On Thursday, the president of the United States threw into crisis mode the military alliance America has led since the aftermath of World War II, reportedly threatening his fellow NATO leaders in an emergency meeting that if each country didn't start spending at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense by January, he would “do his own thing.”
“What good is NATO,” Donald Trump had asked the day before, while attending a meeting of the alliance in Brussels, if Germany is buying billions of dollars worth of gas and becoming more dependent on energy from Russia, the very country NATO is designed to deter? “The U.S. is paying for Europe's protection, then loses billions on Trade,” he tweeted.
But while Trump couched his criticism in terms of dollars and cents, it's actually not, to quote Jessie J, about the money—at least not entirely. It's fundamentally about his genuinely radical way of thinking about allies.
If the president's problem with NATO was only about money—about more equitable “burden-sharing” among allies, as Trump's NATO ambassador told reporters in a recent briefing—he might have refrained from repeatedly exaggerating the imbalances in NATO contributions. He might have claimed victory this week in Brussels for spurring Canada and NATO's European members to commit to an additional $266 billion in military spending by 2024, even if that leaves some countries short of the target 2 percent of GDP. Or he might have stuck to the 2-percent goal in Brussels, rather than abruptly informing stunned European leaders that he would now like them to spend 4 percent of their GDP on defense—more than the United States itself presently devotes to its military.