How Important Is NATO to America?

At his first NATO Summit this week in Brussels, President Trump created considerable controversy as he is wont to do at most official venues. In keeping with his campaign commitment, he took the other 27 heads of state to task for their disproportionately low contributions to the collective defense of the member nations. America has far too long paid a higher percentage of GDP in defense spending than the other NATO countries .

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance of 28 nations in North America and Europe that grew out of the North Atlantic Treaty signed April 4, 1949. The Treaty is an agreement among the member nations for mutual defense. If any member nation is attacked, all other member nations agree to mutually defend against the aggressor. The original concern of the nations was the threat from Russia after World War II as its Soviet Union was spreading Communism rapidly around the world. NATO galvanized as a viable alliance during the Korean conflict which was seen as a linchpin for Communism. After the Soviet Union fell, the organization turned its sights toward terrorism. However, the recent resurgence of Russia’s expansionism is cause for additional alarm for Europe.

Under the NATO agreement, each nation has a goal of contributing 2% of its GDP to its own nation’s defense budget. Presently, only America (3.61%) and four other nations are participating at or above that level. The lowest contributing nation is Luxembourg (.44%). Canada only contributes .99%.

One of my most cherished jobs in my Air Force career was assisting the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in his Congressional testimonies. The NATO commander position is permanently filled by an American four-star general who is also commander of all American forces in Europe. He would command all the nations’ forces in a war in Europe (a la Eisenhower). As his assistant 27 years ago, I knew all about the insufficient defense budgets of NATO nations. Then, as now, other member nations didn’t place a high priority on building their military forces, because they knew America would continue to fund its military at a high enough level to cover their weaknesses in case of war.

America has bemoaned the financial commitment inequity within the alliance since its inception. But, this week our president confronted the issue squarely in the face of the other member heads of state like no other president ever has. I can only applaud him for that, even though he ruffled some feathers in doing so.

Granted, NATO is very important to America’s security–critical in fact. The continent of Europe serves as a highly strategic buffer between Russia and the Atlantic as well as between terrorist-supporting nations and the Atlantic. Nevertheless, all NATO nations rising to their defense spending goal is far overdue, and it is time to pay up.

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