Should the U.S. rethink its commitments to NATO? | The Tylt
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told NATO allies they must meet their defense spending requirements otherwise the U.S. will "moderate its commitment." NATO's critics say the alliance is obsolete and the U.S. should not be on the hook for defending other countries. NATO's proponents say NATO is essential to deter Russian aggression and the commitment to mutual defense must be honored to maintain peace. What do you think?
Should the U.S. rethink its commitments to NATO?
President Trump criticized NATO while on the campaign trail because he felt NATO allies were not fairly sharing the burden. Trump thinks it's a bad deal for the U.S. to shoulder the bulk of military spending so the European Union can kick back and not worry about their own defense.
In one important way, the defense secretary amplified the president’s previous statements. Though Mr. Mattis acknowledged “concern in European capitals about America’s commitment to NATO and the security of Europe,” he said allies must do more to reach their commitments to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. “No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of western values,” he said.
Trump sees NATO as an obsolete institution that fails to address the biggest threat today—radical Islamic terror.
But many officials here remained unconvinced, privately citing Mr. Trump’s previous statements calling the alliance “obsolete” and complaining that it had not “bothered” about terrorism. Last year, he suggested that American support for members of the alliance might be conditional on whether those members paid their financial share.
Technically, Trump is right. Only five nations actually meet the spending requirement.
Currently, only five of NATO’s 28 members—the U.S., Greece, Britain, Estonia, and Poland—meet the alliance’s target of spending at least 2 percent of their own gross domestic product on defense, a fact that is especially concerning, experts say, because of Russia’s aggressive behavior.
While the alliance increased overall defense spending in 2015 for the first time in two decades, the U.S. continues to be overwhelmingly the largest contributor, committing 3.61 percent of its GDP. The U.S. spends nearly three times as much as all European members of NATO combined.
Proponents of NATO say Trump's rhetoric threatens to upset the delicate balance of power on the international stage. NATO's primary mission is to deter Russian aggression. Protecting NATO nations should never be conditional, otherwise there is no point.
At issue is NATO’s Article 5 on collective defense, which states that an “armed attack against one or more of them [members] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all...” The article was invoked once: by the U.S. after the attacks of September 11, 2001—which explains why NATO was involved in the U.S.-led war on Afghanistan. A NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that after the attacks NATO sent AWACS planes to patrol American skies and deployed a third of the troops in Afghanistan for more than a decade; more than 1,000 soldiers from non-U.S. NATO allies and partners were killed there, the official pointed out.
The U.S. also greatly benefits from projecting its military power abroad. While on its face the U.S. does not reap immediate material benefits from securing regions of the world, the side benefits of peace and cooperation greatly outweigh the costs of security.
Article 5 of the NATO Treaty is not optional. You either meet that commitment as a member or you don't. SecDef suggesting it's conditional?— Julianne Smith (@Julie_C_Smith) February 15, 2017
Mattis: "Nations with allies thrive. Nations without allies don't. I'd see us maintain the strongest possible relationship with NATO."— Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) January 12, 2017