What is NATO and why is Donald Trump slamming it?

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s broadsides against NATO have rattled a military alliance that has existed for 69 years and that has helped to define the global order since shortly after World War II.

But the organization has endured internal tensions and conflict throughout its history, and Trump isn’t the only modern president to raise questions about the reliance of European nations on U.S. defense spending.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 as Europe was still reeling from the devastation caused by the war. With an eye toward communist expansion aided by the Soviet Union, the U.S., Canada and 10 other nations decided a system of collective defense was in every members’ best interests. 

A centerpiece of the treaty, which in the U.S. was signed by President Truman, is the Article 5 provision requiring member states to come to the aid of their allies in the event of an attack.

The provision was invoked only once, in support of the U.S. after the 2001 attacks.

NATO has since grown to 29 member states that, according to the organization’s website, are committed to “guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.”

The organization is headquartered in Brussels, and summits are generally held every year or two.

While historians have credited NATO with unifying Western democracies during the Cold War, the organization has faced internal struggles in the past. France formally pulled out of the group’s military command in the 1960s, angering the U.S., and then rejoined again in 2009.

Trump, who ran on a platform of putting “America First,” has a long history of questioning U.S. involvement overseas. And throughout his presidency he has railed against NATO members for not contributing more to their own defense.

Though his rhetoric has been sharper, he’s not alone in the assessment. Speaking at a press conference shortly after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, President Obama said he was concerned “about a diminished level of defense spending among some of our partners in NATO.”

Months later, NATO members pledged to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. So far, only five countries are meeting that goal — the U.S, the United Kingdom, Greece, Estonia and Latvia — but the others have noted they still have several more years to meet the target.

The U.S. spends the highest share of GDP, at 3.5 percent, and Luxembourg spends the lowest, at just over half of 1 percent. 

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