(Berlin, Germany) — Over the past few days, I’ve been in Berlin for a series of meetings with my 20 year old son, Jacob.
We’ve visited the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, the Pergamum Museum (housing priceless archaeological treasures from the Middle East, including the famed Ishtar Gate from ancient Babylon), and a memorial built to honor the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. We also saw a section of the Berlin Wall. Neither of us had ever been to the German capital before and I must say it’s been a bit surreal to be in a city that was once the epicenter of such evil and yet is now safe, and free, and the capital of a major American (and Israeli) ally.
In between meetings, I’ve been working on the edits of the manuscript for my latest international political thriller, The Kremlin Conspiracy, which releases next March. In that novel, a new American President faces an increasingly dangerous and volatile Russian leader who is plotting a military attack against the NATO alliance.
More on the novel in due time. For now, let me make a few comments on the actual American President and how he is handling NATO and the Russia threat.
Readers of this blog know that last year I was quite critical of then-candidate Donald Trump. One of my concerns was that Mr. Trump did not appear serious about strengthening NATO to protect America and our European allies from the grave and growing threat posed by Vladimir Putin and the Russian military. Indeed, Mr. Trump made numerous comments during the campaign highly critical of NATO. He also suggested he might not honor Article 5, the mutual defense pact that says an attack on one NATO member will be regarded as an attack on all, and that all members will come to that member’s aid.
Six months into the new administration, however, I need to commend President Trump. Pundits may criticize his tactics, but the facts are clear: the President has persuaded most NATO leaders to significantly increase their annual defense spending. He has chosen a Vice President, Defense Secretary, CIA Director, Director of National Intelligence and other senior national security officials who are serious about the threat of Russia and serious about strengthening NATO. The President has also wisely proposed a $93 billion increase in U.S. defense spending and (finally) made it clear he supports Article 5.
This is a big deal. Previous efforts by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama to persuade NATO to increase military spending failed. Indeed, for many years, defense budgets in most NATO countries — including the U.S. under Mr. Obama — were declining precipitously, even though Russian defense spending has grown 23% since 2000.
Consider the facts:
- NATO just announced it will increase defense spending by $46 billion in 2017.
- This represents a 4.3% increase.
- In fact, 25 of the 28 NATO members have announced they are increasing their annual defense budgets.
- Currently, only 5 of the 28 members spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense, even though in 2014 all the NATO members promised to do so. These five are the U.S., Greece, Estonia, the U.K., and Poland. (To see what each country spends, click here.)
- That said, Romania has just announced it will be the 6th country to hit the 2% mark, and other countries are finally moving towards that goal.
- What’s more, Latvia and Lithuania — two Baltic states who (along with Estonia) feel deeply threatened by Putin — have just announced they are dramatically increasing their defense spending and will both hit the 2% target by 2018.
“We are moving in the right direction when it comes to burden-sharing and defense spending,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.
Even Germany — whose leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been highly critical of President Trump’s insistence that each NATO member pay its fair share — has decided to increase its military budget. (see here, here, and here.)
“Germany, under fire from U.S. President-elect Donald Trump for not meeting NATO’s defense spending goal, is boosting military budgets,” reports Reuters. “German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen….said Germany was boosting military spending by nearly 2 billion euros in 2017 to 37 billion euros, or 1.22 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It is due to reach 39.2 billion euros by 2020.”
President Trump is absolutely right to call out NATO countries for making a public commitment to mutual defense spending of at least 2% of GDP yet not doing their fair share. The European countries that comprise NATO have large, modern economies. They have a combined annual GDP of some $20 trillion. They face a serious and growing threat not only from Russia but from the Islamic State and other radical Islamist terror groups. They can afford to more. They’ve promised to do more. Yet right now they are leaning heavily on the U.S., which invests 3.61% of GDP on defense spending — almost double its fair share — and is in the process of investing substantially more.
One last point for now: Radical Islam is not the only threat we face in the West. Radical Russian nationalism and imperialism may prove to be an even more serious threat, especially given that Moscow has nuclear weapons while the violent Islamists do not (yet). Thus, while I’m encouraged that the Trump-Pence administration is persuading NATO to finally move in the right direction, I remained deeply concerned that most NATO leaders are insufficiently concerned by the magnitude of the threat posed by Vladimir Putin and the Russian military. Putin has invaded and occupied parts of Georgia, Crimea and eastern Ukraine in recent years. Putin is selling arms to the ayatollahs in Iran, and has sent military forces into Syria to bolster the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a mass murderer who is presiding of the destruction of his entire country. Do we really believe Putin’s aggression has run its course? A recent study by the RAND Corporation found that the three Baltics States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) are currently so poorly defended by NATO troops that Moscow could launch a surprise attack and capture at least two of them in just 60 hours.
I will write more about such concerns in the weeks and months ahead. But given my time here in Berlin, I thought it would be worth bringing up some of these topics now.
ARTICLES WORTH NOTING:
- Trump commits to NATO’s Article 5 (CNN)
- Trump Wants Over $600B Budget for US Defense Next Year (Voice of America)
- Give credit where credit is due: Trump’s strategy to get NATO allies to spend more appears to be working (Marc Thiessen, American Enterprise Institute)
- NATO members to increase defense spending (CNN)
- NATO to increase non-US spending by 4.3 percent in 2017 (Politico)
- NATO to join the US-led coalition against Isis fighting in Iraq and Syria — NATO chief confirms European body will assist in fight against terrorism in a non-combat role ahead of summit with Donald Trump (UK Independent)
- Trump Says NATO Allies Don’t Pay Their Share. Is That True? (New York Times)
- Trump’s pay-or-else NATO comments send a chill through Europe (USA Today, July 21, 2016)
- Donald Trump’s Remarks Rattle NATO Allies and Stoke Debate on Cost Sharing (New York Times, July 21, 2016)
- Transcript in which Donald Trump warns NATO must pay their “fair share” (New York Times, July 21, 2016)
- Military spending by NATO members (The Economist)
- To pre-order The Kremlin Conspiracy, please click here.
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