Trump, right on NATO?

A piece argues that Trump gets some things right, “Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, criticized NATO in a number of interviews earlier this year, he waschallenging the foundations of the United States’ military strategy. His attack on Washington’s conventional wisdom has unsettled the U.S. security establishment no less than it has the foreign governments that depend on it, and has drawn criticism from across the political spectrum. Trump, however, is right. U.S. policy toward its allies really is “obsolete,” as Trump termed NATO. The United States remains remarkably secure and faces no serious—let alone existential—threat akin to that formerly posed by the Soviet Union, the enemy that most U.S. alliances were formed to oppose. Moreover, Washington’s Asian and European allies are prosperous and industrialized states that are more than capable of protecting themselves”.

The piece goes on to argue mistakenly “Unfortunately, U.S. strategy currently appears to endorse the idea that whatever is, must forever be. But the fact that Washington has defended countries for decades does not mean that it should continue doing so indefinitely, whatever the costs. Alliances should be a means to an end rather than an end in themselves, and in this case, that end should be to increase U.S. security. Critics of Trump have been quick to invoke the danger of reducing U.S. strategic commitments in the face of a newly assertive Moscow. For instance, Anthony Cordesman, a strategic analyst at CSIS, has warned against “giving up Europe to Russia.” No one wants this outcome. But the point is that Moscow cannot have Europe unless the European Union, which possesses a greater population and GDP than the United States (not to mention Russia), allows it to do so. The Europeans are fully capable of defending their own interests without U.S. help, and the ancillary benefits to Washington of military cooperation, such as base access, do not require the extension of security guarantees”.

The author argues, that “In his comments, Trump has mostly targeted the high cost of the United States’ overseas commitments, complaining that the country’s allies have broken their promises to spend more on their militaries and joint exercises. As he explained toThe New York Times in March, “NATO is unfair to us, to the United States. Because it really helps [our allies] more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.” Thus, he suggested charging nations dependent on the United States for their security. More is at stake than an unfair financial burden, however. In addition to funds, Washington provides a disproportionate share of NATO’s combat capability, with U.S. defense spending accounting for 73 percent of the defense expenditure of the alliance as a whole. Even when the Europeans contribute combat troops to a NATO mission, as in Afghanistan, they use caveats to restrict when those forces can fight”.

He does fairly point out that “NATO officials recognize that members routinely violate their commitments to increase outlays on defense. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was pleased, therefore, when he proclaimed in January that the alliance was moving in the “right direction.” Yet the movement was barely noticeable. Last year, outlays by NATO’s European members dropped slightly, by 0.3 percent. This year, there has been a tiny uptick. No one expects sustained, substantial increases. But the Obama administration is proposing to more than quadruple U.S. military spending in Europe to $3.4 billion next year as part of the “European Reassurance Initiative,” along with the deployment of an armored brigade. Despite evidence that the United States is overpaying, Trump’s critics claim that strategic commitments are cheap, since allies help pay U.S. deployment costs, which total about $10 billion annually. Such foreign “host nation support” covers roughly half of that expense. For instance, Japan sets the gold standard by paying $1.7 billion annually, according to Brad Glosserman of the Pacific Forum CSIS. Other major allies, such as South Korea and Germany, contribute less than one billion dollars per year”.

He does point out that “The price of any particular commitment is difficult to determine. Still, it should be obvious that defending much of Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East requires a substantially larger military than would otherwise be the case. My Cato Institute colleague, Benjamin R. Friedman, projects that Washington could save up to $150 billion a year by adopting a less activist stance. As he explains, the United States’ desire for primacy “requires a large U.S. military, with units permanently deployed in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East, and with the capability to quickly strike anywhere with air, naval, and ground forces. It sees threats everywhere and prescribes U.S. forces everywhere.” Doing less—focusing on the genuine defense of the United States—would significantly reduce the forces required. As he so frequently does, Trump got the policy details wrong when he criticized Washington’s stance toward its allies. But he raised important issues long ignored by his most vociferous critics”.

He ends naively, “That is the wrong message to send. Washington had little choice but to protect allied countries after World War II. But that justification disappeared long ago. Instead of turning the U.S. military into a mercenary force by charging for its services, as proposed by Trump, Washington should drop the commitments no longer necessary for U.S. security. Doing so would not only save the United States money, but make it safer as well”



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