NATO support cuts both ways

Why should Americans pay more to defend our European allies than taxpayers in most of their countries are willing to bear?

That — not whether Washington should abandon NATO to the not-so-tender mercies of Russian leader Vladimir Putin — is the question President Donald Trump has been asking since before he took office.

Yet to hear the outcries from several European capitals, you might think Trump is ready to stab NATO in the back.

Comments made by Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis during visits to Europe have been widely reported as reassuring the Europeans of our continued military support. But that never really has been in question.

Both men made it clear Trump is not planning to end U.S. participation in NATO. His comments during and after the election campaign have focused on the unfairly high proportion of NATO support paid by American taxpayers.

Both Pence and Mattis emphasized while in Europe that the issue of paying for NATO is not going away.

It should not. Only five of the 28 countries participating in NATO spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense. They are the United States, Great Britain, Poland, Estonia and Greece.

Many of the other NATO members prefer to devote their resources to social programs that, not incidentally, are aimed at keeping ruling regimes in power.

Trump’s question — and that of many other Americans — is simple: Why should Americans have to agonize more than many of our allies over the old “guns or butter” question?

NATO officials have agreed the 2 percent defense spending level needs to be reached by all member nations by 2024. Trump, along with leaders of the four other responsible nations, should demand the deadline be pushed up.


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