Note To NATO Members: Club Membership Has Gone Up

REUTERS/Yves Herman

David Krayden Ottawa Bureau Chief

So Secretary of State Rex Tillerson thinks the deadbeats of NATO should start contributing to the alliance? He proposes they put a plan together in the next two months towards that end? He wonders why they haven’t done so already after promising in 2014 that they would spend two percent of their national GDPs on their respective military forces?

What a novel concept and how utterly appropriate! Coming from a NATO debtor nation like Canada, where we spend an abysmal one percent of our GDP on the military — given or take a few thousand dollars — I can fully understand why the United States is finally complaining after anchoring NATO for almost 70 years.

Throughout that time the focus of this superbly successful alliance has shifted from containing and being prepared to confront the clear threat of Soviet communism to a mission today that seeks to combat and constrain an international terrorism that is as complex as it is elusive.

One thing has remained constant: the military preparedness bill and the United States continues to pay the bulk of it. There was a catch-phrase that gained currency and popularity at the end of the Cold War: it was “peace dividend,” or the idea that with the demise of the Soviet Union, defense budgets could be shrunken to acceptable levels and we somehow we could all revert back to a pre-Second World War military force that was sufficient to protect the borders.

Even NATO members whose contribution to the alliance had been modest at best, humored themselves that they too would be experiencing this sudden surplus of cash as the defense expenditures sunk.

Of course they had forgotten that their defense had come relatively cheap in the Cold War because they lived with the luxury of a nuclear umbrella provided by the United States. Though NATO hardly abandoned conventional defense as tanks, ships and fighter jets continued to improve their combat capabilities, the conventional wisdom, shared by all NATO members was that the West could never compete with the Soviets in conventional weaponry. It would have been a political and economic impossibility.

The Soviet Union spent roughly 20 percent of its GDP on military hardware during height of the Cold War and the United States never exceeded 10 percent. It spent 3.61 percent in 2016. That was precisely why NATO maintained a nuclear first-strike option throughout the Cold War that was grounded in those wonderfully ominous descriptions of Eisenhower-era Secretary of State John Foster Dulles,who spoke of the “agonizing reappraisal” necessitated by Soviet expansionism that resulted in a doctrine of “massive retaliation.”

Nuclear weapons were not only the firm but potentially volatile foundation of the Cold War, they were what kept defense budgets from going through the roof. As is it was, the nuclear investment was one that the U.S., again, overwhelmingly contributed to. Europeans who enjoyed a peace that was maintained by American nuclear weapons were hypocritically apt to criticize the morality of those nukes while they cheated out on defense and splurged on social spending.

Well, as President Donald Trump is so fond of telling us, it has to come stop. Americans have spent so much on everybody else’s defense that their infrastructure is crumbling and their national debt is catastrophic. Is it really so much to tell the member states of NATO that the cost of membership has risen, given how much that club has benefited them all?

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, like his father before him, is the very personification of the NATO deadbeat. He is fond of saying that membership in NATO is not about how much you spend on your military, but about a willingness to participate and foster goodwill. You know, don’t put your money where your mouth is, just point to the words coming out of that mouth.

But it’s all nonsense. Preserving the peace costs money if it is not to cost lives. Americans have always understood that. The rest of the alliance must come to the same conclusion.

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