Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Latvia, and Slovakia all exceed NATO’s goal for defense spending, but then those countries know the consequence of military weakness. France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Spain fall short.

What is more problematic is that the failure of many of the original NATO members to spend sufficiently on defense results in weaker overall military capability, further reducing their contribution to the collective security.

When it comes to holding off an invading, determined enemy, NATO countries on the frontline of the initial assault would be in jeopardy. The Economist in May 2023 provided a less than encouraging assessment:

“At present, the Bundeswehr [Germany] may have only enough for two days of high-intensity warfare. In that respect Britain is barely better off. It has about eight days’ worth, according to simulations in a war game held in 2021: stocks have since been further depleted by the £2.3bn ($2.9bn) worth of military support it has given Ukraine (the most generous contribution in Europe).”

As the article points out, Britain has been faced with “Decades of cuts,” in its defense budget leaving a British Army potentially unable “to field even one heavy division: about 30,000 soldiers with tanks, artillery, and helicopters.” In the last two years, Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine has prompted a greater sense of urgency to improve defense spending by European NATO members. Still, reliance on the United States remains foundational to NATO’s combined security.

In parallel with Europe enjoying the US defense umbrella is the expectation that the US will shoulder the largest burden of Ukraine support. According to Statista, American taxpayers, as of May 2023, have given twice as much to support Ukraine than the “EU Institutions” combined and seven times what Germany is contributing. Yet, when the specter arises of Ukraine faltering on the battlefield, NATO looks to the US to come to the rescue.

What Europeans and NATO members specifically are hearing in the words of former US President Donald Trump is the fatigue Americans and many in Congress feel at having to underwrite the defense of Europe and carry Ukraine. NATO members should realize that the US wants to be a good Alliance citizen, but the defense of Europe must be a proportionally and demonstrably shared responsibility. Additionally, a more conciliatory tone toward NATO from former president and GOP front-runner Donald Trump could be the result.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.