A 2% Solution
The pea under his metaphoric mattress, the obsessional irritant of Donald Trump’s NATO visit, was the refusal of member states to allocate 2% of their Gross Domestic Product for defense spending.
The President was so angry about this “failure” that he apparently threatened to pull the US out of the alliance if everyone didn’t start to spend the required share.
Here’s what set off the Petulant Prez: of NATO’s 28 member states, only 4 actually spend more than 2% of their GDP on defense. They are the US, Greece, Estonia and the UK.
The next 3 national defense spenders, all at or approaching the 2% level are Latvia, Poland and Lithuania, which like Estonia (but unlike the United States) all contain land that Russian nationalists consider terra irredenta. That can focus your mind on defense.
But 15 NATO Nations, a clear majority, are closer to 1% of GDP than 2.
All of them are closer to, and presumably more vulnerable to, military abuse from Russia, which, when Russia led the Soviet Union, was the threat NATO was designed to counter. But still, they won’t spend the money.
So, what if they’re right?
What if 2% of GDP or less or much less is the proper allocation in the 21st century for national defense?
Consider why it is that European voters so solidly resist Donald Trump’s demand to raise their defense spending.
First, it is true that when it comes to self-interest, most Euro-states are lacking. Most European states have tiny military-industrial complexes, and none has an economy so deeply penetrated by defense spending as ours. But of the 3 other NATO countries who rank behind the US in the global Top 10 of defense spending, only the UK (#6) has reached the target. France (#7) and Germany (#9) have not.
The next 3 reasons (of, I’m guessing, ascending importance) enjoy even wider consensus among Europeans.
- They have little or no appetite for foreign wars, and thus see little need to allocate funds for more personnel, equipment, or out-of-country training.
- They are nowhere nearly as filled with fears about personal or national security as Americans are. Perhaps this is because their politicians see less profit in dear-mongering than their American colleagues. In any case, Europeans signal in vote after vote that they feel well-protected at current low levels of defense spending and see no need for an increase.
- They have a culture in which personal identity is more closely linked to the shared institutions of public life. Therefore, they’re more willing to pay for public buildings, spaces and services than are many Americans, even if that means spending less on defense.
That last, according to The Guardian, was something that especially peeved the President. “Trump resents Germany’s decision to pay much less [for defense] than the US, UK or France, viewing it as allowing the country to spend more on welfare, health and in other areas. As he said in Brussels,” the Guardian summed up, “he regards the US as subsidizing German spending in popular domestic areas.”
Gotta say, that sounds pretty right to me: the German budgeting, not the Trump fuss-budgeting.
What if Trump took his own medicine and devoted 2% of GDP for defense in our national budget?
As a destination, it would be a long, hard slog to get there. Extruding defense spending from the American economy will make a heart-lung transplant look easy, and will take time.
But, hey, NATO’s 2% of GDP standard only goes into effect in 2024, and with hard work and good will, by then America could be started down a path in which they might meet the rest of the world somewhere near the middle.