Trump Jolts Europe Awake

Trump Jolts Europe Awake
Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne division walk across the tarmac at Green Ramp to deploy to Poland at Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, N.C., on Feb. 14, 2022. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)
Anders Corr

Love Trump or hate him, like him or feel “meh” about him, one thing is undeniable. He is perhaps the only U.S. president—and definitely the only presidential candidate—who forced the Europeans to sit up, take notice, and increase their defense spending.

The Europeans would have preferred to spend the money on free health care and university education for all, but instead, they are strategizing about the perfect mix of moderate increases in their defenses, below what they promised to NATO, paired with flattery of former President Donald Trump, to keep the United States in the alliance and providing free security to Europe should he win the presidency this year.

There are some points about NATO spending that get too little attention. Yes, the 2 percent of GDP minimum defense spending is spoken of, and the atrocious track record over the years of European partners and Canada is front and center. Only the United States and Poland are out in front of the problem at more than 3 percent.

Most Eastern European countries that see the beast up close and personal are spending above 2 percent. That at least gets us to a line of defense at the border with Russia.

Strategic depth, however, is lacking. Our Western European laggards are many. They include, according to July 2023 NATO data cited by Newsweek, “France (1.9 percent), Montenegro (1.87 percent), North Macedonia (1.87 percent), Bulgaria (1.84 percent), Croatia (1.79 percent), Albania (1.76 percent), the Netherlands (1.7 percent), Norway (1.67 percent), Denmark (1.65 percent), Germany (1.57 percent), the Czech Republic (1.5 percent), Portugal (1.48 percent), Italy (1.46 percent), Canada (1.38 percent), Slovenia (1.35 percent), Turkey (1.31 percent), Spain (1.26 percent), and Belgium (1.26 percent).”

Even if all these slackers finally reach 2 percent defense spending to a country, should their years of underpayment, which arguably landed us in the geopolitical mess we are in today, be forgotten? Or should their arrears be made up in the future and with interest?

President Trump has said that the Europeans owe America. How much do they owe, and when will they pay? Should we expect them to pay for the entire cost of rebuilding Ukraine, for example, which is arguably due to their own negligence?

We could use the money right about now, given that the U.S. debt is reaching unsustainable, exponential levels of growth, and wars seem to be brewing not only with Russia, Iran, and Yemen but also with China, North Korea, and Venezuela. This entire barbarous lot is rattling their sabers in a synchronized beat. It isn’t a dance party they have in mind. It’s more of a dinner party. A huge cauldron is boiling; they all look hungry and have big, toothy grins, and we are the main attraction.

Until Europe, Japan, and South Korea spin up their defenses, the world still relies on the United States for the provision of security. It’s a public good; we provide it, and we get little in return other than a bunch of grousing from China and its lackeys about neocolonialism and American hegemony. The proof is in the non-hegemonic pudding when we grouse back that we would prefer our allies to have their own and better defenses. That is not the attitude of a hegemon or would-be hegemon.

So when President Trump ups the ante by telling a major European power, as he recounts, that not only would he not defend them if they don’t pay the 2 percent, but also he would encourage Vladimir Putin to do anything he wants to them, Paris, Berlin, and Brussels take notice. President Joe Biden said the former president was un-American. Apparently, it’s un-American now to pay attention to our national debt and where the money is leaking uncontrollably to the point of sinking our ship of state.

Nothing Washington has done to encourage Europe to pay its share over the decades has worked. I still remember the Europeans regularly sunning themselves and drinking espresso in their speedos on base in Afghanistan while American soldiers under the NATO flag suited up to go outside the wire and get blown up by IEDs day after day. The budgetary equivalent happens every year with Europe’s defense spending shortfalls.

President Trump even threatened to leave NATO if the Europeans didn’t pay their fair share. It didn’t work. Now, he is going too far rhetorically, perhaps, but it’s the kind of tough love that parents give their children when they fail to brush their teeth: The boogie man’s gonna getcha. I’m gonna tell him to getcha.

Telling European children this is arguably much better than their getting cavities (though some child psychologists would disagree). Telling NATO that we will encourage Mr. Putin to attack is arguably much better than his actually attacking—with all the death and destruction that would entail—because Europeans failed to deter. In fact, Mr. Putin has already attacked because of Europe’s lack of defense spending and failure to use the defense capabilities it already bought. Had they put boots on the ground in Crimea in 2014, they could have nipped the Putin problem in the bud, and he might not have attacked again in 2022.

The reality is that our European allies have been sleeping for decades, and President Trump has been sent by America’s taxed-to-death “deplorables” to wake them up. The boogie man is at your door. We’re busy deterring China, North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela. At the very least, brush your teeth, Brussels. Deal with one global threat, at least, while we cover the rest. Wake up before you’re dead. Drink espresso, but for Pete’s sake, put some clothes on.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).
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