Europeans Like The Idea Of America Defending NATO Allies, But Not So Much The Other Way Around

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

In advance of the 2018 NATO summit in Brussels Wednesday, some European leaders are fretting over President Donald Trump’s perceived lack of commitment to the transatlantic alliance.

With Trump’s constant harping on allies for their failure to hit defense spending targets and his continued outreach to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, NATO watchers have even wondered if the 69-year-old alliance is in danger of unraveling. (RELATED: Trump Again Rails On NATO Spending Ahead Of Summit)

NATO was formed in 1949 as an alliance between the U.S., Canada and several European countries to defend against an invasion by the Soviet Union, which at the time dominated most of Eastern Europe. It has since expanded to 29 member nations, all of which are required by charter to come to each other’s defense in the event of an attack, by Russia or any other power.

Trump has long criticized NATO allies for short-changing their defense spending obligations, what he says is an indication that many are content to avoid responsibility for their own defense while under the U.S. security umbrella. Polling suggests that Trump may be right on that score, the Pew Research Center reported Monday.

Pew surveys have found that Europeans generally expect the U.S. to use military force to defend a NATO ally from a Russian attack, but are far less supportive of using their own countries’ armies to come to the aid of an ally under a similar assault. In seven of 10 countries where people were asked about mutual defense commitments, more respondents said Washington should militarily defend a NATO ally from an attack than said their own country should intervene.

The discrepancy was particularly pronounced in five countries — Greece, Italy, Germany, Spain and Britain — where less than half of respondents thought their governments should step up in the face of a Russian attack against a NATO ally. In Greece, just 25 percent of people said the Greek military should come to an ally’s defense, followed by 36 percent in Italy, 40 percent in Germany, 45 percent in Britain, and 46 percent in Spain.

In all five countries, however, well over 60 percent of respondents expected the Washington to defend a NATO ally against a hypothetical attack by Moscow.

Pew’s polling further indicates that Trump’s blunt criticism of NATO may actually be responsible for a spike in its domestic popularity, as Democrats have suddenly begun to approve of the alliance in far higher numbers than they did under President Barack Obama. In a 2017 survey, 78 percent of Democrats said they generally approved of NATO, a 20-point increase over the average of 58 percent across the preceding eight years.

On the other hand, just 47 percent of Republicans generally approved of NATO in 2017. That was little changed from the Obama years, when Republican approval of the alliance hovered at or just under 50 percent.

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