America’s allies have been unsure what to make of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. Would Trump withdraw the United States from the world as they feared or would he instead try to alter the relationship between the U.S. and their countries?
According to a phone call that was held on Tuesday between Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May, the answer is the latter. During the presidential campaign, Trump raised the issue of NATO countries not paying enough toward their own defense. He even went so far as to threaten not to defend them unless they paid up.
During today’s phone call between May and Trump, the two leaders pledged to work together to get all NATO members to spend the 2 percent of GDP on defense that’s required by their charter. Right now, only five members in the 28-nation alliance—America, the U.K., Poland, Estonia, and Greece—spend at least the 2 percent amount. France comes the next closest at 1.8 percent of GDP on defense.
Among the freeloaders are nations bordering Russia and Ukraine, such as Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Hungary. Wealthy nations such as Germany, Canada, Italy, and The Netherlands spend only an average of 1 percent to 1.2 percent on defense. Amazingly, Belgium and Spain pony up less than 1 percent of GDP for defense.
Luxembourg only spends 0.4 percent GDP on defense, but its population is only 578,000. They can probably get a pass on this, but the rest of NATO’s members shouldn’t.
Why don’t European countries want to spend more on their militaries? Because they prefer to rely on the United States for security guarantees and instead put money into building up their welfare states. Take, for example, Denmark, which only spends 1.2 percent of GDP on defense.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Denmark last met the NATO spending target in the final years of the Cold War, when Soviet forces were stationed across the Baltic Sea. Since then, the ratio of Danish spending has dropped consistently and totaled 23.2 billion kroner ($3.31 billion), or 1.2 percent of GDP, in 2015.
Helge Pedersen, a Copenhagen-based chief economist at Nordea Bank AB, estimates that meeting the 2 percent mark again would require about 15 billion kroner in extra defense spending.
That’s how much Denmark spends each year on supporting its universities, or five years of child support for its families.
To be fair, the Danes have contributed troops to Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and the war against ISIS. They would argue that they have paid the price for their NATO membership in blood, losing 7 soldiers in Iraq and 43 soldiers in Afghanistan. The Danes are also planning to increase defense spending this year by 800 million kroner.
Even if countries can’t hit the 2 percent of GDP threshold, they can and should do more for their own defense. The United States should not completely withdraw from Europe or disband the NATO alliance, but it should not be expected to effectively subsidize wealthy Western Europe’s bloated welfare states. If the current status quo continues, then NATO will become obsolete as far as American interests are concerned.
This is one issue Donald Trump should continue to press with America’s allies. It may require some European nations to set priorities on spending, but it’s past time they paid their fair share.