Make NATO great again: How Trump negotiated NATO military budget in Brussels

Author : Serhiy Sydorenko

Source :

The new US president needed a victory, and he got it
22:48, 29 May 2017

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The first meeting of NATO leaders after the election of Trump, at the end justified the most of expectations. Including negative expectations.

- Trump refused to directly mention the US commitment to collective defense, so NATO leaders had to find at least some hints on it in the actions of the US president;

- These actions alone were scandalous;

- Ukraine was not among the priority issues but some countries brought our issues back for discussion;

- The main result of the meeting was expected victory of Trump in the struggle for the redistribution of costs for transatlantic security. Until the end of the year, all members of NATO must submit their plans to increase defense spending.

Although no words about the amounts sounded at a meeting in Brussels, the US president can easily count the results of a meeting as his victory. Immediately after his election to the presidency Trump began to put pressure on other NATO members, requiring increasing their defense spending - and, in fact, had every reason for such pressure.

In the Alliance it has long been the rule that the defense budget of each Member State shouldn’t be below 2% of GDP. But (just as long), almost all allies ignored this principle.

For many years the transatlantic security guarantee, in fact, was the US Army.

Since the days of the Cold War NATO members on both sides of the Atlantic gradually reduced their spending, but the US military has always spent super-high costs.

In 2009, more than half of European NATO members spend on defense less than 1.6% of GDP, and the US - 5.29%. In 2014 only two European countries performed rate of 2% of GDP, half of the countries’ spending was not higher than 1.2%. For comparison, the US figure at the same time were 3.51% (here and below we use the data from Alliance official statistics).

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This situation completely satisfied Europeans, and did not cause a strong protest and the White House. Thus, in 2014 the Alliance agreed to increase defense spending, and even started this process, but not because of America, but due to Russia's actions.

Trump decided to radically change the situation.

The new US president needed a victory, and he got it.

On Thursday evening, speaking to the media after the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that member countries agreed to increase defense spending. Without the numbers, but with dates. All allied countries whose defense spending is now less than 2% by December must submit to the headquarters their schedules of reaching this indicator. Then, in February 2018, those plans should be approved (or, possibly, corrected) at a meeting of defense ministers.

Money for equipment

The second component of the agreement, increased defense budget should not be spent for various purposes but for upgrading the army.

On the initiative of the US Alliance remembered another fiscal condition, which in recent years has remained on the periphery of attention. NATO has a long-standing rule that at least 20% of the budget should go for the purchase of military equipment.

In fact, almost all the armies of the Alliance prior to the act of Russian aggression spent the budget for today’s needs of the army - the lion's share went to the needs of military personnel. In 2012-2013 there were only four NATO countries that fulfilled this standard. In subsequent years, more and more countries have started to invest in new equipment.

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Incidentally, in this indicator States was also always on top.

Over the past eight years, only three Allies - the US, Britain and Turkey - always or almost always performed this standard. And now Trump promises further upgrading of the American military.

It is easy to guess what will be the Moscow's reaction to it.

At the press conference of Stoltenberg, where he officially announced the increase in defense spending and mandatory increase of allies’ costs for upgrading, Russian RIA Novosti agency raised the question of how Brussels will explain it to the Russian authorities and whether Alliance considers that it forces Russia to the arms race.

The anticipated question received a clear answer - no, Alliance does not think so; in addition, Russia has started these actions first. Stoltenberg said that NATO had to react, "when it sees that Russia is ready not only to strengthen defense spending, but to use military force against its neighbors".

"Nobody thought about the possibility of directing the four battalions at the eastern border of NATO's until the actions of Russia, the illegal annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine," - said the Secretary General, recalling that a key principle of the Alliance is the principle of collective defense.

Hints of guarantees

Media already reported that the main intrigue of the meeting was related to a Trump’s speech during the opening of obelisk dedicated to the victims of September 11 attack and the so-called "fifth article of the Alliance’s Washington Treaty”, which was used only once in the history of NATO - the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This article identifies key principle of collective defense: an attack on one NATO member is considered an attack on the entire alliance.

Within six months after winning the election Trump hasn’t mentioned the fifth article - either in public speeches or in negotiations with NATO. So, guarantees that the US will not hesitate to protect, for example, the Baltic states in case of an attack never sounded from him.

NATO, of course, adds that the US commitment is already obvious, but Trump’s reluctance to confirm this was somewhat embarrassing.

The fact that Trump opened a monument dedicated to the fifth article, gave some hope, but it didn’t happened. In Brussels speech, the US president did not mention the principle of collective defense.

And there was no press conference of Trump after the meeting so other politicians had to comment his "silence".

Stoltenberg suggested that for Trump it is not necessary to speak - "his action, as he opened the Memorial" is already the sufficient signal.

Polish president Andrzej Duda found a more interesting explanation - in his opinion, the presence of US troops in Europe, means that the US already protects other countries from aggression. "Earlier there were no NATO military units in the Soviet bloc, now they are there. This is the fifth article implementation", said the Polish leader (though this is not true, Art. 5 is activated only when formally recognized attack on one of Alliance takes place).

Either way, the ambiguity in the relationship of the United States and European NATO members remains.

Although we cannot exclude that in fact the cause of confusion is the personal features of Trump. The US president has repeatedly argued that he is not like other politicians, and in Brussels he again demonstrated this.

We are talking about his speech with the usual for Trump, but strange for such rank politicians words (like this: "... murderers and extremists - losers. Yes, they are losers!")

It is about naive and arrogant behavior of the president - as in the episode where he pushed Prime Minister of Montenegro, in order to go forward, and was far from ideal tact in dealing with the president of Lithuania.

The world in general and the Alliance in particular entered a new era – the era of Trump. Now too much will be different from things European political elite has got accustomed to, and this should be taken as fact.

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