NATO’s future: Let Europe bear the cost of defending Europe

For 58 of NATO’s 62 years of existence, the United States has had an ambassador to the military alliance. For many of those years, particularly the most recent ones, our man in Brussels has had a constant, overarching mission: Beg our allies to spend more on their own militaries.

Such was related to me once by one of those ambassadors. So it didn’t surprise me last week when departing Defense Secretary Robert Gates unloaded on those allies that view the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a means of outsourcing their national defense to us.

As Gates warned, that outsourcing won’t hold up forever.

The trans-Atlantic alliance, Gates said, had finally reached the long-feared gap between “those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who [only] enjoy the benefits of NATO membership.”

Of the 28 NATO members, Gates said, just five spend as much on defense each year — more than 2 percent of gross domestic product — as they agreed. Those five are America, Britain, France, Greece and Albania. Among the economic powers that don’t pass muster: Germany, Italy and Canada.

For years after World War II, this arrangement was defensible. Our European allies were vulnerable and economically devastated. We had spent much blood and treasure on two wars to preserve their freedom. Providing a deterrent to the Soviets, and a third war, made military and financial sense.

But even in those years, as Gates noted, the United States accounted for only about half of all NATO military spending. Now, well after the end of the Cold War ended, we pay more than 75 percent of the tab.

NATO has assumed nominal responsibility for security in Afghanistan. Yet, Gates said, “total European defense spending declined, by one estimate, by nearly 15 percent in the decade following 9/11.”

Perhaps that’s why, after trying hard to praise the allies for what they’ve done in Afghanistan, Gates was compelled to lament that “despite more than 2 million troops in uniform — not counting the U.S. military — NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 40,000 troops.” And that includes both support personnel and boots on the ground.

The tipping point that Gates correctly identified was the U.S. budget and debt crisis. Our national defense is one of the core duties of the federal government and, as our belt tightens, should not be cut as harshly as other functions.

But other nations’ defense?

Many Americans point to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and, now, Libya as sources of savings. While some scaling back is justifiable, a wholesale Mideast withdrawal is illogical — for the same reasons we’ve subsidized Europe’s postwar defense.

The Afghanistan mission was, for all of NATO, a recognition that the West’s collective threats, focus and priorities had shifted. Cutting spending on antiterrorism efforts makes far less sense than does asking Europeans to provide for more of the defense of Europe.

Beyond the immediate budgetary savings, there’s another benefit to insisting Europeans stand up as we stand down.

Postwar Europe is the biggest contributor to the illusion that a cradle-to-grave welfare system is affordable. But it’s precisely because we’ve been paying for their guns that their butter has seemed affordable. We have been the enablers for their grand fiction.

Americans will never know such a luxury.

To be clear-eyed about the sustainability of existing entitlements (such as Medicare) and sought-after ones (single-payer health care), we need to see that a nation can’t afford both lavish social welfare and a robust defense.

Europe will prove that — if it ever bears more of the costs of our alliance.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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64 comments Add your comment

Churchill's MOM.....Ron Paul for President

June 16th, 2011
6:29 am

Why do we waste reillions in the middle east when neither side wants peace?

Churchill's MOM.....Ron Paul for President

June 16th, 2011
6:30 am

Trillions not rillions

Joel Edge

June 16th, 2011
6:37 am

Good article.

GW

June 16th, 2011
6:41 am

Throw your momma under the bus, Kyle, and tell her you are doing it to protect her. Is that the new sales pitch for Ryan’s roadmap. There’s just no room for any cuts in that trillion dollar DoD budget. No waste, no fraud, no excess profiteering, etc. The wasteful spending is in that unconstitutionally low-profit expenditure on US citizen’s health via Medicare. It’s a travesty.

seabeau

June 16th, 2011
6:46 am

Stop the money drain train!! Stop ALL FOREIGN AID!! Get us out of the United Nations!!

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 16th, 2011
6:53 am

GW: The wasteful spending is in that unconstitutionally low-profit expenditure on US citizen’s health via Medicare. It’s a travesty.
—————-

You’re mostly correct–I’m not sure Medicare was supposed to turn a profit (for the government). Medicare spending has nothing to do with national defense or anything else the constitution says the federal government is responsible for, and it should be zeroed out.

ByteMe

June 16th, 2011
7:08 am

Medicare spending has nothing to do with national defense or anything else the constitution says the federal government is responsible for, and it should be zeroed out.

As you’d spout if someone asked you to pay more in taxes: you’re free to write a check to the US Treasury for any Medicare benefits you get. Oh, you won’t?

