By Lethbridge Herald on July 10, 2018.
With an important meeting of NATO leaders just days away, the 69-year-old alliance is fraying at the edges. Beyond coping with international terrorism, Chinese expansionism and Russia’s global adventures, the alliance faces a significant threat from within.
A dispute over spending among the 29 NATO states will likely dominate summit talks this coming week in Brussels, where U.S. President Donald Trump is taking an aggressive line against countries he says aren’t contributing enough to collective security.
Trump cites a 2006 NATO goal that eventually would have all member states spend the equivalent of two per cent of their economic output on defence. That aspirational goal was reaffirmed in 2014, when NATO leaders agreed to “aim to move toward two per cent within a decade.”
Aiming to move toward a goal over 10 years is not the same as achieving it today. But Trump, who insists that the United States carries too much of the NATO burden, wants action now. This week it emerged that many NATO governments, Canada included, received letters from Trump criticizing them for not meeting the two per cent target.
“There is growing frustration in the United States that key allies like Canada have not stepped up defense spending as promised,” Trump wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Failing to meet the goal “undermines the security of the Alliance” and sets the wrong example for others, Trump wrote.
Few NATO states do meet the target. The U.S. spends about 3.5 per cent. Canada spends about 1.3 per cent, or $25.5 billion. Some estimates, guesses really, put Canada’s economy on track to reach a value of $2.3 trillion by 2022, theoretically producing military spending closer to $46 billion.
The Trudeau government aims to increase defence spending to $32.7 billion by 2027, still well short of the two per cent goal. Yet that might be the better option for Canada — gradual increases based on affordability and military requirements, not on arbitrary goals.
Spending is not the only area where Trump is out of sync with the rest of NATO.
Trump wants Russia and Vladimir Putin back in the G7. Only Italy’s new right-wing prime minister agrees. Trump hasn’t ruled out recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea and suggested the U.S. has too many troops in Germany.
He has even compared NATO to a despised trade treaty. “NATO is as bad as NAFTA,” he told perplexed G7 leaders last month in Quebec.
That said, Trump praised newer NATO members for their spending. All are former Soviet client states: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania. He also praised France, which does plan a military buildup, and the U.K., which is close to the two per cent target. Yet Westminster also received one of Trump’s dunning letters.
Prospects for a successful NATO summit appear to be dim. For an alliance based on solidarity, disunity is precisely the wrong message Trump should be taking to his meeting this month with the cunning Putin in Helsinki.
NATO is the most significant check on Putin’s global manipulations. But lacking solidarity, the alliance is just a paper tiger, precisely what the Russian tyrant wants.
An editorial from the Halifax Chronicle Herald (distributed by The Canadian Press)