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Artillery Row

What Trump gets right about NATO

There needs to be a shifting in the balance of responsibility from America to Europe

Reports are circulating that if re-elected, former President Donald Trump may require NATO members to increase their defence spending from the required two percent to three percent of GDP.

The proposal underscores what many Americans view as obvious — that our wealthy and capable European allies should take on more responsibility for their own defence. However, the goal of such a proposal should not be to increase Europe’s defence spending for the sake of increasing defence spending. The goal should be to ensure that the United States can responsibly reevaluate its outsized role in defending Europe.

As of February, 18 of the 35 members of NATO were on track to reach the two percent benchmark this year. Yet in spite of the alliance’s 11 per cent year to year increase in defence spending, some countries are woefully missing the mark. Of all members, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg are the furthest from meeting the two percent commitment, even in light of a hot war in Europe.

Meanwhile, the United States spends approximately three percent of GDP on defence — in dollar terms, that is more than the next nine countries combined. As of 2022, and in response to the war in Ukraine, approximately 100,000 US forces were stationed in Europe, a record high since 2005. In spite of the passage of time, multiple wars, and a new geopolitical environment, there hasn’t been a serious re-evaluation of the role of the United States in NATO since its formation. 

President Trump has long threatened to leave NATO if European allies don’t increase defence spending. Consistent with this position, one course of action could be warning allies that the United States will withdraw from NATO if members do not agree to spend three percent of GDP on defence by a specific date. It’s important to remember that, like the United States, our NATO allies are also beholden to Article V of the NATO treaty, and should be prepared to come to the United States’ defence in the event of an armed attack.

In exchange for member states increasing defence spending to three percent of GDP, the United States may consider an approach that would maintain the United States in the alliance, with a goal of drawing down America’s outsized defence commitments in Europe. This could include encouraging allies to build larger militaries, so that Americans do not need to be stationed in Europe forever. This approach would empower allies to spend on their own defence, while responsibly pivoting to an America first foreign policy.

While some may advocate for a continuation of the status quo, it is not in American or European interests for Europe to rely on the United States as its first line of defence.

After months of stalemate in Congress, President Joe Biden signed into law a $60.8 billion supplemental to address the war in Ukraine. However, some are concerned that the assistance came a little too late. Regardless, the issue is that Ukraine and our European allies were reliant on it at all. Why couldn’t our NATO allies foot the bill and do more for the defence of their own continent?

The American defence industrial complex is far larger than any one of our European counterparts, perhaps because European allies haven’t had a compelling reason, until recently, to grow their militaries and industries. In response to the war in Ukraine, in March 2024, the European Union outlined plans to increase their capacity to produce their own defence articles, including ammunition. This is a good first step that benefits European economies, and potentially reduces the burden on the United States. However, American strategy must also adjust for the United States to reap any benefits.

America does not benefit from infantilizing its allies and subsidising their defence bill. American leaders should work to empower allies with shared interests so that the United States can address uniquely American interests. While increasing the NATO commitment for member states to spend three percent of GDP on defence is a good first step, in order to reap maximum benefits from such a proposal, the United States should also re-evaluate its outsized role in defending Europe.

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