Marc A. Thiessen: NATO has weaknesses, and Trump has the right to push it forward | Opinion



When President Trump warned Germany and other allies for the damage they are causing to NATO by not spending properly on our common defense, the Democrats in Washington came to the defense of Germany. "The blatant insults of President Trump and the denigration of one of the strongest allies in the United States, Germany, is a shame," said Senate minority leader Charles E. Schumer and minority leader of the House Nancy Pelosi. in a joint statement.

The real shame is that Germany, one of the richest countries in Europe, spends only 1.24 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, in the lower half of NATO allies. (United States spends 3.5 percent of GDP on its army)

A study by McKinsey & Co. notes that about 60 percent of Germany's Eurofighter and Tornado fighters and about 80 percent of their helicopters are Lynx are unusable. According to Deutsche Welle, a German parliamentary inquiry found that "at the end of 2017, no submarine or any of the 14 large air force transport aircraft were available for deployment due to repairs" and "a Ministry of Defense document revealed that the German soldiers did not do it. " have enough protective vests, winter clothes or tents to adequately participate in an important NATO mission. "

To fulfill its promised commitments to NATO, Germany needs to spend $ 28 billion more on defense annually." Apparently, Germany can not contribute the money, but it can send billions of dollars to Russia, the country to the one that created NATO to protect itself from natural gas, and support a new pipeline that will make Germany and the allies of Eastern Europe even more vulnerable to Moscow.

Sadly, Germany is not alone, Belgium, where it has its NATO headquarters, spend only 0.9% of GDP on defense, and a third of its limited defense budget is spent on pensions.

NATO's European allies have about 1.8 million troops, but less than a third are deployable and only 6 percent for any sustained period.

When Trump says that NATO is "obsolete," he is right, literally.

This is not a new problem, I was in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and vividly I remember how, when the time came to take military action in Afghanistan, only a handful of allies had useful capabilities for war that could contribute during the early critical stages of Operation Enduring Freedom.

At the NATO Prague summit in 2002, the allies pledged to address these shortcomings by spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense and investing that money in more usable capacities. In contrast, defense investments by European allies declined from 1.9 percent of GDP in 2000-2004 to 1.7 percent five years later, falling further to 1.4 percent in 2015.

It is surprising that when NATO intervened in Libya a decade after 9/11, The Washington Post reported: "Less than a month after the conflict in Libya, NATO is running out of precision bombs, highlighting the limitations of Britain, France and other European countries to maintain even a relatively small military action for a prolonged period. "

An alliance whose fundamental purpose is to deter Russian aggression could not sustain a limited bombing campaign against a much weaker adversary.

President Barack Obama called NATO allies "free riders" and President George W. Bush urged allies to "increase their defense investments," with little effect. But when Trump refused to say immediately that the United States would fulfill its Article 5 commitment to defend a NATO ally, NATO allies agreed to increase spending by $ 12 billion last year. That's a drop in the bucket: McKinsey estimated that the allies need to spend $ 107 billion more each year to meet their commitments.

As the polite pressure of his predecessors did not work, Trump is digging in a harder line: last week in Brussels, he suggested that NATO members double their defense spending targets to 4 percent of GDP.

This is not a gift for Russia, as its critics have claimed. The last thing Putin wants is for Trump to get NATO to spend more on defense. And if the allies are concerned about hardening themselves with Russia, there is an easy way to do it: invest in the capabilities that NATO needs to dissuade and defend against Russian aggression.

Trump's hard line also does not indicate that he considers NATO irrelevant. If Trump believed that NATO was useless, he would not waste his time on it. But if the allies do not invest in real and usable military capabilities, NATO will become irrelevant.

An alliance that can not effectively join the fight when one of its members is attacked or runs out of ammunition in the midst of a military intervention is, by definition, irrelevant.

NATO needs a little love, and Trump is delivering it. Thanks to him, the alliance will be stronger as a result.

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