The head of NATO, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, has delivered on one of President Trump’s foreign policy objectives: Getting the alliance’s member nations to spend more to defend themselves and other nations against a revisionist Russia.
During a speech in Washington Friday, Stoltenberg said that the United States’ alliance allies in Europe and Canada have collectively spent an additional $41 billion on their militaries over the past year, the Washington Times reports.
“As you know, President Trump has been outspoken on this issue,” Stoltenberg said in a keynote address at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. “And I have thanked him for his leadership on defense spending.”
In July during a NATO summit in Brussels, President Trump was frank in his insistence that alliance countries live up to the agreement they made when they joined to spend at least 2 percent of their respective GDPs on defense.
And while he praised NATO overall as a “fine-tuned machine,” he did threaten to pull the U.S. out of the alliance if member nations refused to bolster defense spending.
Following the summit reports varied on the level of spending increases agreed upon by member countries, as well as how much money the U.S. contributes. Trump has said repeatedly that Washington provides the lion’s share of funding to ensure NATO is combat-ready.
The president correctly claimed, however, that the U.S. was spending about 3.6 percent of its GDP on the military. And he called for member nations to eventually increase their spending to 4 percent of GDP.
Stoltenberg said that “all NATO allies have agreed: To stop cuts to defense budgets. To increase spending. And to move towards spending 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024.”
He added: “NATO allies across Europe and Canada boosted their defense budgets by a combined 5.2 percent. The biggest increase, in real terms, in a quarter of a century. We still have a long way to go. But we are moving in the right direction.”
Analysis: Without question, Trump’s ‘in-your-face’ pressure — though uncomfortable for many in Western diplomatic circles — has had an impact in overall NATO readiness. The spending increases are only part of the equation; the alliance has been dragged kicking and screaming back into the reality that it faces its greatest security challenge in decades as Russia, a revisionist power seeking to challenge the U.S.-led order in Europe, rises and threatens.
While some of Stoltenberg’s praise could be seen as stoking the president’s ego, if his figure of $41 billion in additional spending alliance-wide in one year is accurate, that represents a substantial new investment at a time when European militaries were eroding and capabilities declining.
NATO remained a potent force, but the unwillingness to invest in their militaries even to the point of maintaining functioning combat units (Germany, Europe’s richest power, has especially had difficulty in this area) was sending a signal to President Putin that the alliance, beyond the United States, may have lacked the will to oppose him if, say, he moved on one of the Baltic States like he did Crimea in 2014.
Trump’s public calling out of NATO countries may have been diplomatically awkward, but what it also did was publicly put Moscow on notice that the United States had identified Russia as the region’s biggest threat, thus, NATO’s biggest threat. That public shaming may have led to some angry outbursts in NATO capitals against the president in private settings, but it obviously worked to convince those leaders their countries, and the alliance to which they belong, were becoming far too vulnerable to Russian aggression.
American leaders in the past have ‘encouraged’ NATO countries to invest their agreed-upon amounts in their militaries through ‘normal’ diplomatic overtures. They didn’t work. Trump, it seems, got the results both the U.S. and NATO needed, and at a time when Moscow is its most powerful since the end of the Cold War.