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What Trump Gets Wrong About EU Defense

Donald Trump is not the first US president to demand that European countries spend more on their own defense, but he is the first to ignore the value of America's alliances. In fact, with NATO’s European pillar recently strengthened, the US will have an even more reliable defense partner.

MADRID – The annual NATO summit this month was the latest installment in a long series of disagreements between US President Donald Trump and America’s European allies. At last year’s summit, Trump refused to affirm the principle of collective defense under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty – the keystone of the transatlantic alliance. And, after derailing a G7 summit last month, Trump added further tensions this week by refusing to utter even the mildest criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin at their Helsinki meeting.

At last week’s NATO summit in Brussels, Trump not only persisted in demanding that all NATO member states immediately spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense; he also suggested that this spending should eventually reach 4% of GDP. The latter proposal is a non-starter, not only because of the budgetary sacrifices it would entail, but also because it would create significant military imbalances on the continent. At 4% of GDP, Germany’s military budget would be around €40 billion ($46 billion) more than that of France.

At a time of growing international volatility, it is essential that we Europeans defend ourselves from scurrilous attacks and uphold our many collective achievements. But that is not to say we should avoid self-criticism. Trump’s 2% demand is neither unfounded nor unprecedented: previous US presidents have also called on European countries to increase their defense spending. In 2014, NATO member states that were not spending 2% of their GDP on defense committed to do so by 2024. Yet, despite notable progress, it is fair to say that some countries are still far from reaching that target.