The United States Cold War commitment to the defense of Europe was a success. If America is to remain NATO’s most vital member, NATO nations not living up to their commitments, both militarily and financially, will have to begin doing so. This is more than a Donald Trump talking point. Increasingly, it is a reality both sides in American politics believe. As early as 2002, Zbigniew Brzezinski, a Democrat and former National Security advisor to the Carter administration, made country-members fulfilling their obligations the most important precondition for NATO membership.
The United States can continue in its commitment to NATO, but twenty years after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the organization requires a new agenda, and for its responsibilities to be more fairly allocated. Donald Trump is making the case most effectively, and Americans, even if many Foreign Policy analysts disagree, share similar views. Read the full Meet The Press transcript from Jul-24-2016 where Donald Trump is interviewed by Chuck Todd.
Now, a country gets invaded, they haven’t paid, everyone says, “Oh, but we have a treaty.” Well, they have a treaty too. They’re supposed to be paying. We have countries within NATO that are taking advantage of us. With me, I believe they’re going to pay. And when they pay, I’m a big believer in NATO.
In the aftermath of WWII, The United States had the largest economy in the world. Much of Europe, and the rest of the world, had been destroyed by the world war. America’s engagement through economic support and military protection enabled Europe to quickly redevelop. The Marshall Plan and NATO were resounding successes, and made sense for both continents at the time if they were to be free, prosperous, and strong enough to withstand Communism.
We live in a much different world than that of the post-WWII era. The commitment paid off. The objective of NATO, namely the defense of Europe from Soviet aggression, has been completed. Many Americans believed that the collapse of Communism in 1991 would naturally lead to a more peaceful world where the U.S. would scale back its commitments overseas. The world could be a relatively benign place where the American people would enjoy a peace-dividend in exchange for a century of sacrifice.
What did they receive instead? In America’s unipolar moment, the ruling establishment in Washington dramatically expanded its commitments overseas. Through military force, they tried to reengineer the rest of the world so it would look more like America. More Democratic. More prosperous. More peaceful. What an oxymoron. To think they could use violence to create peace.
More nefariously, Washington’s objective was to fill the vacuum left behind by the Soviet Union and dismantle any external networks Russia had left in the world by filling it themselves. The U.S. went to work toppling governments they disapproved of, stationed military forces in lands they would be seen as occupiers of, and committed to spending hundreds of millions on proxy wars throughout the Middle East and the world.
The era after the Soviet collapse has been anything but peaceful. The post-Cold War era has been turbulent; from state on state aggression of 91′ in Iraq to humanitarian interventions of 93′ in Europe to tran-state terrorist networks with global designs successfully attacking the homeland on 9/11. The threat of violence is returning to Europe, but Russian aggression on the periphery cannot be the central focus for NATO today. Terrorism is endangering the peace, right in the heart of Europe. It is radical Islamic Terrorists, both lone wolfs inspired by propaganda, and well-prepared attacks on busy restaurants, airports, and anywhere peaceful citizens congregate, that pose a threat.
In response to these attacks, U.S. leadership in NATO is still required. The vision for NATO should be a continent-wide intelligence apparatus that can track and dismantle terror networks and share information about EU citizens with radical agendas as they cross borders and make contact with radicals across Europe and the world.
Article 5—an attack on one is an attack on all, will still be the most sacred of NATO’s promises, but only if every NATO member is willing to live up to its commitments to achieve organizational success. Europe will have to increase its military spending and financial support in order to maintain active American involvement.
European nations can take full advantage of the physical security provided by NATO; the shipping lanes secured by the U.S. Navy, and the international order underwritten by American power. They can take part in global trade and secure high standards of living. America will continue to be realist in upholding international security measures. Europe will not have to worry Russia will invade it as long as the members pay their fair share. Security is conditional.
America is twenty trillion dollars in debt. The infrastructure at the airports, railways, and on the highways are in poor shape. The K-12 schools are failing their students. All while the American government focuses its energy and means on overseas commitments. Even under a Donald Trump president, we will continue to make those commitments, but only if the American people are getting a fair deal.