ByteMe

June 16th, 2011
7:08 am

Kyle, good article.

seabeau

June 16th, 2011
7:16 am

If the Europeans won’t defend themselves so what? Get us out!!

DeborahinAthens

June 16th, 2011
7:17 am

There is absolutely no reason we can’t pull all of our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. These were “wars” that had no justification, but by any twisted metric you want to apply, we accomplished whatever Dubya and his band of chicken hawks wanted to get done. In Afghanistan, it was to get Bin Laden. Though 15 of the 19 9/11 hi-jackers were from the southern part of Saudi Arabia (whose King, Bush actually kissed!) Dubya the Dummy started a half-hearted war against the miserable hell hole of Afghanistan. It accomplished nothing, but loss of good, brave men and women. Well, we have killed the target. In Pakistan. Mission accomplished. For reasons known only to him, Dubya the Dumb focused the bulk of our men, women and assets on Iraq, a country ruled by a secular dictator that could care less about Allah’s bidding. Ostensibly, though many learned people told him and Dick (the Chick) VP, and Rumsfeld the Jester, that there were no WMD, we plowed through anyway. Then, when caught with egg on their faces, they said…”ummm, no, we weren’t after WMD, we just want to remove a terrible dictator so that he can’ t oppress his people”. So we bombed the hell out of a green, fairly prosperous country in which we have spent billions trying to rebuild the mess we made, so the natives won’t “hate us”. We got Saddam, hiding in his little rat hole, he was tried, hanged. Mission accomplished. So what are we doing fighting in the Middle East? We will never, ever “fix” their problems. They are ignorant, tribal led factions that take our money and laugh at us. How many water systems, schools, power grids have we built only to have the “insurgents” blow them up? This money could have and should have been spent on our schools, our aging water systems, our aging power grids.
Dubya the Dumb made so many mistakes. The first and most fundamental one being, if you declare war on someone, you go in fighting to win. That means, you destroy everything and leave your enemy bleeding and unable to stand up to slap you in the face or ask you for more money to “fix” the damage you caused. This country doesn’t have the stomach to fight a war, because our soft populace thinks that you shouldn’t “hurt” anyone in the process. Ask the over 200,000 innocent men, women and children that the United States of American has killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last 10 years if that is a workable plan. Rumsfeld would have called it “war light” or something cool like that. Off subject a bit–it is laughable seeing the Republicans try to “sue” President Obama for assisting NATO with Libya. Where were they when Dubya the Dumb was making all of his mistakes? The other thought that comes to mind about how useless NATO is, is the fact that all of the “might” of the NATO countries can’t get rid of a tin-horn, insane dip like Quaddafi (you pick the spelling).

Name

June 16th, 2011
7:25 am

How about we quit dumping billions in Israel. That oughtta pay off some debt.

Road Scholar

June 16th, 2011
7:42 am

Kyle, good article. We are willing to help those who help themselves!

seabeau

June 16th, 2011
7:43 am

DeborahinAthens. Although I agree with the basic premise with most of your entry , do you think that the thousands of gassed KURDS were killed by talcum powder? The fact is there were WMDs, they were either destoried or well hidden. Saddam was a WMD to his own population. We do need to bring ALL OF OUR TROOPS HOME, NOW!!!

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 16th, 2011
8:08 am

How about we quit dumping billions in Israel.
——–

Another know-nothing who thinks ending foreign aid would make even a tiny dent in the Idiot Messiah’s obscene, anti-American deficits.

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 16th, 2011
8:11 am

Where were they when Dubya the Dumb was making all of his mistakes?
——-

Voting with Democrats to give our President Bush authority to go into Iraq.

Anything else I can help you with?

Carlosgvv

June 16th, 2011
8:11 am

The Military-Industrial Complex will see to it we continue to spend all those billions defending our allies. Profits and political gain mean everything to them. The U.S. budget and debt crisis means nothing to them. Money talks and BS walks.

Go Figure

June 16th, 2011
8:23 am

…as if the thought of a fully-manned German army traipsing around Europe would bring comfort to the Europeans or the rest of the world. Read the German Constitution. The German Grundgeset­z clearly stipulates that military force can be used for homeland defense purposes only. Wingfield’s next article would probably describe the threat to the world that the Germans pose.

Go Figure

June 16th, 2011
8:25 am

LBB

Democrats helped to give Dumbia the authority to invade Iraq, which he said he would use as a last resort only.

He lied. Over and over and over and over again.

jconservative

June 16th, 2011
8:27 am

Nice column Kyle.

