The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance will celebrate its 75th anniversary at its summit in Washington, D.C. in July. Since 1949 it has been the beating heart of the transatlantic partnership, and a vital force uniting the United States, Canada, and our allies across the Atlantic. With the recent accession of Finland, the alliance today has 31 members, which will increase to 32 with Sweden expected to formally join soon.
Today NATO remains the bulwark that holds back the Russian bear on its eastern flank and keeps in check the imperialistic ambitions of Vladimir Putin’s murderous regime, amply evident in its brutal invasion of Ukraine. Its role is vital in the defense of Europe in the face of Russian aggression. Without NATO the brutal reality is that Russian forces would very likely today be marching into the Baltic States, and directly threatening Poland, Germany and other U.S. allies in Europe.
Now, NATO must also evolve to be increasingly prepared to stand up to the immensely growing threat posed by China and the genocidal regime in Iran. While NATO’s focus in its first 75 years has overwhelmingly been on the threat posed by Moscow, the specter of Communist China and a nuclear-armed Iran loom large on the horizon.
This week’s drone strike on U.S. forces in Jordan by an Iranian-backed militia group which claimed the lives of three U.S. servicemen is a stark reminder of the deadly threat that Tehran poses. And NATO’s critical role in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States demonstrated that the alliance must also be ready to combat the wide array of Islamist terrorist movements that seek to threaten the West, from al-Qaeda to ISIS.
The United States has a significant national interest in supporting and strengthening the NATO alliance, which has been the beneficiary of a significant investment by U.S. taxpayers. A secure Europe and a robust transatlantic alliance, including the U.S./U.K. Special Relationship, advances the security of the American people. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher noted in a speech in 1991 to the Foreign Relations Council of Chicago, “the United States needs friends in the lonely task of world leadership.”
However, to sustain the alliance, America’s NATO allies must be prepared to step up to the plate, and fully participate in burden sharing with the U.S. The Russians clearly view NATO as weak and divided and are increasingly willing to test its resolve. President Biden claims the alliance is “more united than ever,” but we need to see real material unity and not just rhetoric. The next U.S. presidency must apply concerted pressure on America’s allies to do far more to foster partnership rather than dependency.
This cannot be a two-tier alliance, where the United States carries the overwhelming military load for the defense of the free world. Last year, only 11 NATO members spent the 2 per cent of GDP on defense (Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, the United Kingdom, and the United States) agreed to almost a decade ago—and almost two years after Putin invaded Ukraine. This is unacceptable. It leaves the alliance dangerously vulnerable when it should be projecting strength and resolve.
Not only should every NATO member invest the minimum agreed level of spending on their own defense, but they should also aspire to match the current U.S. level of 3.5 per cent of GDP. Justin Trudeau’s Canada, for example, spent only 1.29 per cent of its GDP on defense in 2023, a shockingly low figure for a nation with the 10th largest GDP in the world. Germany has pledged to increase defense spending to 2 per cent of GDP in 2024, but after decades of reckless underinvestment, the world’s fourth largest economy should be doubling that investment if it is serious about defending its own borders from a potential future attack by Russia.
At the same time the U.S. cannot allow NATO to be undercut by grandiose Parisian visions of a European Union army that would split the alliance and divert vital resources away from NATO missions. One of the biggest threats to the future of NATO is posed by French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent calls for greater “strategic autonomy” for Europe, moving away from the United States. Macron, who has dismissed NATO as “brain dead,” offers a reckless vision of a European future that is increasingly detached from the transatlantic alliance, and which clearly benefits the West’s adversaries, especially China and Russia.
The next U.S. administration must be crystal-clear in rejecting the hugely flawed idea that Europe’s security must rest upon delusional ideas of a militarily powerful EU, which would replace NATO nation-state cooperation with Brussels-imposed supranationalism. Macron’s dangerous rhetoric is exactly what Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping wish to hear. Weak-kneed Joe Biden has done nothing to reject this approach. His successor in the White House must confront the machinations of Macron and the Eurfederalists and declare that NATO and the transatlantic alliance is the only vehicle for the security of Europe.
The role NATO plays today is as crucial as it has ever been. The strength and breadth of the NATO alliance is the most powerful deterrent in the world to the forces of tyranny and barbarism that threaten the United States and our partners. As it has done since World War Two, the U.S. must lead. But its allies must stand with it, both in word and deed. That must include a renewed commitment to rebuilding Europe’s militaries, and a willingness to fight for and defend NATO territory, and confront adversaries that threaten our security, including those in Asia and the Middle East.
This piece originally appeared in The Telegraph