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March 28, 2016

Is NATO Obsolete?

Donald Trump says it is.

“NATO is costing us a fortune, and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO, but we’re spending a lot of money,” said Donald Trump last week. “I think NATO as a concept is good, but it’s not as good as it was when it first evolved.” He stood by the assessment this week — indeed, he went even further, calling NATO “obsolete” as well as “disproportionately” and “extremely” expensive for the U.S. “We should readjust NATO,” he said. “And it’s going to have to be either readjusted to take care of terrorism, or we’re going to have to set up a new coalition, a new group of the countries to handle terrorism, because terrorism is out of control.”

Trump may be relying on a national security team of one, so maybe he doesn’t realize NATO spent a decade fighting terrorism with the U.S. in Afghanistan. But that doesn’t mean he’s totally off the reservation. Dwight Eisenhower, who became supreme commander of NATO in 1951, once said, “If in 10 years, all American troops stationed in Europe for national defense purposes have not been returned to the United States, then this whole project [NATO] will have failed.” And an even greater American general-turned-president, George Washington, warned in his Farewell Address, “It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliance with any portion of the foreign world.”

In other words, as with immigration, trade and other issues, the concerns Trump raises are not unfounded. But his prescription depends on what he means by “readjusted.” In another interview, Trump gave some indication: “We are getting ripped off by every other country in NATO. They pay almost nothing.” It’s certainly fair to call on other NATO countries to carry their weight with defense. Far too many simply rely on the U.S. to do all the heavy lifting — besides the U.S., only Great Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland spend more than 2% of GDP on defense, while 23 other NATO nations do not. But it’s also an exaggeration to say other nations — again, our allies — do nothing. Barack Obama has spent the last seven-plus years generally insulting our allies. Is it wise to pass the reins to someone seemingly so ready to continue that tradition? National security is a primary responsibility of a commander in chief. Half-right gut instincts aren’t going to cut it.

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