The United States and eleven other countries established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 to counter the threats posed by the Soviet Union. The alliance has since expanded to include 29 countries. Today, long after the fall of the Soviet Union, the alliance still exists to deter mutual security threats from Russian expansion to global terrorism. The core of the treaty is Article 5, the commitment by each country to the collective defense of the other member countries. In other words, an attack on one is an attack on all. The members invoked Article 5 – for the first and only time to date – to come to the aid of the U.S. in the wake of the September 11th attacks, joining military operations in Afghanistan.
In 2014, NATO member countries pledged to increase their respective defense spending to 2% of GDP over the next ten years. The goal was to strengthen European defense capabilities in the wake of reductions in the U.S. security footprint in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The 2% metric is an imperfect indicator – some scholars have called it "barely useful" – because it only measures input without any focus on results for defense cooperation. President Trump has repeatedly complained about NATO’s cost to the United States and called the alliance "obsolete." He consistently confuses – or deliberately misrepresents – overall defense spending levels with direct spending on NATO. The US pays 22% of NATO expenses, a proportion which, based on the NATO cost-sharing formula, is tied to the relative size of the American economy. Other member countries also fulfill their assigned responsibilities for direct NATO costs.
Reports indicate that, during the closed door meetings, the President threatened to “go it alone” if members did not meet the 2% threshold by January, although both President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron disputed the President’s intentions to pull out of the alliance. After the meeting, it was reported that 3 more member countries plan to have met the 2% defense expenditure threshold by the end of the year and more than half of NATO members plan to meet it by the 2024 deadline.
On June 9, 2017, President Trump finally endorsed NATO’s Article 5, a month after he notably failed to do so in a speech at NATO headquarters. By casting doubt on U.S. commitments to the transatlantic alliance, President Trump has led U.S. allies to question American reliability and consider developing independent European defense capabilities. In response to the President's wavering, the House of Representatives passed H.R.397, which expressed the U.S. commitment to Article 5.
On November 10th, 2018 President Trump traveled to Paris for the World War I centennial commemoration. In a rebuke to Trump’s self-proclamation of being “a nationalist,” French President Emmanuel Macron decried nationalism as a “grave error.” Macron also called for the creation of a European army to reduce reliance on the United States. Following the visit, Trump unleashed a string of tweets, criticizing Macron and calling on the French people to “MAKE FRANCE GREAT AGAIN!” Observers noted that the attack on Mr. Macron was particularly problematic because it came on the third anniversary of terrorist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead and more than 600 wounded. Coming at the same time as the U.S. has threatened sanctions on European countries that do business with the Iranian oil sector, the feud illustrated the growing divide between the U.S. and our closest allies.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced S.Res.535 to affirm America's commitment to NATO and strengthen the alliance. Call your senators at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to cosponsor the resolution and take a stand for America’s international commitments. Be sure to mention that:
NATO's mutual defense compact helps deter aggression and make war less likely. The extra security and stability the alliance provides makes the world safer and less prone to conflict.
NATO is on the frontlines of staring down Putin’s Russia. This is particularly important in the wake of Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian naval vessels. When we create tensions with our NATO allies, it only emboldens Putin to take further action.
Our European NATO allies share our commitment to democracy and are some of our closest allies in the world. As the United States prepares for the rise of an increasingly assertive and authoritarian China, and undertakes new efforts to reduce global climate change, we need these democratic allies now more than ever.
What is NATO? – NATO
Fact Sheet for the Press – NATO
NATO Map – NATO
Collective Defence - Article 5 – NATO, June 2016
Brussels Summit Declaration – NATO, July 2018
10 things you need to know about NATO – NATO, February 2018
The Belt and Road Initiative: What does it mean for NATO? – The NATO Association, July 2017
Trump Security Strategy a Study in Contrasts – Council on Foreign Relations, December 2017
Assessing the Value of the NATO Alliance – Council on Foreign Relations, September 2018
NATO’s Brussels Summit: Getting From Good To Great – European Leadership Network, June 2018
NATO, the UN, and the Use of Force – Ivo H. Daalder, Brookings Institution, March, 1999
Transcript: Donald Trump Expounds on His Foreign Policy Views – The New York Times, March 2016
Former Supreme Allied Commander: Why NATO Is a Necessity – James Stavridis, Time Magazine, April 2016
Transcript: Donald Trump on NATO, Turkey’s Coup Attempt and the World – The New York Times, July 2016
On Trump’s NATO Stance – Thomas Wright, Brookings Institution, April 2017
What America Gets Out of NATO – Nicholas Burns, The New York Times, July 2018
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) – Jonathan Masters, Council on Foreign Relations, July 2018
NATO Doesn’t Need More Defense Spending – Peter Beinart, The Atlantic, July 2018