The New York Times reported late Monday that President Trump discussed pulling the United States out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), citing anonymous administration officials.
“There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years,” the Times says in breaking the old news that President Trump has floated the idea of pulling out of NATO.
A predictable mass of #resist media figures, politicians, pundits, and television personalities have responded by declaring that the president’s internal deliberations amount to a criminal act and an obvious impeachable defense. Others have cited the president’s reported comments about NATO as clear evidence that he is a Russian agent.
This is all nonsense. Now is a great time to debate NATO’s future. Politicians and media pundits who say otherwise — and use the “but Putin!” veto — are not serious thinkers and fail to recognize the realities of our changing world. Here’s why:
NATO may have outlived its purpose
NATO was founded in 1949 for the purpose of stopping communist expansion backed by the Soviet Union and its satellite states. The Soviet Union has been destroyed, and Russia, though a nuclear-armed state, does not present a global threat equivalent to that of the USSR.
NATO has not stopped our current NATO allies from cozying up to Vladimir Putin’s regime. In fact, Germany, France, and other NATO allies have been all too eager to embrace the Russian president and bolster economic ties with Moscow.
The United States has remained steadfast to NATO. We are not the problem. Our European allies (plus Canada and Turkey) have failed to live up to their commitments to NATO. All too often, the U.S. is shouldering the entire burden of the NATO alliance.
Sure, Russia may be better geopolitically positioned if NATO ceases to exist. But to accuse President Trump of being a Russian agent because he has been frustrated by the weaknesses of NATO is the height of absurdity. The U.S. president should always prioritize the American citizen, not make decisions solely based on whether or not the move is good or bad for Russia.
Our NATO allies are failing to live up to their defense obligations
Perhaps President Trump’s biggest frustration with NATO is the reality that our supposed partners have been taking advantage of the U.S. commitment to the alliance. The president is right when he says the NATO status quo is screwing over American citizens. The United States taxpayer is on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars of military spending each year, a lot of which goes into maintaining global stability. Yet our wealthy European allies largely fail to contribute their fair share to defense spending.
Only five NATO member states (the United States, United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland, and Greece) met a two percent or more defense spending threshold in 2017. Other NATO members, such as Germany, Spain, Italy, Canada, and many others have not even come close to meeting their defense obligations. Worse, some countries won’t even consider enacting a real plan to get to two percent. Berlin claims to be taking NATO seriously, floating a plan to get to 1.5 percent by the middle of the next decade. That’s not nearly enough for the wealthiest nation in Europe, which has prioritized social welfare programs over defense.
The president has successfully leveraged NATO allies to do more
While the media commentariat is shouting from the rooftops that President Trump is surely a Russian agent and must be impeached and convicted of criminal activity for discussing NATO’s merits, the commander in chief has actually forced our NATO allies to become more accountable to NATO’s mission.
In July, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg announced that he expected eight countries (up from five in 2017) to meet the two percent defense spending threshold in 2018.
Without President Trump constantly banging the drum on this issue, there is simply no way our NATO partners would find the initiative to bolster their defense spending.
POTUS has long been a skeptic of the NATO alliance.
The New York Times report is hardly a bombshell. The president has viewed NATO as an “obsolete” institution or one that needs massive reform for many years. In 2016 foreign policy campaign debates and through his tenure as commander in chief, President Trump discussed at length NATO’s weaknesses and used these shortcomings to demand more from our NATO allies.
NATO may rope us into unnecessary conflict
When a NATO member invokes Article 5 of NATO’s collective defense agreement, all NATO member countries are asked to join the country and contribute military forces to this effort. Now, given the reality that the Turkish regime under President Erdogan is a NATO member, is the United States prepared to join one of the world’s leading pro-terrorist regimes in a bombing campaign against our Kurdish allies?
That is not a mere hypothetical. Erdogan has openly declared that he has considered invoking Article 5 over the conflict in Syria.
Moreover, as a NATO member, Turkey has privileged access to highly sensitive information that is shared by our allies. Turkey has already abused this privilege and threatened to disclose the positions of U.S. special operations forces operating in the Middle East.
What does the Constitution say?
Does the president have the unilateral authority to pull us out of NATO? This is where it gets tricky. Unlike the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord, NATO is a treaty that was ratified by the Senate. The Constitution does not say anything about leaving treaties. Past Presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush have unilaterally withdrawn from treaties, but the Supreme Court refused to take up the case in both instances.
The bottom line
Our NATO partners are not living up to their defense commitments, and the U.S. picking up the tab for rich European countries is placing an enormous burden on the American taxpayer. Given the situation with an increasingly radicalizing Turkey, NATO could potentially entangle the United States in a conflict that is against our interests. Questions about NATO’s purpose in the 21st century are absolutely fair game for debate. NATO “allies” are embracing our adversaries and failing to hold up their end of the bargain.
And a final reminder: There is zero evidence of Russian collusion. People who use the president’s NATO comments as proof that he is a Russian agent are not playing with a full deck. There is zero evidence that President Trump has any ties to Russia, unless you count a proposed hotel deal that ended up going nowhere. The collusion delusion must end, so that we can get back to having discussions about real American foreign policy priorities, which includes debating the future of NATO.