- - Thursday, April 4, 2019

The president gave his cable-TV hosts and the Twitterati a chuckle this week when he said, in a sort of Pocahontas moment, that his father, Fred Trump, was born in Germany. Mr. Trump the elder was, in fact, born in the Bronx. But there was actually more consequential news about Germany this week.

In a speech in Washington marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Vice President Mike Pence called out the European Union’s largest country for its chronic skimping of resources for its own defense.

“Germany must do more,” the veep said. “And we cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on Russia. It is simply unacceptable for Europe’s largest economy to continue to ignore the threat of Russian aggression and neglect its own self-defense and our common defense.”

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Mr. Pence’s needed rebuke makes an important point. Each of the 29 NATO member states has committed to spending 2 percent of its gross domestic product for defense. Few members actually do it, but Germany, with the alliance’s most prosperous economy, stands out for its chronic irresponsibility. Berlin is increasing defense spending minutely at the moment. Spending on national defense will constitute only 1.25 percent of GDP in 2023, according to the latest projections.

Germany has obvious historical reasons for taking an easy ride. Memories of both World Wars I and II, and the Nazi era, die slowly, and a small German military is the way many Europeans want it. Many Germans themselves are not eager to rearm. Fair enough. But Germany runs a lavish welfare state that it is able to fund, in part, because it does not pay its fair share of the common defense. Other nations, chiefly the United States, must pay more than a fair share. American taxpayers are subsidizing early retirement for German workers.

Mr. Pence correctly noted that Berlin has been far too eager to acquiesce to Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy in Moscow. “Hungry for energy, Germany has also defied the United States and several Eastern European states by forging ahead with Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline with Russia that will double the capacity of the existing link,” the Voice of America news service reports. To this, the vice president had a worthy retort: “If Germany persists in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, as President Trump said, it could turn Germany’s economy into literally a captive of Russia.”

It wasn’t only German miserliness and short-sightedness that Mr. Pence pointed to. He warned of the world’s most urgent threat, the rise of Communist China. “Determining how to meet the challenge of Chinese 5G technology, meet the challenge of the easy money offered by China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is a challenge European allies must contend with every day,” he said. “Whether we like it or not the implications of China’s rise will profoundly affect the choices NATO members will face, individually and collectively. China’s expanding influence will necessarily demand more of America’s attention and resources, and as we meet that challenge our European allies must do more to maintain the strength and deterrence of our transatlantic alliance with their resources.”

Early signs are not altogether encouraging. Italy’s populist government, representing a country that is meant to be a cornerstone of NATO, with a nod to Beijing, has signed up for a helping of Belt and Road. The United States, meanwhile, has had only limited help from the allies to block the Chinese conglomerate Huawei from setting up powerful 5G networks across the world.

The vice president took aim at Turkey, the alliance’s curious member. He questioned Turkey’s growing military alliance with Moscow. “Turkey must choose — does it want to remain a critical partner of the most successful military alliance in the history of the world, or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making reckless decisions that undermine our alliance?” All signs point to the latter, alas, and good for the vice president for raising a question about Turkey’s odd ideas about loyalty. Nobody else has done it.

NATO has been a cornerstone of Western security for decades, but it’s ripe for reform. The veep be praised for skipping the empty bromides, and instead issuing challenges to the slackers.

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