Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Trump Correct to Keep Focus on NATO Freeloaders



President Trump is one of the most creative leaders we may ever see and the manner in which he brings attention to issues—whether in a statesmanlike way or with his inimitable bombast—he nevertheless is always successful in doing so.

Recall that while president, in 2018, Trump called out other world leaders who are part of the NATO Alliance and browbeat and shamed them into upping their contributions to the Alliance to the required 2% of each nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).   As noted by The Heritage Foundation in 2018 regarding Trump, ” … he has said Germany is a “captive” to Russia due to its oil and gas deals, and that he expects NATO countries to “immediately” increase defense spending to relieve some of the unfair burden on the U.S.  After all, how many times have Europeans broken the promise to increase defense spending? The reality is, most NATO allies are free riders on American defense.  And in spite of that, some NATO countries (like Germany) harbor deep anti-American attitudes, not just anti-Trump attitudes.”  (K. Holmes, The Heritage Foundation, July 12, 2018).

That was a fair assessment in 2018 and it is why people still trust Trump in 2024.   And the Trump approach worked.

“In 2016, non-U.S. NATO members spent $262 billion on defense; in 2020, they will spend $313 billion. Regardless of whether this increase resulted from changing threat perceptions, or Trump’s laser-like focus on inadequate defense spending, … the results speak for themselves. The $50 billion increase is equivalent to the entire defense budget of France.” (D. Kochis, The Heritage Foundation, Nov 3, 2020).

Well, Trump has recently made a similar statement and the Washington Post isunsurprisingly, outraged.

While in Conway, South Carolina, Trump stated to an exuberant and receptive audience that he had once suggested to a foreign leader that he would “encourage Russia to do whatever the hell they want” to NATO member countries who are not spending the required amount on their own defense.  Trump stated that one of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, “well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?” Trump said he responded “You didn’t pay. You’re delinquent.  No, I would not protect you.  In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.” (M. Levine, Washington Post, Feb. 10, 2024).   The Post correctly noted that “Trump has long been a fierce critic of U.S. participation in the alliance, frequently hammering European countries on their share of defense spending, and appeared to be referring to indirect funding as part of participation in the alliance.”  

And that is the only reason there has ever been any movement by these NATO nations toward paying anywhere close to what they owe for their own defense.  

NATO remains critical to American national security interests, but we can no longer be expected to bear the lion share of the burden as we have for decades.  That is why The Heritage Foundation contends that “to sustain the alliance, America’s NATO allies must be prepared to step up to the plate, and fully participate in burden sharing with the U.S. ” (N. Gardiner, Feb 7, 2024).

That is also why, The Heritage Foundation urges, “this cannot be a two-tier alliance, where the United States carries the overwhelming military load for the defense of the free world.  Last year, only 11 NATO members spent the 2 percent of GDP on defense (Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed to almost a decade ago—and almost two years after Putin invaded Ukraine. This is unacceptable.  It leaves the alliance dangerously vulnerable when it should be projecting strength and resolve.” (Id.)

There is a balance that must be achieved here and the only national or world leader who has made any progress in correcting this inequity is Trump.

America is the world’s only true superpower, but it cannot carry the weight of defense of the free world on its own.  Trump’s statements are necessary “tough love” threats directed to our free-loading allies, and when he was President, these statements were effective in dramatically increasing defense spending among our European allies. 

But, Trump’s essential point is that all NATO must pay their fair share for their own defense, a defense that is now provided primarily by the U.S. and hardworking taxpayers in Louisiana and throughout America.