United States Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump have repeatedly criticized European nato members for not paying their fair share on military expenditures. President Obama agreed with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg’s description of European nato members as “free riders.” “[W]e expect others to carry their weight,” Obama said (April 2016).
“nato is costing us a fortune,” President Trump told the Washington Post in March 2016. “And yes, we’re protecting Europe, but we’re spending a lot of money. Number one, I think the distribution of costs has to be changed.”
Both presidents refer to a 2004 nato agreement where members would aim to contribute 2 percent of gross domestic product toward national military expenditures. But the agreement is informal, so the majority of countries spend less than 2 percent and thus bear a smaller share of the financial burden.
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (sipri) data on military spending for 2016 showed only 4 out of 28 nato members spend more than 2 percent of their gdp on the military. Clearly, one would think, U.S. presidents have a point about Europe’s lack of defense spending. Europe needs to pull its own weight, so the thinking goes. The Middle East and Russia are Europe’s neighbors—not America’s. Europe should protect itself instead of asking America to watch its back.
But there is a danger in this thinking. Even without spending 2 percent of its gdp on the military, Europe is a superpower—a superpower of military, economic and diplomatic capabilities.
What would be the consequences of America relinquishing its role as the protector of Europe? How powerful would the militaries of European nato states become if they all paid their 2 percent dues? If America encourages Europe to take on a larger role in its own defense, will it develop a Frankenstein monster in Europe? Should America think twice about encouraging Europe to pay its “fair share” and defend itself?
According to sipri’s 2016 data:
- If underpaying countries began reaching the 2 percent threshold, total European nato military spending would rise from $254 billion to $328 billion.
- In comparison, U.S. military spending in 2016 was $611 billion, China’s was $215 billion, and Russia’s $69 billion.
- If Germany spent 2 percent of its gdp on defense, its military spending would parallel Russia’s, $69 billion.
Herbert W. Armstrong’s signature prophecy, proclaimed as early as 1934, was of a “coming ‘United States of Europe’—a new united superpower perhaps more powerful than either the Soviet Union or the United States!” (letter to Plain Truth subscribers, July 24, 1983). Germany would be the leader of this united Europe, just as it is today.
The European Union is already the most powerful political union next to the United States. Its population is larger than the United States and its collective economy produces more goods. Raising military spending to the 2 percent threshold would give this European superpower over half the U.S. defense budget. President Obama’s claim that America spends “more on [its] military than the next eight nations combined” becomes irrelevant.
America’s role of protector of Europe has had success for 70 years. Now, American presidents want Europe to do more. The problem is that, in the end, they’ll get much more than they expected.