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Trump Right to Pressure NATO on Defense Spending

Trump Right to Pressure NATO on Defense Spending
President Donald Trump speaks on the South Lawn before boarding Marine One and departing the White House, on July 9, 2018, in Washington, D.C. Trump is heading to Brussels for the NATO Summit. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

By    |   Tuesday, 10 July 2018 04:10 PM EDT

President Trump’s attendance at the NATO summit in Brussels on July 11-12, prior to his July 16 Helsinki Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has only served to underscore his different diplomatic approaches to both entities during the past two years.

The president’s unconventional approaches, despite criticism, have proven to be working. The first part of this article will look at NATO issues.

NATO, with 29 current members, has been a cornerstone of both American and European defense policy for over 65 years.

Despite its sometimes unwieldy bureaucracy, and the inherent limitations of any transnational alliance (Churchill once said that the only thing worse than going to war with an ally at your side was going to war without one!), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has served U.S. national interests and the interests of Europe quite well — and certainly has the distinction of being history’s longest and most effective organization of its type.

That said, the U.S. has often found NATO frustrating — and President Trump has been publicly quite critical of the organization. This emotion is shared by many Americans — myself included. I served with NATO naval forces for two 6-month deployments (1987-1989), but have seen Europe’s commitment to NATO fade as part of the “Peace Dividend” after the end of the Cold War.

The explosion of the welfare state in Western Europe, the trend toward EU integration (however misplaced that may be), and, most visibly, the ongoing self-inflicted refugee crisis in Europe have all served to distract the continent, and divert its spending to these avenues, rather than NATO — and it shows. European defense is an absolute shadow of its former self. European forces have let sealift and airlift capability dwindle, meaning most of the forces would be dependent on U.S. logistics to even get them to the fight.

Near-universal European conscription was ended about 20 years ago, but with no concurrent increase in hardware procurement with the personnel savings. Germany, for example, in 2016/2017 spent the equivalent of its yearly defense budget on its self-inflicted refugee crisis.

Some other numbers: the vaunted British Royal Navy (RN) in 2018 fields 19 Destroyers and Frigates — they had 51 in 1990.

For comparison the Chinese People's Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) currently has 90 vessels of this type — and since 2012 China began construction on as many as are held by the RN!

The German Luftwaffe (Air Force) in the 1990s fielded hundreds of aircraft with 15 fighter/bomber squadrons — today they have merely 8 squadrons and aircraft readiness is sometimes in the single digits.

This with Germany the richest country within Europe!

Other NATO nations have similar shortfalls. In fact, only four nations are spending at the 2 percent GDP commitment level: the U.S., Great Britain, Romania, and Estonia. This is not a new, or unacknowledged problem; former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was warning about it in 2011.

Like any bureaucracy, however, progress can be glacial… at the 2014 NATO Wales summit, Allies declared they would:

“aim to move towards the 2 percent guideline within a decade with a view to meeting their NATO Capability Targets and filling NATO’s capability shortfalls.”

A decade? Well, that's not good enough, and much like our poorly-negotiated trade agreements, Americans can blame several previous Administrations for not earlier making this an issue as a driving force for reform. For too long, American policy has been to “go along to get along” with our NATO partners. The result is a weaker alliance.

President Trump’s policy, uncomfortable as it may sometimes be, is, as in many spheres (such as trade and immigration), trying in a few years to turn around decades of poor decision-making and leadership. If that means holding our NATO allies' feet to the fire, I say so be it. The president has made his point — already the Merkel government and others have been raising their defense budgets (slowly), and this year, NATO projects that 8 nations could meet their NATO funding commitment.

Tough love in action. The protection of U.S.-led NATO forces historically allowed the breathing room Western Europe needed post-WWII to recover and flourish. As now-mature democracies, NATO nations are slowly recognizing (with the president’s pressure) that the United States, with worldwide strategic commitments (Pivot to Asia, anyone?) and limited resources is unable and unwilling to shoulder the burden as before.

The key with this NATO Summit, especially scheduled so close to his Putin summit, will be for the president to strike the right tone. Many European leaders have already been spurred to action by the Administration — they all know the president’s position given his frequent tweeting on the matter. Maintaining non-public, behind-the-scenes pressure on European leaders, combined with a more conciliatory, official tone will provide these leaders with the political capital they require to push ahead with defense spending reform. This reform will ensure NATO remains a viable entity in the years to come.

Part 2 of this article will discuss the Putin Summit and the issues of Russo-American relations.

Scott Uehlinger is a retired CIA Station Chief and Naval Officer. A Russian speaker, he spent 12 years of his career abroad in the former Soviet Union. In addition to teaching at NYU, he is a frequent Newsmax TV and Fox Business TV commentator, and has a weekly podcast, "the Station Chief," that can be found on iTunes or at To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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President Trump’s attendance at the NATO summit in Brussels on July 11-12, prior to his July 16 Helsinki Summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has only served to underscore his different diplomatic approaches to both entities during the past two years.
trump, nato, summit, putin, spending
Tuesday, 10 July 2018 04:10 PM
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