Judy Asks: Is Trump wrong about NATO?

Opinion piece (Carnegie Europe)
Sophia Besch
11 July 2018

A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

It is up to European allies to determine whether Trump is wrong about NATO. Most agree with the U.S. president on the importance of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense. But Trump’s single-minded focus on Europeans “paying up” in exchange for the U.S. security guarantee betrays a complete misunderstanding of NATO as an alliance of collective defense.

The danger of publicly singling out countries and their leaders is that it undermines solidarity and cohesion, NATO’s strongest assets. The risk is that European leaders feel bullied, that the 2 percent metric becomes toxic by association with Trump, and that populations misunderstand defense spending as a concession to the United States, rather than an important investment in European security.

But it is not the responsibility of the United States to communicate to European voters what their heads of state and governments have committed to as members of the alliance. European leaders must take ownership of NATO, its requirements, and its numerous achievements.

If instead they allow this summit and future ones to be shaped by the Trumpian view of the alliance then they will prove him right: NATO will become a protection racket, with Europeans vying for the attention and embrace of the United States.

Sophia Besch is a research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

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