Twenty-nine world leaders are meeting in Brussels this week for a NATO summit in the midst of U.S. President Donald Trump's letters condemning some leaders for not financially contributing more to the organization.
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was created by 12 European and American countries in 1949 to monitor the now-demolished Soviet Union after World War II. Although the Soviet Union no longer exists, the NATO now works as a political organization, also focusing on efforts such as battling terrorism.
The U.S. currently spends about $2 billion annually on the organization, meaning it provides 22 percent of the cost to fund it. The U.S. spends the most but is also the largest country in the organization. Recently, the president misleadingly tweeted, "By some accounts, the U.S. is paying for 90% of NATO, with many countries nowhere close to their 2% commitment." This is simply not true. While many countries have fallen short of their 2% of GDP commitment, asserting that the U.S. is paying 90 percent is deceitful.
Trump has consistently expressed his financial frustrations with NATO, tweeting on Tuesday morning, "Getting ready to leave for Europe. First meeting - NATO. The U.S. is spending many times more than any other country in order to protect them. Not fair to the U.S. taxpayer. On top of that we lose $151 Billion on Trade with the European Union. Charge us big Tariffs (& Barriers)!"
Trump, who is attending the summit, has said other NATO members should be paying the U.S. back for the years they have failed to make their payments. Furthermore, he once told the Washington Post that, "NATO was set up at a different time." This negative rhetoric, both on the historic nature and economic front, has led some to believe Trump is considering leaving the organization.
And, on the surface, the desire to leave the organization makes sense. Not only does it seem a good choice economically, it also bolsters Trump's America First policy. Trump is known for being unfriendly with allies and leaving unions like UNESCO and the Paris Climate Accord. His administration has done this in an effort to seem as if they are putting America's interests first, and NATO may be the next target in this endeavor.
But this decision would have consequences. The U.S. isn't paying more for NATO without reason; it's known as the economic and militaristic superpower of the west partly because of its financial investment both domestically and abroad. Leaving NATO wouldn't destroy this persona entirely, but it would lessen the prestige of the country's military.
Leaving NATO could also lead to the whole organization falling apart. Because of the U.S.'s integral diplomatic role, its absence could make the organization's importance drop, and with a substantial new financial burden, other countries may not be willing to pay the gap Trump would leave.
Supporters of a NATO exit tend to believe that it's not any of the U.S.'s concern if it dismantles, but it would mean that countries, for the most part, would communicate less with other countries and only be able to rely on themselves for military responses. Former US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder told Vox that this inward focus would lead to instability.
"And in a world in which everyone is looking out for themselves and no longer cooperating, suspicions, and fears will go up, which will lead to more defensive measures and perhaps even conflict. So it would create a much more unstable situation overall," Daalder said.
Believing that Trump's strong arm rhetoric towards NATO stems from a goal to appease Russian President Vladimir Putin is not a crazy idea. Trump's attacks on NATO come less than a week before he meets with Putin. Russia is far from being an ally of NATO, given that the country is the successor state to the Soviet Union. NATO has tried to make amends with Russia, but as the organization said itself, "NATO remains concerned by Russia’s continued destabilizing pattern of military activities and aggressive rhetoric, which goes well beyond Ukraine."
And it seems Trump cares more about his, as the Hill called it, "bromance" with the Russian leader. The Trump administration does not try to avoid seemingly suspicious activities from the public, as seen in the decision to meet privately with Putin next week. The meeting will further the ties Trump has with Putin and lead to more confusion among international leaders about their relationship.
To leave small treaties or organizations is easy to do with very little backlash, but to leave an internationally important organization that has existed for 69 years is a defiant statement. Leaving could desperately hurt relationships with other countries already impacted by Trump's leadership, whereas choosing to stay may be worth more than any dollar figure the U.S. pays to keep NATO alive. Although a departure is unlikely anytime soon, we can likely expect an unpleasant appearance at NATO if Trump’s rhetoric continues.