Europe’s top security officials are scrambling to make the case that NATO is more than a system for fleecing American taxpayers even as President-elect Donald Trump is insisting that "America first” will be the guiding principle of his foreign policy.
NATO’s top official took the highly unusual step over the weekend of issuing an indirect warning to Trump, saying that any retreat from NATO would up end a nearly 70-year security pact that has helped keep the peace in Europe.
"Going it alone is not an option, either for Europe or for the United States,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg wrote in a commentary Saturday in The Guardian newspaper.
During the campaign, Trump repeatedly questioned the value of the alliance and the cost of America’s continued participation.
Although the U.S. gross domestic product and the combined GDPs of NATO’s other 27 members are nearly equal, America’s defense spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the alliance’s total military expenditures. During the campaign Trump warned the alliance that this discrepancy was unsustainable and that those allies who did not "reimburse” the United States would not be able to count on America’s military help in the future.
"When I look at the world and you look at how various places are taking advantage of our country, and I say it, and I say it very proudly, it’s going to be America first,” Trump said on "60 Minutes” in his first interview since the election.
With Trump’s overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump has said he hopes to improve relations, some allies have expressed concern that the U.S. will shift away from deterrence measures in the Baltics and Poland that have infuriated Moscow.
Russia’s 2014 intervention in Ukraine prompted a sweeping reappraisal by the U.S. regarding the security situation in Europe. After years of military downsizing in Europe, the Pentagon has moved more rotational troops, tanks and artillery to the Continent, and top U.S. military commanders have called Russia the top security concern.
NATO has embarked on its largest reinforcement of Europe since the end of the Cold War, energizing an alliance that only three years ago was struggling to find a raison d’etre. Trump’s rise appears to have the trans-Atlantic alliance again on its heels, having to prove its relevance to a skeptical U.S. president.
"We face the greatest challenges to our security in a generation. This is no time to question the value of the partnership between Europe and the United States,” Stoltenberg said.
In his commentary, Stoltenberg offered an inventory of how NATO has helped secure U.S. and European security interests over the decades, citing European support for the war in Afghanistan. He also touted more recent efforts by allies to improve their state of military readiness, such as plans for multinational NATO battalions in the Baltics and Poland.