Asked about NATO in Cleveland during the Republican convention in July, Trump complained many NATO nations “are not making payments.” Could NATO members expect the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? asked reporters from The New York Times. Trump responded: “Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”
Whether Trump will submit to NATO deployments could be tested early on: Responding to Moscow’s continuing show of force, NATO heads of state in July agreed to move troops to positions along Russia’s border in 2017. The multinational battalions will be led by Germany in Lithuania, by Canada in Latvia, by British commanders in Estonia, and by the United States in Poland.
Russia could act in some way to counter the defensive buildup. Miller said he expects likely flash points to be the three Baltic nations, though Romania and Poland are also possibilities. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are important, said Miller, because they are the only NATO member states that were formerly republics of the Soviet Union.
According to Miller, “The United States should treat them with the same importance as France, Germany and the United Kingdom. If the NATO Article 5 guarantee isn’t enforced for the Baltics, it won’t be enforced anywhere, and NATO is dead. The Baltics are the test case for the solidity of the security guarantee.”
Article 5 enshrines the collective defense requirement at the heart of the treaty. NATO has only invoked it one time: On the evening of Sept. 12, 2001, less than 24 hours after Islamic terrorists attacked the United States on 9/11.
TWELVE HEADS OF STATE, including President Harry Truman, signed the pact creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949. More than 36 million Europeans had died in World War II (more than half of them civilians), and the continent was awash in refugees and orphans. Half a million people were homeless in Hamburg, Germany, alone.
Beyond resisting Soviet aggression, the pact’s original signers hoped to stave off the kind of militant nationalism that gave rise to Hitler’s Germany. For the United States and Canada, NATO participation represented an acknowledgment that the Atlantic Ocean was not bulwark enough against global conflict. As NATO’s first secretary general, Lord Ismay, put it, the strategic objective was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.”
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, NATO grew to encompass 28 nations, including 10 former members of the Warsaw Pact, the communist alliance that faced off against NATO in the Cold War years. With expanded membership, it reset the alliance’s mission. At the end of the Cold War, NATO agreed, the world faced “complex new risks to Euro-Atlantic peace and security, including oppression, ethnic conflict, economic distress, the collapse of political order, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 proved that mission’s foresightedness, and NATO members led intervention in Afghanistan to deny al-Qaeda a base of operations.
Critics, including some Republicans, have agreed with Trump that NATO partners should increase their defense spending toward the alliance. Military expenditures as a percentage of a country’s economic output vary widely across the 28 members of NATO, which includes some of the oldest armies in the world but also some of the newest—like Slovenia, which became a country in 1991 and a member of NATO in 2004.
The NATO guideline calls for members to spend an average of 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. While the United States spends nearly 3.6 percent of GDP, Germany spends only 1.2 percent of its GDP on defense. But since 2014, military expenditures by European members and Canada have increased by 3 percent, or $8 billion, according to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.