Defenders of NATO are fond of calling it “the most successful alliance in history.” That’s a great talking point and NATO did witness the collapse of its chief opponent, the Soviet Union, without ever going to war.
But that occurred 27 years ago. Since then, NATO’s contribution to our national security is much less apparent.
NATO was founded in 1949 when Europe was still destitute from World War II, and the Soviet Union looked poised to invade. Today, Europe has a high-tech economy of about $17 trillion, more than 10 times the size of Russia’s. Clearly Europe has the means to take primary responsibility for its own defense. Meanwhile, we need to focus on deterring an increasingly capable and dangerous China as well as managing other threats like Iran and North Korea.
But some European leaders don’t see it that way. In response to criticism by President Donald Trump about defense spending and trade, the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, said: “Dear America, appreciate your allies, after all you don’t have that many.”
What this ingratitude shows is that Europe’s political class takes American taxpayers for granted. They want to spend their money on infrastructure and luxurious social systems while Americans make sacrifices for their defense. If Europeans see serious threats, they should make sacrifices too. Would we ask Europe to pay for the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border?
Successive American presidents have complained that the current arrangement isn’t fair, and NATO members have long pledged to spend more on their defense. They will do so again today, but they never seriously deliver.
It’s time to restructure NATO fundamentally. America should remain a partner, but we should move most of our forces home, or to the Pacific to deter China. Europe should take primary responsibility for its own defense.
Christian Whiton was a State Department senior adviser in the Trump and Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest and the author of “Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War.”