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.