Berlin plans to leave the defending to Washington—as do most of NATO’s other members.
If candidate Donald Trump had one signature position, it was criticizing America’s populous, prosperous allies for leeching off the U.S. military. He even talked about charging them for the Pentagon’s services.
But like many other issues, he proved to be more bark than bite. Whether reflecting a lack of belief or attention, he left European policy to his Europhile officials, who told European leaders to ignore the president. “There is a lot more support for continuing our past policies than it might appear from some of the statements” of the president, observed Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH): “The unanimity comes from those folks who are actually operationalizing policy.”
Although the president still caused a scene when he visited Europe—shoving the Montenegrin prime minister aside and failing to proclaim his support for NATO’s Article 5—he did nothing practical to reduce the defense dependence of America’s allies. He later deluded himself in claiming that “money is pouring in,” but his officials have been pleading for the Europeans to do more, just like members of most every administration dating back to the formation of the transatlantic alliance have done.
Last week Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was in Europe to lobby the nations America is subsidizing, always a thankless task. Having pushed a National Security Strategy which pointed to Russia as a supposed serious security threat, he was desperate for the Europeans—who are a good deal closer to Moscow—to act like they shared the administration’s fears.
They obviously don’t. The Europeans are spending a bit more recently, but the increase looks impressive only compared to how much and long military outlays fell in recent years. New figures from the International Institute for Strategic Studies noted that European military outlays last year—three years after Russia detached Crimea from Ukraine—were still lower than in 2010. Just three of NATO’s members, patsy America, geopolitical midget Estonia, and economically decrepit Greece, which is worried far more about Turkey than Moscow, made the official 2 percent of GDP standard for military outlays.
Depending on how the year goes, the United Kingdom, traditionally possessing the continent’s most robust military, minor leaguers Latvia and Lithuania, marginal Romania, and nationalistic Poland may hit that level next year. Missing from the list are the other major European powers: Germany, France, Italy and Spain.