When President Trump spoke to NATO members for the first time on Thursday, he showed that we are bad allies all round. The US President roasted Europe for not spending two per cent of GDP on defence spending and instead relying on American taxpayers to foot the bill. Watching his speech calling on other leaders to pay their fair share is uncomfortable viewing; as they stand and watch him openly and explicitly call them out. It hasn’t escaped anyone in Europe though that Trump failed again to commit himself to Article 5 of NATO – an attack on one is an attack on all. Last Thursday the NATO Summit showed we are bad allies
Europe’s security comes from the US committing its strength to the continent’s defence. That US commitment, however, has been under question for years, as Europe no longer holds America’s attention as they increasingly look towards the Pacific where their interests are under threat. Donald Trump’s election means that there is finally someone in Washington who doubts the usefulness of NATO and wants to voice the unfairness embedded in it. That unfairness being that Europeans gain the most from the Alliance yet they aren’t willing to pay for it.
Only five countries in NATO meet the two per cent of GDP defence spending target. Proudly Britain joins Poland, Estonia, Greece and the USA in being one of the five. The other 23 members, however, do not. The USA still pays more than all the other NATO members combined. It is no wonder Trump and the American public worry that they aren’t getting a good deal from the Alliance. Leading to Trump openly questioning it and casting doubt on whether the USA would respect Article 5. Even suggesting that America would only come to a NATO members aid if they met the spending target. Given that so few do, there are many in Europe feeling insecure.
The importance of NATO in Europe cannot be understated. Russia is on the move, and the continent is always a step behind. Russia seized the Crimea and eastern Ukraine under the false justification that they were protecting Russian minorities. Europe failed to act to stop this and allowed a major violation of international law and the return of persecution to groups such as the Crimean Tartars, oppression of Ukrainians and unlawful division of a country. The risk of this happening again is high, and next time it could be a NATO and EU member. The eastern countries of Europe all have significant Russian minorities, and all of them are at risk of Russia trying the same stunt. That’s why NATO has committed military units to its eastern flank, and US Tanks are back in Western Europe, to reassure the nervous Baltic States and Poland. Europe could be forgiven for thinking the Cold War is coming back.
The European political response to these events in Eastern Europe and Trump’s comments hasn’t been to strengthen NATO but to question it as well. Talk of a European army is back and the potential of it undermining NATO is significant. Europe is worried about America’s willingness to help them, and if they aren’t, they want their own military structure. America isn’t against this anymore, as they want Europe to pull its weight. The problem is that Europe’s strategy is to replace NATO without US involvement. The USA’s commitment to our defence has provided our security for 70 years, and without it, our security would be at risk. Without America, Europe’s security would be laughable and its capability to agree and act alone doubtful – and that’s being optimistic.
It appears we are all dangerous allies now. Europe is unwilling to pull its weight but is terrified that this makes America question the alliance. Europe’s response isn’t though to rebuild the trust and confidence that America should have in us, it’s to begin replacing the bedrock of our security at a time of great risk. Trump isn’t a good ally either by leaving us in doubt of whether he would come to our defence, but we aren’t even trying to show him that we are the real allies he needs. Let’s see if the Europe starts putting its money where its mouth is, otherwise there are hard times for NATO ahead.
Written by James Clark