nato spending

On NATO, or, even when Trump’s not entirely wrong, he’s still wrong...

Here’s the thing. Trump’s not entirely wrong when he complains our NATO allies haven’t always been pulling their weight. Which doesn’t, as it happens, make him right.

See, by treaty, NATO signatories agree to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense. This serves as a kind of burden sharing, ensuring all NATO allies have skin in the game and aren’t just free riding on the American giant. 

And lots of them aren’t meeting this 2% obligation. After the recently announced cuts in the British military are completed, for example, it will soon be possible to put every uniformed member of the British armed services inside Wembley Stadium in London – and to invite a fair number of their family and friends as well. The Brits are building an American-style super carrier … but it’s not clear that they can afford to operate it, or to place enough aircraft on it to make it worth operating in the first place. 

What are NATO allies doing with the money they’re not paying in defense costs? They’re paying for the social programs Americans progressives so adore. But we should be clear: they can do this only because they live in the orbit of the security umbrella provided by the United States. Which means my tax dollars are subsidizing the European welfare state, but not the American one. 

All of this is, frankly, a legitimate target for Trump.

But it is the kind of thing one works out in private, without threatening the stability of an alliance that has achieved three remarkable goals, all at the same time:

  • it bolstered the international alliance against the Soviet Union;
  • it restrained Germany, which had spent much of the previous century running amok through Europe;
  • and it created a European continent in which its once-fractious nations can no longer seem to imagine going to war with one another.

These were hard-earned results. It’s one thing to think things can be better. They surely can. It’s another to decide the alliance is a con job by Europeans on Americans. 

Trump, alas, seems to think it is the latter. 

Minister: Canada will build up its military as the U.S. pulls back from world stage

By Alan Freeman, Washington Post, June 6, 2017

OTTAWA–Canada intends to make “a substantial investment” in its military because it can no longer rely on the United States for leadership in the face of threats posed by terrorist groups or countries like Russia and North Korea, the Canadian foreign minister said Tuesday.

Echoing complaints made recently by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chrystia Freeland told Canada’s House of Commons that Washington is no longer committed to its position of world leadership, forcing Canada to invest in its own armed forces to defend liberal democracy.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” Freeland said, never mentioning President Trump by name. But she said many of the voters in last November’s U.S. presidential election cast ballots “animated in part by a desire to shrug off the burden of world leadership.”

While setting out several areas where Canada has taken a different tack from Washington, Freeland conceded that Canada has not been pulling its weight in terms of its military spending. It’s a criticism that Trump has made of several NATO members, without singling out Canada. She promised that in the future Canada will do its “fair share.”

In 2016, Canada spent just over 1 percent of its gross domestic product on its military, half of the 2 percent level that is the goal of the NATO alliance. In fact, Canada ranks 20th of 28 NATO members in military spending. The United States is No. 1 at 3.6 percent of GDP.

“On the military front, Canada’s geography has meant that we have always been able to count on American self-interest to provide a protective umbrella beneath which we have found indirect shelter,” Freeland said. But she added that to depend totally on U.S. protection would make Canada a “client state.”

“To put it plainly, Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power,” she said.

“We will make the necessary investments in our military, to not only address years of neglect and underfunding, but also to place the Canadian armed forces on a new footing,” she added, without providing any figures. Freeland’s speech is to be followed Wednesday with an announcement of a new defense policy review.

Although Freeland was careful to say that Canada was “grateful” for the “outsized role” that the United States has played in the world, there was an undertone of disappointment throughout the speech, something seldom heard recently in Canada-U.S. relations.

Laura Dawson, director of the Canada Institute at Washington’s Woodrow Wilson Center, said she saw the speech as less a “shot against the U.S.” as an effort by Canada to reassert its voice on the international stage while continuing to be seen as a helpful ally to Washington.

She said she expects Trudeau’s government to invest significantly in new military equipment and boost defense spending but says the nation will probably not attain the 2 percent GDP threshold set by NATO. “I would be quite surprised to see a doubling of Canadian military spending,” she said.