The NATO and US-President Donald Trump

Which role does the defence spending play?

The last NATO-Summit was very important, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has found itself in a crisis for some time. This was triggered by US President Donald Trump, who is a critic of the NATO and even described it as obsolete in the past. His main criticism concerns the defence expenditures of the other NATO-states, which was also his primary focus on the last summit. Even with the decision of 2014 to raise the defence spending to two percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the respective member states until 2024, US-President Trump asked for higher contributions for the year 2019. At some point he even wanted a raise to four percent.

Germany is in the centre of his criticism, because it would spend billions in Russian gas, which would make it a captive of Russia. On the other hand Germany would not be ready to increase its defence budget for the NATO. In summit circles, the demand for an immediate increase of the defence budget was interpreted as an indirect threat of the USA to start acting unilaterally in the matters of defence. This would pose a huge threat to NATO. However, the demands of US President Trump contradict the final summit declaration, which is in line with the already decided increase to two percent of the GDP by the year 2024.

At the press conference after the summit, US President Trump announced that an agreement for higher contributions had been reached and would total between 33 and 40 billion. The French President Emmanuel Macron on the other hand, emphasized that the target of two percent of the GDP until 2024 would still be the benchmark to reach, while the German Chancellor Angela Merkel kept quiet on this issue.

Despite all the worries, experts feel, that the summit went relatively well. Nevertheless, former US-diplomat, Nicholas Burns, argues that the behaviour of US President Trump did a lot of damage to the NATO. However, it would be important to emphasize, that the NATO is still finding great support in the US population and politics. There would be demands for increasing defence spending of the NATO-allies, but no demands for a US withdrawal from the alliance.

Experts judge the NATO as unable to act efficiently with Donald Trump as US President, because for Trump, the NATO only plays a minor role in the US defence-policy. This is underlined by US withdrawals from other multilateral forums. For the NATO itself, there are three different scenarios. The first one would be a US withdrawal from the NATO. This would have devastating consequences for the remaining member states, since the US provide the strategic important nuclear umbrella. However, experts consider this scenario as unlikely. Even if US President Trump pleads for a US withdrawal from NATO, it would have no significant consequences as long as the congress does not agree with the President. The second option would be a development of NATO, according to Trump’s ideas. The consequence would be that the US would stop meeting their mutual assistance obligations. The US already put pressure on the other member states under this aspect. The last scenario would be, that NATO would finally tame US President Trump. However, Trump would need to recognize, that the US would also benefit from NATO. Even if the US could defend themselves alone, experts do not rule out the last scenario.

According to experts, the EU should focus less on NATO, but more on cooperation in Europe herself, when it comes to the development of a defence strategy. Considering military criteria such as troop strength, operational capability and budget volume, this would be a realistic option.