The Skeptics

Trump Chases the NATO Burden-Sharing Unicorn

Hagel’s speech and other calls for greater burden-sharing have had only limited impact. Four alliance members now meet the target agreed to at the 2006 (!) summit to devote at least two percent of annual GDP to defense, up from two members at the time of his speech. But that is still an anemic effort, and it notably does not include such key powers as Germany and Italy. Moreover the slight increase in the military effort of NATO’s European members has been drowned out by the calls for the United States to do much more—to station heavy armor and the most modern military aircraft on Russia’s western flank. On balance, allied free riding is as bad as ever.

That’s why Trump’s calls for greater burden-sharing are a fatal distraction. Americans have been chasing that unicorn for decades, and it is past time to recognize the chase for the futile quest it is.

NATO is thoroughly obsolete in any case. As I have written on other occasions, it was created for a very different world and it no longer serves America’s interests. Instead of considering U.S. withdrawal as a regrettable, “fall back” option if his burden-sharing proposals fail, Donald Trump should embrace withdrawal as the preferred option for an intelligent twenty-first-century foreign policy.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at The National Interest, is the author of ten books and more than 600 articles on international affairs. He has written several books on NATO, including Beyond NATO: Staying Out of Europe’s Wars (1994) and NATO Enters the Twenty-First Century (2001).

Image: Slovenian troops in NATO exercise ALLIED SPIRIT IV, Germany. US Army photo, public domain.