I agree with the broad premise. The US can no longer afford to the the world’s nanny. If the Europeans choose not to defend themselves, well they can have have whatever takes over their
countries.

And while we are at it, is it OK for the US to allow the Muslim world to defend itself? Is it necessary that the US spend 6000 dead troops and over a trillion dollars to build new nations for Muslims?

Welfare by any other name is welfare. We need to end “State and Defense welfare” as we know it.

MrLiberty

June 16th, 2011
8:37 am

Hey Kyle, what if there was a candidate that not only openly and strongly advocated this position, but had been voting this way and had been promoting this philosophy for the past 30 years in congress? That would certainly be a great presidential candidate to vote for. Well of course Ron Paul has been doing that while his republican colleagues have been voting to pour more money down the foreign aid and foreign base rathole that has become our foreign policy. In addition he has been advocating getting our troops out of the other 170+ countries they are in. Yes, there is a candidate with a clue. Ron Paul 2012. End the Fed.

1961_Boomer

June 16th, 2011
8:55 am

Gates is right. The Europeans want our military bases as sources of income…. we spend lots of money in their local economies. They want our military protection to avoid paying to protect themselves. On top of this, they want CONTROL of those forces, and openly voice their opinions and disgust when we don’t use those forces in a the ways that they deem fit. In short, they demand control over the free military protection that brings money into their economies and frees them up from having to spend money on their own protection. What a deal!

UGA1999

June 16th, 2011
9:02 am

Lil' Barry Bailout

June 16th, 2011
9:18 am

Go Figure, Democrats demanded they be allowed to vote a second time, close to the 2002 election, to get on board with going into Iraq. Of course, after the poll numbers for it dropped, they started trying to spin their way out of any responsibility, being the traitorous lot they are.

Dearie

June 16th, 2011
9:23 am

Great column!

GW

June 16th, 2011
9:35 am

Check out this from Political Insider:

The debate over the federal debt ceiling was a natural topic. Donohue declared that the debt ceiling would be raised — after a tough fight.

He expressed confidence in U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “He’s growing into his shorts,” Donohue said. “He’s put on his big-boy pants.”

Donohue then addressed the tea-party contingent of House Republicans — including many Georgians — who have declared they would rather die than add one more drop to the federal sea of red ink.

Maria Saporta, who writes the Saporta Report newsletter, recorded what was came next: “We’ve got a lot of new people pounding their chests. ‘We are going to shut down the government,’” Donohue said, mimicking their language. He added, as though he was talking to them: “We will get rid of you.”

Obozonomics

June 16th, 2011
9:39 am

DeborainAthins, Yes we should bring ALL of our troops home and put them on the borders, but a band of chicken hawks is way better that a bunch of inexperienced rookies. Who else could spend a TRILLION dollars loses 1.5 million jobs, call it a success and then laugh about it. “Saudi Arabia (whose King, Bush actually kissed!)” are you homophobic, that is a greeting like a hand shake in most of the world, but bowing to him is a form of submission, so a kiss is way better than rolling over for him. Funny how you keep calling Bush Dubya the Dumb, so what do you call Obozo who not only continues the Bush policies, but expanded on them; how about Obozo the loser that would work.” Off subject a bit–it is laughable seeing the Republicans try to “sue” President Obama for assisting NATO with Libya.” What do you call the dimacrats who initiated this action, it was NOT the GOP but the dimacrats who filed this in a bi-partisan effort, why do you forget them? Funny how the liberals like you deborahinathens, do most of the name calling, is that because you don’t know what a fact is, so you resort to school yard tactics, very mature of you….

UIC

June 16th, 2011
9:44 am

Interesting. Not in the actual op-ed or in any one of the above posts is the word “oil” written. Obviously our defense spending over the last decade is because we are really concerned about how humanely foreign governments treat the citizens of their country. You learn something new everyday!

GW

June 16th, 2011
9:46 am

It looks like global warming is still there in spite of FOX New’s expert scientists best efforts to make it go away:

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/06/solar-minimum-climate/

Rob Woodall Has Always Gotten His Healthcare for Free (but Paid By You), Yet he wants your grandparents to forgo food to pay out from their fixed income for healthcare

June 16th, 2011
9:51 am

UGA1999 – What does your link have to do with global warming? Keep burying your head in the sand like the rest of the flat-earthers.

The issue shouldn’t be whether or not we are contributing to climate change (we are). The issue is whether or not there is money to be made in green technologies (there is). We can cash in or let the Chinese own the market, but the demand is there and we’re foolish if we sit back and not use government funds to dominate the market while China pours billions into it.

Kyle – Great column. We haven’t given other NATO “partners” a reason to step up. Until we do, what incentive do they have?

