PETER O’CONNOR Staff Columnist email@example.com
“A new struggle for Europe is under way and the U.S. may well end up on the wrong side” Perhaps President Trump should listen more carefully to his Secretary of Defense on the subject of NATO. Far be it for this Gold Leaf to question a Four Star. Some of you know that I am not always in agreement with our flag and general officers. I’m not so sure that they have always served the presidents well. In a piece in the Journal William A. Galston suggests that the President might listen to his new SecDef. (Trump Should Listen to Mattis on NATO, Wednesday, January 18, 2017).
Galston opines, “Many of us hoped that as Donald Trump approached his inauguration, his campaign rhetoric would give way to more considered judgments. His Jan. 15 interview with the Times of London dashed that hope.”
More: “In the interview, the president-elect called NATO ‘obsolete’, as he did during the campaign. His evidence: The alliance ‘wasn’t taking care of terror’. This statement is false. In the aftermath of 9/11, fighting terrorism in Afghanistan became NATO’s principal military activity, and it is now helping train the militaries of Middle Eastern countries to fight terrorism in their neighborhood.
Mr. Trump also asserted, as he did many times during the campaign, that most members of NATO ‘aren’t paying their fair share.’ This too is false. A formula based on per capita income and other factors determines members’ contributions to collectively conducted NATO activities. Of the current year’s NATO budget, the U.S. pays 22.1%, compared with Germany’s 14.7%, France’s 10.6%, and Britain’s 9.8%. If the formula were based on gross domestic product, the U.S. would shoulder a bit more than half the overall burden.
It is true that the U.S. spends a much larger share of its GDP on defense than do our NATO allies. But this reflects our global commitments, not the burden of NATO. It is also true that only four allies – the U.K., Poland, Greece and Estonia – now meet NATO’s guideline of spending at least 2% of GDP on defense, and it is reasonable to ask others to close the gap. But this standard should not be confused, as Mr. Trump always does, with direct contributions to NATO, of which the U.S. pays less than one-quarter.”
Galston continues in The Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Trump was also asked whether he supports European sanctions against Russia. He ducked the question, suggesting that the sanctions could be used as leverage for a new nuclear arms reduction treaty.
This misses the point. The sanctions came in response to naked Russian aggression against Ukraine. If Mr. Trump is willing to trade them away for progress on nuclear weapons, he will be signaling that if Mr. Putin compromises on core U.S. concerns, he will have a free hand in Eastern Europe, whatever the consequences for our allies.”
To the point on the President listening: “Before he goes down this road, the president-elect should sit down with Gen. James Mattis, his choice for Defense secretary, who last week told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, ‘The most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with [in] Mr. Putin’, who is trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance.’
Gen. Mattis believes this would be a huge setback for American interests because NATO is the ‘most successful military alliance in modern world history, probably ever.’
And he insists that its core mission of unifying Europe against the Russian threat is anything but obsolete:
‘There’s a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively and in an increasing number of areas where we’re going to have to confront Russia”
William Galston concludes, rather strongly: “Only ignorance and myopia can explain a policy of weakening ties with our European allies, and nothing can justify it.”
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