norrlof6_Thierry MonasseGetty Images_nato Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

NATO Is Not a Hegemonic Burden

Americans must understand that NATO does not only protect allies but is a vital part of a comprehensive strategy that promotes their own interests and sustains their country’s global leadership position. Withdrawing from the transatlantic alliance would reduce US influence without significantly reducing US military spending.

TORONTO – As NATO marks its 75th anniversary, the idea that it is free-riding on the United States remains a live issue. While Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized America’s transatlantic allies for spending too little on defense, it is worth remembering that presidents going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower (including John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Barack Obama) also pressured the Europeans to share more of the burden. After Lyndon B. Johnson’s secretary of defense, Robert S. McNamara, suggested that the US might reduce its troop levels in Europe if the Germans did not step up, the two countries entered an “offset agreement” whereby Germany would compensate the US by purchasing US goods.

But until February of this year, no US president or presidential candidate had ever directly jeopardized the safety of NATO allies by inviting foreign aggressors to attack “delinquent” member states. Trump’s offensive comments misleadingly equated the NATO defense-spending target (2% of GDP) with direct NATO payments.

To some Americans, Trump’s fairness concerns may seem valid. Why should the US pay twice as much as the average NATO ally when it is geographically removed from all major conflict zones?