UGA1999

June 16th, 2011
10:00 am

Rob Woodall…..you mean like all of the leftists that believe the sky is falling. “The sky is falling the sky is falling the sky is falling” haha.

So is it climate change, global warming or a new ice age?

Hey Rob, let me ask you a question…..where do those government funds come from?

SwedeAtlanta

June 16th, 2011
10:30 am

I don’t usually agree with Kyle but he is absolutely right on this topic. As long as the U.S. continues to carry the burden for NATO, most of the rest of the members will do as little as possible. It is no wonder that many of our NATO partners are able to afford good and affordable education through post-graduate, universal health care and any number of additional services to its citizens (taking into account a much higher tax rate).

I would not, however, suggest a complete withdrawal from the global system because we saw how that worked out after the U.S. failed to ratify the League of Nations and cocooned itself in isolation. We are still the only world super-power and need to remain engaged. That engagement, however, needs to come with reasonable expectations and commitments from our global partners.

JKL2

June 16th, 2011
10:35 am

Nato would be a good start. I think pulling out of the UN would be even better. At least NATO attempts to do something good.

JF McNamara

June 16th, 2011
10:37 am

Are you sure that you have the root cause right on this?

Maybe Europe isn’t spending too little, maybe we are spending too much. We have a huge stockpile of artillery and troops and are under virtually no threat of attack.

We spend that (incremental) money because it buys us the Super Power status and all the benefits that go with it. We want imperialistic control over other nations, and we have it. We attack who we want, and we do what we want.

If our goal was to exist cohesively with other nations (as most European countries do), then we should cut our spending to the lower levels of other nations. We want to dominate, however, so we need to shut up and pony up the money.

Suppose Germany or Canada did build a military on par with us. Would that benefit us or just raise fears? Would we be able to act the way we do internationally and get away with it?

DebbieDoRight

June 16th, 2011
10:38 am

sebeau: do you think that the thousands of gassed KURDS were killed by talcum powder?

that was in the 80’s we attacked in 2002/2003……..

The fact is there were WMDs, they were either destoried or well hidden.

Another fine example of, “If you say a lie over and over someone willl eventually believe it’s the truth”. The WMD’s were all gone bye-bye by the time we attacked in 2002/3………

UGA1999

June 16th, 2011
10:41 am

Debbie….agreed.

SwedeAtlanta

June 16th, 2011
10:41 am

JKL2, while there are many, many opportunities to improve the U.N.’s overall performance, it serves many very worthwhile purposes from global health to humanitarian aid, global standards management, etc.

I participated in a U.N. program in Central Africa a number of years ago that provided much needed vaccinations, water treatment and crop management assistance. The program appeared well managed and delivered significant value for a relatively little investment.

Like NATO, however, the U.S. shares too large a share of the U.N.’s finances. I would suggest that the other members of the G-20, including China, pony up a greater share of the financing and reduce the U.S.’s share. This should have been done over the past 60 years as the U.S. share of global wealth gradually aligned as other economies recovered and prospered.

DebbieDoRight

June 16th, 2011
10:42 am

jcon: And while we are at it, is it OK for the US to allow the Muslim world to defend itself? Is it necessary that the US spend 6000 dead troops and over a trillion dollars to build new nations for Muslims?

QUESTION: When Iraq/Saddam invaded Kuwait, (in 1990), why didn’t KUWAIT fight for their oil fields, freedoms, etc?

HINT: The answer is in the question, it starts with oil and ends with fields….

UGA1999

June 16th, 2011
10:54 am

Debbie…..actually kuwait did not have the resources to defend itself. The fact is that America could not allow Iraq to invade another country and take control of their oil fields. It would have had a devisating affect on the rest of the world.

Kyle Wingfield

June 16th, 2011
11:01 am

JF: You can argue that we are spending more than we need to, but it’s hard to argue that Europe is spending enough. Asking members of a military alliance to contribute at least 2 percent of GDP each year to their militaries is not an unreasonable request.

As for Germany or Canada (or any other NATO member) catching up to us: Remember the compounding effect of all those years of our spending 4 percent of GDP or more, and their spending 1.5 percent of GDP. Not to mention that our GDP is bigger, which means equal proportional spending would still mean we spent more in absolute numbers. (If Canada, for instance, spent the same percentage of GDP on its military as we do, it would still spend one-tenth of our total.)

Paul S

June 16th, 2011
11:08 am

Good column Kyle, and I don’t agree with you a lot. Do you think we can back down to less than 1.5% of GDP? Or should we go even lower?

