Just the Facts

Five Facts on the NATO Summit

By No Labels
July 11, 2018 | Blog

World leaders are meeting in Brussels, Belgium today for the annual North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit.  The summit comes in the midst of several public disputes between President Trump and numerous world leaders over issues such as trade and defense spending.  Here are five facts on the NATO summit.

NATO was established on April 4, 1949 as a political and military alliance between 29 North American and European countries

Its members include the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. It was created as a response to increased Soviet aggression in the wake of World War II.  Since the end of the Cold War in the late twentieth century, NATO has taken on tasks around the world to ensure security for its members. One of the core tenets of NATO is Article 5, which states that an attack against one member of NATO is an attack against all members.  The only time Article 5 has been invoked was following the 9/11 attack on the United States.

The main topic of concentration at the summit is defense spending and burden sharing— an issue on which President Trump has consistently voiced frustration

In addition to negotiations on defense spending, world leaders will discuss NATO’s role in the fight against terrorism.  In a recent announcement, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that leaders had agreed on a Canadian led anti-terrorism training mission in Iraq. Additionally, NATO members are expected to adopt the Readiness Initiative, or The Four Thirties: “To have by 2020, 30 mechanized battalions; 30 air squadrons; and 30 combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days.” Finally, NATO is expected to formally invite Macedonia to become the 30th member of the alliance.

The NATO guideline for defense spending is 2% of a nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

NATO is based on the idea of a collective defense, thus in the event of an attack it is essential for all countries to be able to pull their weight.  In response to imbalanced defense spending from member countries, NATO leaders at the 2014 Wales Summit urged each country to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Allied countries are also encouraged to spend 20% of their defense budget on equipment. However, there is no penalty for not meeting these guidelines.  As of 2017, only 6 countries—the United States, Greece, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Romania, and Poland—all meet the 2% threshold.  The U.S. spends by far the most on defense, allocating 3.6% of its GDP to defense.  The next closest country is Greece, which spends 2.32% of its GDP on defense.

President Trump’s most vocal criticism of NATO stems from the imbalance in defense spending

In a recent statement, the president stated, “many countries are not paying what they should…and frankly, many countries owe us [The United States] a tremendous amount of money.”  Today, he asked member countries to double their defense spending from 2%  of GDP to 4% of GDP.  While the President characterizes NATO defense spending as a bill owed to the United States, it is in fact simply a pledge that each country agrees to spend a certain amount on its own defense capabilities.  Trump, however, is not the first president to criticize the spending of other NATO allies. In April of 2016, Former President Barack Obama criticized NATO allies: “I’ll be honest, sometimes Europe has been complacent about its own defense.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to support NATO with an overwhelming bipartisan majority

This nonbinding motion passed with a 97-2 vote just hours after President Trump’s arrival in Brussels. The measure, proposed by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI),  expressed America’s support for NATO and called on U.S. envoys to NATO to reaffirm U.S. commitment to the organization and its mission.

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