Hopefully, we won’t be distracted by “concerns” over separated immigrant families as the southern border or Justin Bieber’s engagement to pay attention to what could be a huge week in terms of the geo-politics of Europe. President Trump is off to the continent to discuss the future of NATO–and how he thinks it should operate going forward.
The President’s main beef is that the US covers seventy percent of the military budget for NATO. Other member countries are required to spend at least two percent of the their gross domestic product on defense–but only four of the 29 are currently meeting that threshold. That “underspending”–and subsequent US funding to cover any shortfalls in NATO’s budget–has been a key to the growth of Socialism in Europe.
Living under the protective wing of the United States, countries across Europe have built huge “nanny states” with government-funded health care, secondary education, mass transit, and housing–the types of things you can spend money on when you don’t have to build warplanes, missiles and patrol the oceans in nuclear powered aircraft carriers. In a way, the US has helped to subsidize those social programs since the end of World War Two.
For several generations, there were calls on both sides of the Atlantic to reduce American military presence in Europe. Remember the protests when the US placed short-range nuclear weapons near the Iron Curtain under President Reagan? And there have been protests in the streets here about how the US doesn’t need to “extend its military presence around the world”. But should President Trump come back from his NATO summit this week saying that soldiers are being brought home, that installations will be dismantled and that air and sea patrols will be scaled back and there will be cries of betrayal from all quarters.
It doesn’t help that immediately after throwing down the gauntlet with our friends in Europe, Trump plans to meet in private with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. You know that Trump will be more than happy to brag about how Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron begged him not to pull US funding for NATO and how they kissed his feet and promised to start paying their fair share. And Putin will sit there and smile, knowing the enormous social and economic upheaval that would mean for nations that have grown fat and soft under the US’s protection.
The seeds of major conflict are always strewn across European soil. Let’s hope the President doesn’t spread too much manure when he is over there this week.