Donald Trump ran for president on a platform that called to return the United States to the top of the world order. His international decisions have had the opposite effect.
America’s global role as the leader is being threatened by the president’s comments regarding allies, especially those in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Commonly known as NATO, the organization was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1949 as a response to a powerful Soviet Union bearing down over Europe. Currently, there are 29 members in NATO. The reason NATO is so unique compared to other international organizations is its collective security.
The fifth article of the treaty states that an attack on one member country is treated as an attack on all, causing other members to come to the aid of an attacked country. This is the top priority of NATO.
Article V has only been invoked once — by the United States after the attacks on September 11, 2001.
In early 2019, President Trump said, addressing other members of NATO, “You have to step up and you have to pay.” He has continued to push the idea that while the United States may remain committed to the mission of NATO, other countries must pay a proportional amount to the United States.
However, with the way NATO is designed, the president’s comments on the role of other members are misguided. By stating that the other members of NATO aren’t paying their fair share for defense, President Trump is missing the point of NATO.
For the entire length of the Cold War, NATO stood as a defense against a Soviet advance into Europe. Even immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, former Warsaw Pact members were welcomed into NATO to weaken Russian influence in Eastern Europe. Those new NATO members saw great benefits because of it.
Today, members of NATO certainly do not pay an amount of money proportional to the defense they receive. Because of this, many Americans, such as the president, have called for NATO allies to pay the United States for the global security it provides.
What this perspective ignores are the unseen benefits that are paid to the United States in lieu of money.
First, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has acted as a way for the United States to remain at the top of the international order. This military alliance further solidifies a position of power that allows the United States to protect its national security interests.
Second, NATO allies are more likely to have more free and unrestricted trade. This promotes cooperation between these nations as the economic prosperity is shared.
Third, the United States profits when other countries adopt governments like its own. The United States’ greatest export is the Constitution, and NATO is the premier organization for that because it was “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.”
If America’s leadership is persistent in requiring monetary compensation for America’s role in NATO, then NATO will lose its effectiveness. The president’s views on NATO allies overlooks the various indirect benefits the United States receives from it.