The NATO Summit convened in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday. Before his departure, US President Donald Trump tweeted that “NATO countries must pay MORE, the United States must pay LESS. Very Unfair!”
Trump is exerting maximum pressure on European allies, forcing them to increase their defense budgets. In some European countries, people are talking about a NATO without the US. They are worried that since Trump has withdrawn from many international organizations, NATO could be next. Is it possible that Trump abandons NATO due to defense budget clashes with European allies? Perhaps not. Compared to a winning trade war, Trump can easily prevail over other NATO members over defense budget disputes.
With Washington taking absolute leadership in NATO, Europe completely counts on the US for defense. Despite Europe being the forefront of the US defense line against Russia, Trump feels Europe doesn’t deserve any compensation from the US for standing guard, instead, it must pay a protection fee. Europe’s overall tilt toward the US allows it very few bargaining chips against Washington in this regard.
NATO sets the defense budget at 2 percent of GDP for its members, but many countries fail to meet the provision, with only 1 percent of GDP. Those countries don’t think there is a reasonable risk of war in Europe, otherwise, they would meet the budget requirement without Washington’s request.
European members acquire a sense of security from NATO, but also because Russia doesn’t pose the same security threat as the former Soviet Union did to Europe. It makes sense for Europe to cut defense expenditure. The right way for Washington is to cut its own defense budget to reach a balance. But the Trump administration has gone in the opposite direction to further increase its military budget, which grew 10 percent for the new fiscal year, and asks its European allies to do the same.
Instead of Europe’s security, Washington will use its increased defense budget to buttress its global hegemony, which will be exploited to support Washington’s various maximum pressure policies, including slapping more tariffs on European products.
Washington is holding steady in asking Europe to pay more for NATO, and through NATO the US can continue to control Europe. Not just Europe, Trump wants to sell the position of “US ally” in other areas.
The US’ alliance system, the largest globally, constitutes an important foundation for the US hegemony. US allies feel their alliance with Washington enhances their security. Yet the US hegemony cannot exist without the alliance system. In this sense, the US needs its allies as much as they need the US. European countries are likely to make concessions over Trump’s tough requirements, but this will spoil him. In fact, it is US allies that have coddled Washington to become so insolent today.
Trump must be dealt with by US allies. If NATO members together decline to change their portion of the defense budget, it will be a heavy blow to Washington’s arrogance and make it possible for the world to resume peace. Trump dare not withdraw from NATO. But does Europe dare to confront the US? The prospect is dim.