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Trump could be right about NATO


The word is that The Don is getting fed up with NATO. For a start, the European members (including the UK) are not pulling their weight in terms of spending or capability. We are effectively getting a free ride on the back of America’s (expensive) might. Trump is also struggling to see the point of it, with the Cold War being pretty much over and the US having increasing commercial interest in the growing markets off its Pacific coast as opposed to the stagnant ones across the Atlantic.

He’s right about the money and the capability. US defence spending ($610billion, 3.1 per cent of GDP) dwarfs that of the rest of the world and NATO (top spenders France, $58billion, 2.3 per cent GDP and UK, $47billion, 1.8 per cent GDP). What does the US get? In the past, it was securing freedom and containing communism, with the Europeans spending far more and providing a battlefield. China was (arguably) part of the communist bloc and no one had invented the BRICs or Asian Tigers, so the US was also defending its primary export markets (and flogging them lots of weaponry). But that ain’t the case any more.

At the same time, NATO has somehow managed to incorporate undefendable countries (the Baltic States), pushing costs up and credibility down (is the US really going to risk nuclear war over Estonia?) Worst, the treaty’s area is constrained to the North Atlantic when the current set of military hotspots (aside from Ukraine) are in other parts of the globe. This means that NATO members can’t be compelled to support the US – and given the lamentable lack of military capability in the European members of NATO (including the UK), even if they deigned to support the US they would not add much value. The UK is particularly diminished in US eyes following the Afghanistan and Iraq debacles, and understandably so.

In summary, the US finds itself committed to spending huge sums to enable it to defend European countries which lack the will to defend themselves and lack the obligation and ability to assist the US outside the NATO area. It’s entirely reasonable for a President to ask where is the benefit to the US taxpayer? There is no compelling answer.

Be under no illusion, if the US leaves NATO it is finished. While some in the EU would see the answer as turning it into a European alliance, that is shuffling paper and doesn’t produce the military credibility, particularly as we’re leaving. And there would be the little matter of finding some $200billion per year across Europe to produce the hardware.

Mrs May has just pledged a further £20billion a year to the black hole that is the NHS, presumably on the basis that someone painted that number on the side of a bus. Rather than prioritising prolonging the lives of pensioners (which is what the NHS mostly does) at the expense of the young, she could have committed to expanding our defence capability substantially (first duty of government and all that) and possibly preserved US involvement in NATO – as well as giving us and our global trading partners enhanced capability to maintain peace. Just £10billion would have done a huge amount.

But then, when has she ever made the correct choice?

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Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell
Patrick Benham-Crosswell is a former Army officer who has spent the last 30 years in commerce. He is the author of Net Zero: The Challenges, Costs and Consequences of the UK's Zero Emission Ambition. He has a substack here.

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