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NATO’s ‘Welfare’ States: Treating the U.S. As ‘Room Service’

NATO’s ‘Welfare’ States: Treating the U.S. As ‘Room Service’
By Pete Hoekstra

Originally Published by the Gatestone Institute.

Last month, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg conceded what former US President Donald Trump has been warning about for nearly a decade: America’s allies are not paying their fair share — as they had agreed — for national defense. After four years in which Trump held our NATO allies accountable for funding their share of NATO’s collective defense, US President Joe Biden has once again allowed many of them to pass significant burdens of NATO spending on to American taxpayers – threatening the security of the NATO alliance in the process.

The very nature of alliances is that they are a two-way street. Americans should rightly expect to realize benefits from U.S. participation in NATO, just as the citizens of other NATO nations can expect to benefit from their country’s relationship with the United States.

Indeed, that was the original idea behind the North Atlantic Treaty Organization when it was founded in 1949. In the wake of WWII, 12 nations agreed to band together to guard against the threat of the Soviet Union, a number that has now grown to 32 with the recent addition of Sweden.

The NATO alliance today, however, more closely resembles an international welfare program than a true alliance, with most countries failing to meet their defense commitments and instead relying on the generosity of the United States.

As the eminent journalist Amir Taheri put it: “others… treat the US as a ‘room service’ reachable by pressing a button…”

In 2014, every NATO member agreed to allocate just 2% of their nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) to defense spending. This minimum baseline target is crucial to ensuring military readiness in the face of growing threats from hostile nations such as China, Russia, North Korea and Iran.

A decade later, 19 out of 32 NATO member nations have failed to meet this goal. Moreover, most of those countries that have reached the 2% target, such as Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Greece, are smaller nations with smaller GDPs.

The United States, meanwhile, accounts for a staggering 70% of all NATO defense spending — even though the combined GDP of the other 31 member nations is roughly equal to that of the United States. Germany, by far the richest NATO member behind the United States, allocates just 1.57% of its GDP to defense spending.

The combined population of these 31 NATO member states, at more than 620 million, also now dwarfs that of the United States, at 333 million. In other words, each American citizen is now effectively responsible for funding the national defense of two people in another NATO nation.

The situation in Europe today is far different than at the founding of NATO, when many nations were still relying on the Marshall Plan funding to be rebuilt. Our NATO allies have highly advanced economies and immensely capable citizens. American taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize their national defense.

If NATO is to function as an effective deterrent to military aggression from Russia and other adversaries, there seriously needs to be a new commitment by every NATO member state to invest in a strong national defense. Yet, the failure of our European allies to meet their spending commitments means they are woefully unprepared from a military standpoint to defend their countries – thus endangering the United States as well as themselves by threatening to draw America into war unnecessarily because of European weakness.

President Trump wisely recognized this threat and accordingly made holding our NATO allies accountable a top priority of his foreign policy. Under his leadership, NATO member countries increased their defense spending by $350 billion.

President Biden has failed to continue the momentum Trump created. After our NATO allies’ defense spending increased 4.6% in 2020, it dropped to only a 2% increase by 2022.

As U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, in a meeting with Dutch business professionals, I would be asked about the emphasis the Trump administration was putting on the 2% number. People would remark that the Dutch had other priorities, such as healthcare, infrastructure and education. They said they considered the military threat to Europe as miniscule.

Other Dutch citizens asked at various times if Russia would really roll across the borders of Europe with tanks. They had a hard time believing that the Netherlands could ever be in danger. They seemed convinced Trump, and Americans in general, were being unreasonable, distraught and completely out of touch with the security situation in Europe.

A couple of years later, the world discovered the truth. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in fact appears extremely willing to roll his tanks into battle in Europe. After Trump was ridiculed by our NATO allies for demanding European countries do more to protect themselves, unfortunately history has proven him correct.

The United States and the world need an American president who is committed to ensuring our NATO allies share the burden of deterring conflict and attacks upon members of the alliance.

The magnificent Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, in the Netherlands, is the final resting place for 8,288 American servicemen and where another 1,722, whose names are engraved on the Tablets of the Missing, are remembered.

The Dutch have a unique relationship with the cemetery. Every American grave since 1945 has been adopted by a Dutch family. It is a beautiful recognition of the personal sacrifices made for the sake of freedom and liberty – but also a stark reminder of the horrific cost of war and of the failure to deter it.

The strengthening of the NATO alliance by insisting on burden-sharing by all the member states was a hallmark policy of Trump’s first term, and it most probably will be again if voters return him to the White House this November. All of America’s leaders also need to embrace the reality that if our allies are unwilling to do more to keep the world safe and secure, we may need to reassess the relationship we have with them, and cease being “room service.” Alliances are only alliances when the costs and benefits run both ways. Anything less, especially from the richest countries in Europe, is not only disrespectful, but an unacceptable breach of contract.

Peter Hoekstra is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute. He was US Ambassador to the Netherlands during the Trump administration. He also served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the Second District of Michigan and served as Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee.

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