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Trump is right about NATO burden sharing

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Rep. Michael Waltz

By U.S. Rep. Michael Waltz

Washington, D.C. – Our NATO allies are “eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.” 

You might think this is a line from one of former President Donald Trump’s stump speeches decrying the majority of NATO members’ continual failure to meet their defense spending commitment of 2% GDP. 

But this was a direct warning from then-Obama Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2011. 

For nearly half a century, U.S. leaders have pleaded with our allies to step up their share of the burden. But until Trump began the public drum beat for defense cost-sharing, European politicians were quite comfortable with American taxpayers subsidizing their defense so they can pay for their social welfare programs. As a result, the alliance is falling short in addressing the threats of today’s great power competition. 

When Trump visited Brussels in 2017 to urge NATO members to “contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Trump was accused of scolding and chastising our allies. Despite the outrage from the media and foreign policy elite, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was quick to praise Trump’s remarks, arguing it was the same message he’d given dating back to the 1970s while serving in the Nixon and Ford administrations. Though there has been much groveling from previous administrations about burden sharing, Trump was simply louder and successful at finally getting our allies to pay up.  

Unlike his predecessors, Trump had a unique capability to deter our enemies and influence our friends – that is why, for example, Iran’s oil exports dropped so precipitously under his sanctions, despite the opposition of every other major world power. That is also why Europe began to increase its defense spending. Germany and others believed Trump meant what he said and weren’t sure what he would do if they opposed him.

President Joe Biden’s U.S. ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith recently took to X in a not-so-subtle attempt to push back on Trump’s recent comments on alliance burden-sharing in an attempt to show members were paying up. But her post instead highlighted two other things. 

First, according to her figures, growth in defense spending by allied NATO countries nearly doubled at the start of the Trump administration, from an increase of 3.0% per year in 2016 to 5.9% in 2017, and then decreased from 4.6% in 2020 to 2.8 % in 2021 after Biden took office. It’s no wonder European leaders were excited about Joe Biden’s election. 

Smith also highlighted the fact that Americans are investing more than twice the amount in defense expenditures in 2023 with $743 billion compared to Europe and Canada’s $356 billion, even though the combined economies of our NATO allies are roughly the same as the United States.  

Our country can no longer afford this disproportionality. 

Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014 should have been a wakeup call for Europe, but they (and then-President Obama) refused to heed the warning signs and send lethal aide in the aftermath of Russia seizing Crimea. It finally took Trump‘s public criticism to successfully get 11 of our then-30 allies to reach their spending commitments in 2020 – before Putin’s second invasion. 

Even with Europe’s largest land war since World War II on their doorstep, only seven countries reached their NATO commitments last year. And the larger European economies, such as Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, are turning their backs on the United Kingdom and Eastern European countries who have stepped up not just to assist Ukraine, but as essential military American partners in other war zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Germany, Europe’s wealthiest and most populous country, is only set to spend 1.57% of its GDP on its base defense budget. In fact, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Shulz recently reversed on his commitment to mandate Germany meet its 2% NATO target.  

Italy is projected to spend only 1.46% of its GDP on defense, and the Italian Defense Minister has said they will likely not meet NATO’s target by 2028, let alone 2024. Yet, European leaders want to blame Republican lawmakers for the U.S.’s perceived lack of commitment? 

Washington, D.C. will host the 2024 NATO summit this summer as we face unprecedented threats from China, Russia, Iran, and other adversaries around the world, and the United States needs to make clear it is time for our allies to invest in their own security. Japan, for example, recently approved a 16-percent increase to its military spending for this year because they understand these growing global threats. 

Military alliances are built on trust and reciprocity. Highlighting the lack of investments from our allies isn’t provocative, it allows us to fight for the American taxpayers who have been footing the bill for far too long.  

Congressman Mike Waltz is a colonel (ret.) in the National Guard, a combat-decorated Green Beret, former White House and Pentagon policy adviser, a small business owner, an author and a proud father. He is the first Green Beret to be elected to Congress.

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Matthew (not verified)

27 February 2024

You would think that Americans would be tired and weary of bailing out Europe every time there's a hotspot in Europe. The Ukraine strife was started because Putin rightly sensed weakness in Joe Biden. If other NATO countries would have a backbone and wisdom, they would have deterred Russia from pushing west through Ukraine during both Obama's and Bidens' administration. It's also amazing how ISIS flourished during Obama's terms. And the Taliban came back into power during Biden's term.

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