NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Wednesday that the organization’s members are planning to increase defense spending by 4.3% this year, an increase of $12 billion over 2016. The announcement, which cannot be divorced from President Donald Trump’s criticism of our NATO allies, is proof that sometimes – to get treated fairly by the rest of the world – you just have to speak up.
Trump had the guts to do what no president before him would do. Not criticize our NATO allies for not putting enough coins in the piggy bank; plenty of presidents have done that, especially on the campaign trail. No, he did that, and then he KEPT doing that when he assumed power. He even did it IN A NATO conference. And furthermore, he warned our allies: Pay your fair share, or you may not be able to count on the U.S. to be there for you when the time comes. He did this, of course, because he knew that the only way to get a concession from another party is to be willing to simply get up and walk away from the table. He showed our allies that he was willing to do that, and looky there, suddenly they found some more money hidden in the couch cushions. Funny how that works.
“I welcome the strong focus of President Trump on defense spending and burden sharing, because it is important that we deliver,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels.
Here’s something else that’s funny. For two years, critics from both parties have slammed Trump for weakening our NATO alliance with his rhetoric. And, to be fair, you can understand where that criticism is coming from. But strangely enough, Trump’s criticism has made the alliance stronger than ever. Sometimes a partnership has to be tested, just to make sure all the links in the chain are secure. Trump did that. Maybe intentionally, maybe not. But the net effect has been to make NATO more powerful and more relevant than it has been in decades.
In a speech from Germany, Defense Secretary James Mattis praised the increase in spending and reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to NATO.
“The U.S. commitment to our NATO Article Five security guarantee is ironclad, as demonstrated over decades of our steadfastness and given voice more recently by President Trump before the American people,” Mattis said.
To be sure, the U.S. is still paying the lion’s share of the NATO bill every year, and that’s not likely to change in the foreseeable future. But that’s fine. NATO serves us by keeping Europe stable and secure and by keeping potential enemies at bay. It’s not charity; it’s an important investment in our own security.
But an investment like that is only good for as long as the organization itself is tightly aligned and properly focused. Trump’s work in this area has changed the international landscape in positive ways. He has re-asserted the United States as THE power player on the world stage, and that is perhaps a reminder that our European allies needed to hear.