- - Monday, April 4, 2016


Donald Trump panicked the foreign policy establishment when he said NATO is obsolete and ill-suited to fight terrorism. By saying that, and adding, “We can’t afford to do this anymore,” Mr. Trump drew gleefully harsh responses from Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Cruz said, “Donald Trump is wrong that American should retreat from Europe, retreat from NATO, hand Putin a major victory and while he’s at it, hand ISIS a major victory.”

Mrs. Clinton’s claim to the presidency rests on her experience as secretary of state. If you read her memoir, “Hard Choices,” you’ll inevitably conclude that although she went nearly everywhere and conferred with almost everyone in power, by her own recitation she never persuaded anyone to support any American position or undertaking. On the basis of that non-expertise, Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Trump’s position on NATO “would reverse decades of bipartisan American leadership and send a dangerous signal to friend and foe alike.” She would, of course, leave NATO undisturbed on its current course.

At the risk of injecting facts into politics, we need to understand what NATO has become and why, before we can try to fix it or consign it to the ash heap of history.

Mr. Trump’s assertion that NATO isn’t constituted properly to deal with terrorism is correct but irrelevant. NATO was designed in the 1940s to deal with the postwar threats of Soviet aggression, not with the then-unforeseen terrorist threat. We cannot forget that after Sept. 11, 2001, NATO — for the first time — invoked Article 5 of its charter, the collective defense provision that states an attack against one member is an attack against all. Many NATO members, including Poland, Britain and others, sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, joining our wars against terrorism.

That’s not to say that Europe and America couldn’t unite under NATO or another alliance united to fight terrorism more effectively. But President George W. Bush didn’t see the need, and President Obama has ignored NATO.

Mr. Trump was equally wrong in defining NATO’s problem entirely in financial terms. His approach would have our allies pay tribute to us to fund the defenses we provide. He’d tax nations such as South Korea and Japan, as well as the NATO members, to pay for the forces we station in those nations.

NATO’s problem is not that it doesn’t pay us protection money. Its problem is that NATO nations don’t invest in their own defense to maintain their defense capabilities. The reason for that is that nearly all the NATO nations (22 of them) have joined with other nations outside of NATO in the European Union, which competes directly for defense dollars by imposing its multicultural socialist policies that require massive investment.

When NATO was formed in 1949, its members were still recovering from the economic losses and destruction of World War II. Our Marshall Plan was helping to the extent that Europe wouldn’t have recovered without it.

From 1949 to 1976, NATO members’ defense expenditures rose slowly but steadily. They began to shrink during 1985-89, when NATO members became complacent under the American “nuclear umbrella” that protected them from Soviet aggression.

With the EU’s formation under the 1993 Maastricht Treaty, NATO member defense expenditures — and their defense capabilities — began to plummet. While America’s defense expenditures has remained at about 3.6 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP), most NATO members have shrunk their military spending and as a result, their primary military capabilities, far below the level they need to defend themselves.

In 2014, NATO members pledged to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense, but only Estonia, Britain, Poland and the United States have lived up to that agreement. In 2015, according to NATO’s current estimates, Belgium spent 0.9 percent of its GDP on defense, Germany spent 1.2 percent, France spent 1.8 percent, and Italy spent 1 percent.

The EU’s Maastricht Treaty subsumes nationalism and sovereignty under a dense fog of multiculturalist socialism. The EU’s dedication to social spending — which its laws and regulations compel — competes directly with its members’ ability and willingness to spend on defense. Its Schengen Agreement, compelling open borders, is one reason the EU is comprehensively ill-suited to combat terrorism. The Brussels attacks showed that the EU nations don’t share anti-terrorist intelligence and that its open borders enable terrorist networks such as ISIS to operate across EU nations at will.

It’s probably impossible to fix the EU. Even if Britain decides in its June 23 “Brexit” referendum to withdraw from the Maastricht Treaty, that is not likely to force the EU to wake up from its quasi-socialist nightmare sufficiently to restore responsibility for its own defenses. If the EU can’t be fixed, neither can NATO.

America has a vital national security interest in NATO and its collective defense commitment. It will take years to convince its members to do more in their own defense, but we have to try. Simply saying that NATO should pay us more for the defense we provide is wrong, and will further erode our ability — and NATO’s — to provide for our mutual defense. Our NATO allies will be stronger and better committed to defense if they are helping provide for it themselves.

We shouldn’t abandon NATO to its own devices, at least not yet. But a little “tough love” is clearly in order. A clear message from a strong American president may be enough to bestir it to awaken to the threats it faces. That president should ask a question that neither Mr. Trump, Mr. Cruz nor Mrs. Clinton have indicated they would ask: If you aren’t willing to spend on your own defense, why should we?

Jed Babbin served as a deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration. He is a senior fellow of the London Center for Policy Research and the author of five books including “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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