JF McNamara

June 16th, 2011
11:14 am

My point was that right now our position in the world seems pretty sweet. Maybe we should let sleeping dogs lie. Its not really a problem for us in the grand scheme of things, and we get a lot of benefits.

Suppose your spouse makes about half of what you do. Then on day, that spouse gets a raise and makes the same amount. Does that change the balance of power? Does your spouse now have more say in the finances?

If European countries all get larger military strength to the point that combined Europe or some combination on European countries are as powerful as us, does that change the balance of power? Why in the world would we want want that when we now tell them what to do?

MrLiberty

June 16th, 2011
11:15 am

Against the war in Iraq – check
Against the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan but in favor of getting the 9-11 conspirators – check
Against foreign entanglements – check
Against the bailouts – check
Against the empire of bases around the world – check
Against foreign aid (taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries) – check
Against the failed war on drugs – check
Against the war on hemp (has introduced legislation to relegalise commercial production) – check
Against income and witholding taxes on tips (introduced legislation to that effect) – check
Against the Federal Reserve devaluing the dollar and destroying the american economy while lining the pockets of the banksters – check
Against the Federal Income Tax (introduced legislation) – check
Against the illegal war on Libya (involved in lawsuit against president) – check

These are all Ron Paul’s stands and voting record.

Seeing all of these positions lining right up with the comments everyone is making about how bad the republicans are and certainly how bad Obama is. So why are you not supporting him?

Rob Woodall Has Always Gotten His Healthcare for Free (but Paid By You), Yet he wants your grandparents to forgo food to pay out from their fixed income for healthcare

June 16th, 2011
11:19 am

I agree with Paul S. How much of a reduction in defense spending should we make? Take it from 4% of GDP down to the median investment made by NATO?

Talk about your peace dividend.

UGA1999

June 16th, 2011
11:20 am

Ron Paul is not electable. He will never win an election.

Phil Couch

June 16th, 2011
11:33 am

You stated a “wholesale Mideast withdrawal is illogical- for the same reason’s we’ve subsidized Europe’s postwar defense”; however you gave no reason to back this up.
There is absolutely nothing you can say to back this up, and you must have known it because you did not even try..
Why do we still have troops in over 150 countries.
As was proven with the killing of Osama, it is more of an intelligence issue, rather than boots on the ground.
I support the troops, bring them ALL home. We have no reason to still have troops in Europe.

I look forward to you trying to justify troops in over 150 countries, although I am not holding my breath.

Kyle Wingfield

June 16th, 2011
11:48 am

Paul S: No, I don’t think we can or should go to 1.5 percent, and certainly not lower. Regarding Woodall’s mention of the “peace dividend”: How long did the peace last after Clinton took such a dividend? I think we can go lower than what we’re doing now, but down to even 2 percent would be too low.

JF: That’s a fair point.

Kyle Wingfield

June 16th, 2011
11:52 am

Phil Couch: I never said we should have troops in over 150 countries. And I did give my reasons for not supporting a wholesale withdrawal from the Mideast: I wrote that they were the same as the reasons we’ve (until now) subsidized Europe’s postwar defense, and I gave those reasons a few paragraphs before the line you quoted.

As for your line about “the killing of Osama [being] more of an intelligence issue, rather than boots on the ground”: Who do you think would have carried out the plan, and from where, if we didn’t have boots on the ground?

GT

June 16th, 2011
12:02 pm

I think the acid test in all the government spending is to take it away and see the damage. I think we kid ourselves we are in this for the Europeans, there is something in this for our private sector too. These are markets that would be closed off it taken over by unfriendly parties. No Coke or Ford Motor sales.

It may be a good way to bring American companies back home. We are protecting these havens that drain our corporate tax base. There is a game being played here, I just can’t tell by whom.

Logical Dude

June 16th, 2011
12:09 pm

Kyle says we need to see that a nation can’t afford both lavish social welfare and a robust defense

Sure we can! Just raise taxes on the rich (you know, the ones who can afford it)

GT

June 16th, 2011
12:19 pm

Pakistan rounded up a whole network of spies that helped the US assassinate Bin laden and are holding them for questioning. We seem to get more cooperation out of Pakistan civilians than we get out of money spent in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan. I have never understood how we can spend billions and not get equal results as these rag tag armies we spend billions to unsuccessfully defeat. Seem every endeavor the US throws money at, on the left or the right goes for not. How much money you think we spent on these spies, boots on the ground, in Pakistan compared to the money we spent looking for this guy in caves and other countries? I think they teach warfare at West Point and kind of leave the economic part for another day.