Update: One look at the 'family' photo and it's clear there are a lot of 'gaps' between these alliance leaders...
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President Trump is, rightly, stirring the pot in Europe today, reportedly demanding that NATO leaders increase their defense spending targets from 2 to 4%, according to the Bulgarian president.
“President Trump, who spoke, raised the question not just to reach 2%, today, but set a new target – 4%,” Bulgarian president Rumen Radev told reporters, according to Reuters, citing BNR public radio.
“NATO is not a bourse a which one can buy security. But yes, on the other hand, President Trump is right, as each country should build its effective capabilities, and the unwillingness with which Bulgaria spends money on defense is obvious.”
As a reminder, US only spends 3.57% of GDP (which is the most), and as one French official noted, "it wasn’t a demand, rather just a mention.".
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders confirmed that:
"During the president's remarks today at the NATO summit, he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of 2 per cent of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to 4 per cent," Sanders said after the closed-door meeting of NATO leaders.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was reluctant to endorse such a move.
“I will focus on what we have agreed and we have agreed that we committed to the pledge increasing defense spending to 2 percent,” he told reporters. “And let’s start with that. We have a way to go.”
"We do have disagreements, but most importantly, we have decisions that are pushing this alliance forward and making us stronger," Stoltenberg said.
"At the end of the day, we all agree that North America and Europe are safer together."
And then President Trump doubled-down on his earlier shot at Germany:
"Germany, as far as I'm concerned, is captive to Russia because it's getting so much of its energy from Russia," Trump told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a fiery on-camera exchange that was among the harshest in the history of the post-World War II alliance.
"We have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars that's being paid to the country we're supposed to be protecting you against," Trump said, referring to European purchases of Russian natural gas.
Blasting "What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?"
Trump then returned to the broader NATO membership, asking "Why are their only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade."
Trump ended with ALL CAPS: "Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025."
What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy? Why are there only 5 out of 29 countries that have met their commitment? The U.S. is paying for Europe’s protection, then loses billions on Trade. Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 11, 2018
As a reminder, NATO members agreed in 2014 to spend at least 2 percent of their respective GDP on defense by 2024. The goals are also for each country's own defense budget, not payments into the alliance.
One glance at the current spending levels and it is clear that Trump is right.
You will find more infographics at Statista
As we noted previously, Trump is quite right that America’s NATO allies, particularly Germany and Canada, don’t spend enough on defense. Germany is reported to have less than twenty operational tanks. Canada’s armed forces appear to be smaller than the New York City police department.
But the Europeans ask, ‘defense against whom?’ The Soviet Union was a huge threat back in the Cold War when the mighty Red Army had 55,000 tanks pointed West. Today, Russia’s land and naval power has evaporated. Russia has perhaps 5,500 main battle tanks in active service and a similar number in storage, a far cry from its armored juggernaut of the Cold War.
More important, Russia’s military budget for 2018 was only $61 billion, actually down 17% from last year. That’s 4.3% of GDP. Russia is facing hard economic times. Russia has slipped to third place in military spending after the US, China and Saudi Arabia. The US and its wealthy allies account for two thirds of world military spending. In fact, the US total military budget (including for nuclear weapons and foreign wars) is about $1 trillion, 50% of total US government discretionary spending.
In addition, Russia must defend a vast territory from the Baltic to the Pacific. The US is fortunate in having Mexico and Canada as neighbors. Russia has North Korea, China, India, the Mideast and NATO to watch. As with its naval forces, Russia’s armies are too far apart to lend one another mutual support. Two vulnerable rail lines are Russia’s main land link between European Russia and its Pacific Far East.
You will find more infographics at Statista
Trump’s supplemental military budget boost this year of $54 billion is almost as large as Russia’s entire 2018 military budget. As for Trump’s claim that Europe is not paying its fair share of NATO expenses, note that that Britain and France combined together spend more on their military forces than Russia.
In Europe, it’s hard to find many people who still consider Russia a serious threat except for some tipsy Danes, right wing Swedes, and assorted Russophobic East Europeans. The main fear of Russia seems concentrated in the minds of American neoconservatives, media, and rural Trump supporters, all victims of the bizarre anti-Russian hysteria that has gripped the US.
Still, it all seems smiles in Brussels for now...