May 23, 2017

NATO Allies Should Not Be Judged on Defense Spending Alone

By Jim Townsend and Rachel Rizzo

Last week, President Donald Trump embarked on his first big wave of foreign travel since his January inauguration. For Europe-watchers, the most anticipated event during this trip will be Trump’s first meeting with NATO heads of state and government in Brussels on May 25. On the docket for the day will be a tour of NATO’s shiny new headquarters, and a dinner serving up discussions on counterterrorism, burden sharing and other important topics. While this meeting may not be as long or as jam-packed with deliverables as usual NATO Summits, just having the meeting is consequential in and of itself. But for the president, Trump will likely hone in on one specific issue: European allies meeting the 2 percent of GDP target for defense spending.

For transatlanticists, increasing alliance defense spending is an issue on which all agree. But the issue is broader than just how much nations spend on defense. The issue is burden sharing, namely, is the burden of a common defense equally shared among the allies? The definition of burden sharing is not agreed among all, and each nation has its own narrative describing how it help carry the burden. But that wider definition of burden-sharing should be the context within which Trump judges how well allies are carrying their fair share of the load, not just how much they spend on defense.

Read the full article in The National Interest.