The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (or NATO for short) summit in July, hosted by Brussels, wasn’t without its theatrics. For one, President Donald Trump threatened fellow members when he brought up the possibility of withdrawing the United States of America from their most crucial military alliance. Trump claimed that not all of the members fulfill the required expectations for contributing into the common’s budget, while spending more on defense. However, as the organization became more united, new challenges appeared on the horizon like international terrorism or cyber security, which only emphasized the alliance’s necessity.
NATO was established after World War II in 1949 as a means to provide a collective security against the Soviet Union (another superpower in the Cold War era, being the forefront of a communist ideology which represents a serious threat to the American values and interests in the world). The United States, Canada, and many Western European countries formed the organization, which has continued growing throughout the decades since it’s inauguration. Presently, NATO counts 29 members, including many European nations such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Turkey or Poland.
Over time, the organization has developed into something more than a military alliance between countries, now representing the idea of the “Western World,’ whose main values are to cooperate and resolve conflicts through collective defense (as per article 5 of the organization, which means that an attack against a member automatically considered an attack against all members), as well as promoting democratic values.
After the Cold War’s conclusion, some doubted the organization’s relevancy, mainly the Europeans. Nevertheless, several international conflicts which occurred during the last twenty years, demonstrated N.A.T.O’s necessity, such as the Yugoslavian War or a few scattered Russian aggressions like the Georgian war in 2008, the East-Ukrainian War, and the annexation of Crimea. These actions warned both the United States and Europe to maintain the alliance. Furthermore, N.A.T.O’s commitment duties have been enlarged due to the emergence of several new challenges like international terrorism or cybersecurity. In order to counter and prevent such threats to take action, the unity of the organization is indispensable.
Interestingly, nowadays it’s not counterterrorism, nor the Russian question (a possible incentive to spread Russian political and diplomatic influence in Eastern Europe or Central Asia) which infuses the Alliance but, rather, the offensive American pressure from President Trump regarding the organization’s budget. President Trump’s complaints manifest from the uneven distribution of budget contribution, that not all members fulfill their financial obligation. Trump insists on an equal contribution to the budget as many wealthy European nations, like Germany, or France could boost their spending on defense. Trump also claims that it doesn’t make sense how the United States must commit to defending smaller countries, such as Montenegro, which are located over 5,000 miles away from American soil.
Will Trump’s rigorous attitude push N.A.T.O’s European members toward a more serious willingness, or will his actions contribute to the distance of Europe from America while bringing a new (economic and military) competitor to the United States on the global stage?
The vendetta concerns national Interest versus geopolitical Interest, where national interest to America would mean that all the states contribute equally, or at least comparatively, to the budget. Due to President Trump, it seems that this can be achieved with a more aggressive approach, boosting financial expectations. At the same time, it would test the loyalty and the intrepidity of the Europeans while putting geopolitical interest on a bet. To America, this means maintaining a presence (both military and institutionally) in Europe.
President Trump looks very confident regarding N.A.T.O’s budget contribution and would like to reach it by insisting fellow members of the Alliance increase their contributions and use 2% of their total G.D.P. (Gross Domestic Product) spending on the military. Besides the United States which spends almost 3.5% of its total G.D.P. on defense, only four other NATO members reach Trump’s intended goal. Among these countries include Greece, Estonia, the United Kingdom, and Latvia. However, the willingness amongst European NATO members can be measured by how they perceive the “Russian threat.” Countries like Romania and Poland, for which NATO is a crucial alliance, are willing to meet the American expectations, with the former planning on reaching it over the next few years, while the latter has almost hit the intended goal while averaging an impressive 1.98%.
Trump isn’t the only president trying to enforce a harsher line on budget contribution. Obama tried the same, but the budget isn’t a sensible question. Although back in 2014 at the NATO summit in Wales, all members vowed to increase their defense spending towards 2% of their G.D.P. by 2024, the question still remains how all the members will achieve the expectations. However, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, defended Trump’s approach while also campaigning towards a more willing contribution into the alliance’s budget. She has noted that in 2017, an extra 41 billion U.S. dollars had been added by its members.
Exacerbating its position, Trump accused America’s closest ally of being totally controlled by Russia. The reason was that Germany allowed the Russian giant Gazprom (a Russian company which focuses on the business of extraction, production, transportation, and the sale of natural gas) to start building a gaze pipeline. Stating that “it is totally inadequate to spend billions on gas and oil, but to struggle reaching the 2% on defense spending,” many officials, like Ian Blackford, the leader of the Scottish National Party, accused the American president of being childish on foreign and security matters. Former Secretary of State John Kerry called Trump’s NATO’s remarks “disgraceful,” and “destructive.”
What do Americans think about NATO?
Several surveys predict that among citizens almost sixty percent hold a positive view of NATO. While almost two-thirds of Americans believe that if a European member would be attacked by Russia, Trump would use the military to defend it.
Regarding political sides, even among Republicans, which tend to be generally less-supportive of NATO, the percentage reaches 47. Moreover, it is particular that Republicans are more willing to defend an ally (65%, a slight drop from 2015’s 75%), than the Democrats (62%) among which the NATO support increased significantly from a 58% to a 78% value.
In addition to what an average American thinks and what point of view the political sides have on NATO, a possible U.S. withdrawal from the alliance wouldn’t be as easy for Trump as it might appear:
- The organization was established by a formal and binding treaty, which do not authorize the president to use their executive power.
- He must win approval at the Senate while persuading Democrats that America’s best interest is, indeed, to leave NATO
- He would have to count on a European antipathy and more than likely on a more aggressive Russian foreign policy in the region
Trump made a huge mistake focusing mostly on the budget issue of the alliance, and forgetting about their initial purpose, which is to defend Europe from a possible Russian aggression. Even if the aggression is still not relevant, it helps America maintain their core interest in Europe while also maintaining a powerful alliance with a huge economic and technological potential (European Union). All the proceeding American presidents understood the significance of the Euro-Atlantic alliance.
At the same time, it should be of America’s highest interest to maintain its presence in one of Europe’s most crucial regions. Moreover, in a case of an American withdrawal from the organization, they, more than likely, would come up with the idea of a common European military, which is a long-awaited goal, but not in the interests of the US. It would devalue the importance of the American presence and lobby. It also would withhold the US from regions like the Mediterranean Sea or North Africa, which are important from naval-economic perspectives. Although the E.U., economically speaking, is a global competitor, it’s military can’t compete with the U.S. and Russia.
- To get a better understanding of N.A.T.O’s importance, please visit this website for more information: https://www.heritage.org/defense/report/reinvigorating-natos-collective-defense-the-2018-brussels-summit
Watch President Trump and N.A.T.O’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, debate the European-Atlantic issues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vpwkdmwui3k
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