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Taking Trump Seriously About NATO

WARSAW – A Donald Trump presidency would be a catastrophe for NATO and the West. Aside from threatening to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement and to start a trade war with China, Trump praises Russian President Vladimir Putin and suggests that America should not honor its commitment to defend its NATO allies unless they pay more for that protection.

Although Trump’s chances are slipping away by the day, the European Union should consider his candidacy a wake-up call regarding its own defense. The EU’s total GDP is slightly higher than America’s, yet it contributes only 25% of NATO’s defense budget, while the US accounts for 72%, and Canada and Turkey supply the rest.

If Russia attempted a conventional incursion into NATO territory, and was defeated, it might consider launching a nuclear first strike in Europe. After all, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia has not ruled out the offensive use of nuclear weapons. In such a scenario, America’s nuclear umbrella would amount to Europe’s only credible protection. But if the US retaliated against a Russian nuclear strike, it would risk facing a Russian counterstrike on its own territories or forces. Such is the grim logic of mutually assured destruction.

Why should the US risk so much for a continent that gives short shrift to its own conventional defense capabilities? This is not an unreasonable question to ask, and where previous US presidents have feared to tread, a populist demagogue has rushed in.