On Point: A Trump NATO? The 3% Solution

by Austin Bay
July 10, 2024

On July 8, Reuters reported Belarus and China were conducting joint military exercises a few kilometers from the Belarus-Poland border.

No one sane would associate the exercise's code name, Falcon Assault, with peace-keeper training.

Poland also borders Ukraine, which is due south of Belarus. In February 2022, Russian tanks and mechanized infantry positioned in Belarus attacked Ukraine's capital, Kyiv.

Poland, however, is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO, the most successful military alliance in world history, turned 75 this year. This week, Washington hosts NATO's annual summit.

Which brings us back to Falcon Assault and Chinese forces maneuvering near a NATO border.

If it's meant to be a disruptive publicity stunt, it's a stupid stunt. Take it for what it is: a confident regime propagandist's show of force on NATO's eastern flank.

In a mid-June speech, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, "China is the main supporter of Russia's war efforts in Europe."

Stoltenberg has done the math. China's sanction-skirting appetite for Russian energy pumps Russia's war treasury, purchasing North Korean artillery ammo, Iranian drones and mercenary infantry from Africa and Central Asia.

Two decades (seven if you count Tibet) of misbehavior demonstrate Communist China has little regard for borders. Beijing's air and naval forces routinely intrude on Taiwanese and Japanese air and sea space. Chinese naval paramilitary forces joust with Filipino forces over shoals. In 2016, the Hague arbitration court ruled China illegally exploited the Philippines' maritime exclusive economic zone. Lawless Beijing ignored the ruling.

Poland's border differs from the Philippines' and Ukraine's.

Call it the NATO difference.

An attack on a NATO nation (direct attack on its territory or its "forces, vessels and aircraft") triggers the NATO Treaty's Article 5. While Article 5 doesn't automatically commit members to direct combat, it does mean an aggressor will in some form or fashion be at war with all 32 NATO member nations.

That's the deal that won the Cold War. One for all and all for one. The Three Musketeers Clause.

NATO is a deterrent alliance, which distinguishes it from most other historical alliances. NATO's deterrent nature means active relations and commitments continue even in the absence of a war. In fact, no war is NATO's goal.

NATO has bullets. Sample statistic: Of the 28 aircraft carriers on the planet, 18 belong to NATO nations. NATO backs the battlefield with beans and banks. In 2023, the 32 current NATO nations, with roughly 10% of the world's population, had a combined GDP of $46 trillion -- about 45% of total global GDP.

But there's the rub.

Stoltenberg addressed it in his June speech. To paraphrase, in 2014 when NATO members promised to invest 2% of GDP in defense, "only three Allies met that mark" (U.S., Britain, Greece). In 2018, some 10 members reached 2%. But "I can already now reveal that this year more than 20 Allies will spend at least 2% of GDP on defense."

I'll add this: The 2018 increase came after former President Donald Trump demanded Canada and Europeans reach the 2% threshold. For some reason, major media choose to portray Trump's policy as destructive rather than a savvy way to boost collective NATO defense spending -- for the good of all. International defense relationships are akin to business relationships. They are based on common interests and mutual trust supported by real-world transactional acts demonstrating trust.

Two percent is really a bare minimum. The Ukraine war, Iran's various proxy army attacks and China's threats in the western Pacific are very real, and current Free World military capacity has not deterred the aggressors. NATO and other U.S. allies need to modernize, and in some cases, rebuild their military capabilities.

If you want peace, prepare for war. The maxim is attributed to Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal -- but Plato mulled the idea.

If they want peace, for the next 10 years NATO nations and their Pacific allies must spend 3% of GDP on defense. Current U.S. defense spending? About 3%.

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To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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