Trump’s May 30 statement via Twitter on Germany pretty much sums of his ignorance about NATO and military spending:
“We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change”
Put aside the fact that, while visiting Brussels, he attacked Germany car companies for selling many cars in the U.S., even though many are produced in the U.S., or the fact that trade provides Americans with products at more affordable prices and is generally good for the economy.
Forget that America has a population 4 times that of Germany, and a larger GDP per capita, and thus would be expected to purchase more products from Germany than Germans purchase from the U.S. (Four people with more money can afford more than one person.)
What is notable about this tweet is that Trump doesn’t seem to know how NATO funding works. It’s an ignorance he has displayed in the past. While meeting with Merkel at the White House earlier, he handed her a fake bill. After that press conference, he said Germany “owes vast sums of money to NATO and the United States.”
Implicit in his construction and his claim that Germany owes the U.S. money is that he thinks NATO allies pay the U.S. for their defense.
The fact that Trump is constantly unable to convey coherently is that the vast majority–23/28 countries–don’t meet a 2 percent of budget on GDP guideline that was adopted in 2014 after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Increasing defense spending of NATO countries has also been a goal of past presidents. Trump could just as well attack France, Estonia, Canada, or any other of many countries, but he set his sights on Germany specifically in many of his statements.
But Trump appears to think that NATO is based on members “paying” the US rather than spending money on defense. Even in his tweet, he said Germany “pay[s] FAR LESS.” Countries don’t pay for a military budget. They spend money on a military budget. Germany doesn’t spend enough to hit the guideline.
And what do they not spend enough on? In Trump’s tweet, he said, “NATO & military.” Two distinct things. What he meant was military. NATO members pay into NATO’s budget–not America’s budget, but NATO’s budget–and there is no indication they aren’t paying their obligations. What they can arguably be critiqued for, as noted, is not spending enough on their own militaries to present deterance to Russia. But by presenting NATO and military together as separate things, Trump is suggesting that not only does Germany not spend enough on its military–it also doesn’t pay its obligations directly to NATO, which isn’t true.
Nor is America losing any money because of Germany or others not spending more on their own militaries. The United States spends a lot on its own military because it wants to be a powerful nation. It has commitments all over the world, and the past two presidents, Bush and Obama, have both intervened in the Middle East.
Trump even demanded $50 billion more for the military at a time when he is trying to cut most of the discretionary budget. To believe that Germany’s relative lack of military spending means the U.S. has to spend more on defense is to believe that the U.S. would cut its defense budget if Germany increased it. Especially with Republicans, a party that supports a well-funded defense, in control of the government, that is a silly proposition.
In fact, the only time Article 5 has even been invoked was when the U.S. was attacked by al-Qaeda on 9/11 and subsequently invaded Afghanistan. NATO also took part in the intervention in Libya, another effort involving the U.S., along with Britain and France, which didn’t have anything to do with NATO’s original purpose*. Should the U.S. “pay” Europe for its help in Afghanistan?
*That NATO has never had to engage in military defense of Europe may speak to its effectiveness as a deterrent.