President-elect Donald Trump has upset national security circles with his comments on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but even his critics agree the organization’s members need to increase military spending.
Trump claimed NATO was obsolete due to its inability to counter terrorism during a Sunday interview with The Times of London, and criticized the organization for failing to live up to its defense spending requirements. While partisans have clutched to his use of the word obsolete and claimed Trump plans to dissolve NATO, he consistently qualified the word in terms of simple dollars and cents.
“A lot of these countries aren’t paying what they’re supposed to be paying, which I think is very unfair to the United States,” Trump said. “With that being said, NATO is very important to me. There’s five countries that are paying what they’re supposed to. Five. It’s not much.”
NATO’s defense spending, or lack thereof, was a concern that existed among both its supporters and leadership well before Trump became the president-elect. Prior to 2015, only four NATO members were meeting or exceeding the 2% of GDP defense spending requirement. Currently, five out of 28 members are meeting the obligation: the U.S., Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia and Poland. Several major allies, like France, Germany and Canada are well below the requirement.
Several NATO members, some of whom clash with Trump, recognized the problem before Trump’s election, calling for a defense spending increase across the board. Angela Merkel called for a multi-billion dollar increase in Germany’s defense spending in October in order to reach the two percent requirement. French President Francois Hollande also called for an increase in his country’s defense budget in July, later securing a $666 million increase compared to the previous year.
The Obama administration made a point to call on NATO allies to do their part, particularly after Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
“They’re not doing enough. They are spending a smaller share of their GDP than they have in the past, [than] we do now and [than] many, like Russia, are spending. It’s too low,” said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in April 2015.
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, has often been at odds with Trump over Russia and NATO policy, but he noted in 2014 that NATO members must meet the two percent requirement.
Even NATO’s chief, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, has pushed for more members to meet their obligations.
“We have a problem and that’s why we decided that we have to do something with the problem,” said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in an October interview with BBC Radio 4.
Despite Stoltenberg’s efforts, NATO spending is still woefully out of balance. The U.S. spends approximately 3.61 percent of GDP on defense, while next highest spending member Greece only spends 2.38 percent. In total, the U.S. shoulders approximately 75 percent of NATO’s total spending. Trump capitalized on this imbalance during his campaign, accusing NATO of unfair over reliance on U.S. military power.
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