Europe has been in the news plenty recently, with the NATO Defense Ministerial, the Munich Security Conference, and senior Trump administration officials fanning out across Europe to represent the president at these august gatherings. The unifying theme in most of these meetings was allied progress in reaching the NATO goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense — the Trump administration’s litmus test in gauging an ally’s commitment to NATO and determining America’s reciprocal commitment to that ally.
The 2 percent goal was agreed to in 2014 at NATO’s Wales Summit. A Trumpian twist was delivered by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis at his first NATO defense ministerial: “If your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance, each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defense.” In the words of the New York Times, “… NATO Allies to Spend More, or Else.”
At the Munich Security Conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put a positive spin on the progress the alliance members have made toward the 2 percent mark, saying, “This year we expect eight Allies and by 2024, we expect at least 15. All NATO Allies have put forward plans to increase spending in real terms.”
The administration had demanded quick action by the end of 2017, but it is more likely that almost half the alliance, including economic powerhouse Germany, will not meet the 2 percent goal in time for the July 2018 NATO Summit in Brussels or any time soon after that. Despite Trump’s frequent criticism of the Obama administration for drawing a line in the sand with Syria on the use of chemical weapons and allowing it to be crossed, he now faces the same dilemma with NATO members, having painted himself in a corner by issuing empty threats.
Trump’s demands ought to prompt a discussion on the obligations of each NATO member state. Further, it is possible that his provocations could lead to the helpful and novel consequence of a frank reckoning with what a contemporary NATO needs, and how each member’s contribution can be determined and levied.
But first, let’s look at how Washington’s push for increased defense spending by NATO members is viewed by some politicians in allied capitals.
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