Dear President Moron: Since You Don’t Seem To Get How NATO Works, Please Allow Me To Educate You

Donald Trump doesn’t like NATO. Much like the fact he doesn’t understand NATO, this is clear. On the campaign trail, his common statement was that the alliance was “obsolete.” He has dozens of quotes trashing the alliance. Now, he endlessly rails against our allies “not meeting financial obligations” — which do not exist. We’ll explore why those obligations do not exist in a moment, but for now, a simple metaphor to explain why nobody owes NATO or the United States a dime:

Imagine you’re in a homeowners association, which collects small fees to run a neighborhood watch, and also, one of the bylaws deals with appearances — a guideline states all members should spend two percent of household income on the yard, paint, etc. Imagine a neighbor fails to meet the two percent benchmark. Did they fulfill the guideline’s obligation? No. Do they owe you, their neighbor, money? No, that’s silly. You aren’t paying for their yard, and the fees have already been collected for the “collective” spending on the neighborhood watch. You can be pissed their yard doesn’t look as good as yours, but they’re not costing you a dime, and they owe you nothing. That’s why world leaders openly laughed at Trump’s idiotic nonsense at his NATO speech. He has no understanding of how this works.


The real source of NATO’s funding

NATO, as an organization, has its own funding:

The North Atlantic alliance has its own military budget worth €1.29 billion ($1.4 billion), which is used to fund some operations and the NATO strategic command center, as well as training and research. But it is miniscule compared to overall spending on defense by NATO countries, which NATO estimates will total more than $921 billion in 2017.

The alliance also has a civilian budget of €234.4 million ($252 million), used mainly to fund the NATO headquarters in Belgium, and its administration. (Source)

Who pays how much is determined by the size of the economy of each country:

The U.S. share is calculated on the basis of gross national income — the total domestic and foreign output claimed by residents of a country — and adjusted regularly. Currently that would be about 22 percent, compared to about 15 percent for Germany, 11 percent for France, 10 percent for the United Kingdom, 8 percent for Italy, 7 percent for Canada, and so forth.

When conservatives say the United States pays 22 percent of the budget for NATO, and then list our own defense spending, that’s extremely misleading. Let’s examine the following paragraph from Fox Business:

The United States contributed more than 22 percent of the organization’s budget in 2016, according to White House data, far outpacing all other members. The government spent 3.6 percent of GDP, or $664 billion, on defense. The United States’ financial commitments to defense have fallen over recent years, down from more than $757.4 billion in 2009. However, President Trump’s new budget looks to reverse that trend with a $54 billion injection into the defense sector.

Despite the first two sentences being placed side-by-side, they are unrelated. We did pay 22 percent of NATO’s budget. We also paid $664 billion for our own defense. Those two numbers are unrelated because we pay NATO less than $500 million per year (PDF). It’s almost as if Trump never bothers to read anything, and that the outlets which support him are willing to publish any lie (or truth twisted beyond recognition, to the point of lying, such as in this case) to try and make his ignorant incompetence more palatable.

And considering we are the largest member nation by orders of magnitude, and that the American empire has 300,000 soldiers stationed in 150 nations around the globe, it makes sense that we would be spending the most money on our own military. Other member nations do not have a global military force. We have a standing army three times larger than every other member except Turkey. NATO is not responsible for each nation’s national defense; there is no collective spending pool for each nation’s military. NATO is a military alliance that says “I’ve got your back if you get attacked.” The alliance has guidelines — not rules — and advice on how to best allocate funding for national defense in order to prevent war in the first place. Deterrence through preparedness.

So when Fox News or Donald Trump tell you our allies aren’t paying their fair share for “collective defense,” or that the United States is spending far more to support NATO than they are, that’s simply bullshit. That’s not NATO’s budget — the numbers they are talking about are a guideline for national defense, not NATO. And they’re just that — a guideline. There is no penalty for spending less than two percent of GDP on the military. In fact, our bloated and wasteful military budget is not something to brag about. A certain quote by President Dwight Eisenhower comes to mind:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter with a half-million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. . . . This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Yet, our allies should be spending more on their own defense

There is one point that I will begrudgingly give Trump — our allies are over-reliant on the fact they have a military juggernaut in their alliance. They are meeting their financial obligations to NATO, despite what Trump says. However, there’s a reason that NATO has a two percent guideline for spending on national defense — as stated above, preparedness through deterrence. Right now, for many members, deterrence comes from big brother on the west side of the Atlantic. Yet Trump’s misleading rhetoric on this subject is masking the reality — they’re already moving to expand their military budgets and have been for three years, thanks to the growing threat of Trump’s buddy Putin, who has demonstrated in Ukraine and Georgia that he is willing to violate the sovereignty of and use force against his neighbors.

Here’s more, via CNN:

At a summit in 2014, all members who were falling short promised to move toward the official target within a decade.

That pledge appears to be holding: The alliance as a whole increased defense spending for the first time in two decades in 2015.

So why don’t more countries spend 2% of GDP? Many experts point out that the target is problematic.

NATO has warned against a rush to spend for the sake of spending, emphasizing that budget decisions must be based on strategic planning. For example, it wants countries to spend 20% of their defense budgets on equipment.

Some member countries simply don’t have armies big enough to be able to absorb a huge increase in funding quickly — that’s why the 2014 summit pledge gave laggards until 2024 to do more.

So, Trump’s badgering is pointless. Latvia, for example, increased spending by over 40 percent last year alone. Almost every other member nation is steadily increasing military spending to be on track with the two percent of GDP guideline and the pledge made in 2014, which already solved this problem. In fact, his stance on this issue is somewhat more sinister than just military buildup: he is accomplishing nothing but seeding ill will among our closest allies. Between his blatant disrespect and refusal to directly endorse Article 5, it seems more like he is trying to sabotage NATO than improve it. And notably, we are the only nation to ever invoke Article 5 and call our allies to our defense. Soldiers from other nations fought and died for ours, and now when asked to state we will come to their defense, Trump won’t say so. Instead, he demands money he isn’t owed.

And who benefits from all of this the most?


Featured image via Stefan Rousseau – Pool/Getty Images