12.05.2021

Trump’s idea of making EU countries pay for defense

At last year’s summit, Trump refused to reaffirm the principle of collective defense, enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, and this is the cornerstone of the transatlantic alliance.

In June of this year, Trump derailed the G-7 summit, and this week he intensified tensions by refusing to criticize at least moderate Russian President Vladimir Putin at their Helsinki meeting.

At a NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump did not simply insist that all NATO countries should immediately start spending at least 2% of their GDP on defense. He also suggested that these expenditures eventually reach 4% of GDP. However, as Javier Solana, who served as Secretary General of the North Atlantic Alliance in the second half of the 1990s, writes in his article on Project Syndicate, this proposal is stillborn, and not only because it would require huge budgetary sacrifices, but also because it can lead to significant military imbalances on the continent. With expenditures at 4% of GDP, Germany’s military budget would be about 40 billion euros ($ 46 billion) more than France.

Ex-NATO Head Javier Solana

“In a period of growing international volatility, it is imperative that we Europeans protect ourselves from arrogant attacks and preserve our many collective achievements. But this does not mean that we should shy away from self-criticism. Trump’s claim of 2% of GDP is not unreasonable or unprecedented: previous US presidents also called on European countries to increase defense spending. In 2014, NATO countries that did not spend 2% of their GDP on defense pledged to do this by 2024. Despite significant progress, it is fair to say that some countries are still very far from achieving their goals.

But not only must we maintain solidarity with our allies, we must take responsibility for our own security – this is in the interests of Europe. Both external and internal threats are growing, and they are becoming increasingly interconnected. An exemplary example is the war in Syria: the terrifying humanitarian tragedy that has plagued the population of this country for more than seven years has led to a refugee crisis that has shaken the foundations of the European Union.

Obsession with the level of spending will not solve this problem fundamentally. An increase in military spending will be largely unproductive unless we do this in a pan-European manner. The size of the total military budget of the EU countries is now second only to the US military budget in the world, and it is almost four times the military budget of Russia. Therefore, another thing is important: how exactly these funds are invested and whether we have the potential and infrastructure to facilitate joint NATO missions, as well as US operations on and around the continent.

Trump is mistaken in believing that NATO provides an opportunity for other countries to exploit the United States, offering little in return. No one denies that American security guarantees play a key role in containing military confrontations. But the US should not forget that other NATO countries are fulfilling their mutual defense obligations and supporting US priorities.

Moreover, the only time that Article 5 was applied at all occurred after the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States. Shortly thereafter, under a UN mandate, the NATO bloc led the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the longest mission in the history of the alliance.

Europe continues to strive to be a valuable ally for the United States. In December 2017, the EU approved the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) program, which will allow participating countries to more effectively build a joint defense potential. PESCO will also accelerate the EU’s move towards strategic autonomy in line with the EU’s Global Strategy 2016.

As NATO’s European foundation strengthens, the United States will receive an even more reliable defense partner, equipped with the most modern means and technologies. Reducing fragmentation in the European military industry will increase its competitiveness, and this is extremely important to prevent a technological gap between Europe and the United States.

Fortunately, such initiatives within the framework of the “Common Security and Defense Policy” of the EU enjoy great support from the people of Europe. For Europeans, collective and constructive approaches to defense spending will always be a more attractive option than any coercion conceived by our allies.

But Trump is getting in the way of such a collective effort. Paradoxically, his administration, demanding that we Europeans take responsibility for our security, is trying hard to disrupt any joint defense project that we are starting.

Such bias and myopia in relation to European security cooperation are not new. The United States argues that such cooperation leads to duplication of NATO activities, but this statement is very far from the truth. The real reason for duplication and costlessness is the mass of obstacles that European countries face when it comes to building a joint defense potential.

In addition, Trump is opposed to the policy of expanding European military industry, because it will reduce Europe’s dependence on American exports. But again, it’s not wise to insist that Europe become more self-sufficient, and at the same time force it to increase its dependence on weapons, equipment and technologies made in America.

Given the long history of the EU’s contribution to global security through civilian and military missions, the EU is capable of delivering much to NATO. By increasing the compactness and consistency of defense approaches, the EU will make NATO stronger, which is directly beneficial to the United States. Trump will be smarter if, instead of continuing his non-diplomatic and one-sided attacks, he begins to treat the EU as a friend that the European Union has always been for his country and take advantage of the opportunities that European cooperation opens up in the field of collective defense. ”

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