Nate Jackson / May 26, 2017

Trump’s Welcome Bluntness

It’s high time all NATO members contributed their “fair share” to the old alliance, the president insisted.

NATO has been a subject of some controversy for President Donald Trump. During last year’s Republican primary campaign, Trump alleged, “NATO is costing us a fortune” and is “obsolete” because other nations aren’t pulling their weight. At the time, it was jarring because conservative politicians don’t talk that way about our allies. Trump walked back the “obsolete” charge, but otherwise he’s stuck to his guns.

Just yesterday at NATO headquarters in Brussels, he called out several NATO member leaders as they literally stood behind him. “These grave security concerns are the same reason that I have been very, very direct with Secretary [Jens] Stoltenberg and members of the alliance in saying that NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations,” Trump said, “for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.”

“We should recognize that with these chronic underpayments and growing threats, even two percent of GDP is insufficient to close the gaps in modernizing readiness and the size of forces,” he continued. “We have to make up for the many years lost. Two percent is the bare minimum for confronting today’s very real and very vicious threats.”

Some critics pounced, citing this as evidence that Trump won’t follow through on America’s Article 5 obligations to come to Europe’s defense. But that’s just utter silliness that, frankly, serves Vladimir Putin’s agenda. At an event unveiling a memorial to 9/11 and NATO’s first and only invocation of Article 5, Trump praised NATO for responding “swiftly and decisively” after those attacks. He added, “We will never forsake the friends who stood by our side.” How do those remarks constitute any waffling on U.S. commitments?

Trump’s loose lips can indeed be a problem, and no doubt our allies would appreciate consistency. But his admonition to NATO members who don’t contribute fully could be the impetus for a needed course correction for the old alliance. Furthermore, it’s certainly part of the larger strategy of his first foreign trip — cleaning up Barack Obama’s mess and fighting terrorism.

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