Trump is Right: Why NATO Members Need to Pay Their Fair Share

August 7, 2017

One of the best security guarantors of Western Democracy is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Simply put, NATO is the global sword and shield for the West; created to force enemies of the West to think twice before launching regional or global wars.

But a massive military pact like NATO only works if all the countries involved are fully committed to the treaty. The Alliance loses strength and significance if some countries freeload off the work of others — which is a problem under the current NATO arrangement.

Some European countries are paying less into NATO than envisioned. Getting a buy-in from all countries is one of the highest security concerns for the United States.

NATO — America’s long term defense plan to prevent another World War

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II, assembling the leading group of Allied countries that defeated the Axis powers. The treaty formed a defense pact among the Allies to accomplish two things: 1) Guarantee those allies a joint security arrangement, and 2) prevent wars among those allies.

The United States used the formation of NATO as the primary tool of containment against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The NATO alliance completely walled off the USSR from the rest of the world, allowing the West to thrive while choking off the “Evil Empire.”

One of the main reasons NATO was so efficient at accomplishing global security and defeating the USSR was because each country had skin in the game. Everyone has to pay a share of the overall NATO budget, ensuring no one country suffers the burden of military expenditures:

Member countries contribute in line with an agreed cost-sharing formula, based on Gross National Income. (GNI equals GDP plus income obtained in dividends, interest etc. from other countries.)

Under that formula, the U.S. contributes 22.144 percent of the NATO budget, followed by Germany (14.65 percent), France (10.63 percent) and Britain (9.84 percent).

The problem now is that some countries are falling short of their stated commitments to the alliance. Falling short leads to two problems: saddling the U.S. with more of the global security burden, and straining NATO’s budget (including a $100 billion shortfall in 2015 alone).

Trump acknowledges the problem, then the media attacks Trump

NATO’s overall budget sits at nearly a trillion dollars — spreading an army across the world to contain threats like Russia, North Korea, and Iran isn’t cheap. But when President Trump made his criticism of NATO countries on the campaign trail and in Europe, a media firestorm erupted.

While President Trump may have used direct language in describing the need for NATO countries to pay their fair share, his overall point isn’t unique.

In fact, getting NATO countries to pay their fair share was a central focus for both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as the New York Times admitted in their highly critical piece on Trump’s NATO speech:

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both pressed NATO allies to increase military spending. It was a regular theme of Robert M. Gates, who served as defense secretary under both presidents. In his final policy speech before stepping down in 2011, Mr. Gates said Americans were growing impatient spending money “on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.”

Mr. Obama raised it during a visit to Europe after Russia’s Ukraine intervention. “One of the things that I think, medium and long term, we’ll have to examine is whether everybody is chipping in,” he said. “And this can’t just be a U.S. exercise or a British exercise or one country’s efforts.”

In other words, whether we’re pushing back against ISIS terrorism or Vladimir Putin’s despotic regime, it’s in the best interests of everyone if all parties pay their portion. Paying your fair share is a bipartisan cause — not a political one.

Securing full payments from all NATO parties is an America First policy 

NATO sets guidelines on budgetary spending for member countries. For smaller countries, they’re expected to spend 2% of their GDP on NATO. Unfortunately, a majority of the countries in the 28-member pact will fail to meet this guideline.

Fortunately, President Trump’s speeches criticizing the commitment from NATO countries appears to be working. Multiple NATO countries have promised to increase their spending to meet NATO guidelines.

Getting NATO’s budgetary house in order is a vital step in creating a more secure world. A strong NATO helps America push back against despotic regimes like Vladimir Putin’s Russia and coordinate efforts in the war on terror.

A stronger NATO leads to a stronger American military. But gaining that strength requires ensuring that all members pay their fair share.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.