It is clearly bad for NATO security that the potential next president of the United States has said he will encourage attacks on allies that fail to meet a key defense spending target.
But the fact that two-thirds of its 31 member states have still not increased the amount of their national income spent on defense to a minimum of 2% (and experts say this level certainly poses an equally challenging – or even larger – for the alliance. be woefully insufficient).
This is despite Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Iran-related conflict in the Middle East and the risk posed by an increasingly powerful China.
Donald Trump raised the alarm bells through NATO capitals this weekend when he said At a campaign rally, a leader “of a great country” once told him “if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?”
Mr. Trump, who is the favorite to be the Republican presidential nominee, said he responded with a warning: “You haven’t paid. You’re a delinquent. Yes, let’s say it happened. No, I wouldn’t protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do what they want.”
If his remarks are to be taken at face value, a quick glance at a map of Europe may provide some comfort. This will show that the nations most vulnerable to a possible Russian invasion – the Baltic states and Poland – all pass the NATO spending test without issue.
Yet comments made by Mr. Trump when he was commander in chief repeatedly raised doubts about his willingness to go to war with Moscow, regardless of which NATO ally he targets.
This position has fundamentally eroded the founding principle of the alliance, namely collective defense: an attack on one is an attack on all.
But any NATO ally that does not spend at least 2% of its GDP on defense is just as guilty of undermining the deterrent effect of Article 5.
Which countries are lagging behind?
Europe’s biggest economic power – Germany – remains a major offender, even though all allies pledged at a summit led by Prime Minister David Cameron in Wales in 2014 to “stand move closer” to the 2% reference level within a decade, i.e. by this year. .
Even nuclear-armed France is not up to the task, as are Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Belgium, and the list goes on. long.
Britain should not sit still.
This barely matches spending commitments – although official NATO data shows that the percentage spent on defense has fallen rather than increased over the past nine years, from 2.14% in 2014 to approximately 2.07% in 2023, despite escalating threats.
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Additionally, a damning report by MPs earlier this month found the British Army’s preparedness for war was “questionable”, with limited stocks of weapons and ammunition and greater numbers of soldiers leaving the armed forces than recruits.
Trump could further suspend significant support for his allies
Mr. Trump’s main criticism of NATO concerns what he rightly sees as freeloading by a majority of allies who for decades have relied on the protective shield provided by the much more powerful American military, rather than guaranteeing the credibility and capacity of their own defenses.
It’s a stick with which he has battered the alliance during his four years as president, brandishing the threat of withdrawing the United States from NATO – a move that would deal a near-death blow to an organization created after World War II as the cornerstone of the euro. -Atlantic security.
Last December, a law was passed in Washington that prevents a sitting president from unilaterally leaving the alliance without approval from lawmakers.
While this means that Mr. Trump may not be physically able to carry out such a threat if he wins a second term, it could still end significant support for his allies, which would be almost as detrimental.
US will remain a ‘strong, committed ally in NATO,’ alliance leader says
In response to his latest anti-NATO outburst, Jens Stoltenberg, the veteran leader of the alliance who guided the allies through the first Trump presidency, delivered an unusually blunt retort.
“Any suggestion that allies will not defend themselves undermines our security as a whole, including that of the United States, and places American and European soldiers at increased risk,” he said. “I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election, the United States will remain a strong and committed ally in NATO.”
This is a sentiment that all European allies will cling to.
But they would be far better off focusing their energy on solving problems closer to home by urgently rebuilding credible military forces capable of deterring threats with or without U.S. support.