For Trump to ignore such lopsided numbers and fail to forcefully press the point during this month’s summit in Brussels is simply a dereliction of duty and feckless presidential leadership.
As important as the burden-sharing issue is, there is an even more immediate imperative NATO members are confronting: what exactly is the alliance’s raison d’être in a world far more frenetic, multidimensional, and complicated than when the organization was established in 1949?
During the Cold War, NATO’s mission statement was clear and unequivocal: protect, and defend Western Europe from a Soviet invasion and ensure that any Soviet division bursting through the Fulda Gap would spur the entire alliance into action. While counteracting the Soviet Union would inevitably be a bloody affair, NATO’s members at least understood who their primary adversary was.
The Soviet Union’s dissolution, however, removed the foundation that upheld NATO’s structure practically overnight. Ever since, the alliance has been a beast in search of a mission.
Today, NATO is an overstretched alliance conducting operations as diverse as training Iraqi counterterrorism forces to rescuing stranded migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. The mission sets have gotten so unwieldy that NATO members find themselves increasingly divided about which national security issue—Russia, migration, terrorism, or cyber security—deserves the most attention. One will get a different answer depending on which government is asked.
Can NATO find a necessary, appropriate mission for today’s world? And can NATO survive if the alliance remains totally dependent on the money, military capacity, generosity, and good will of a single member—the United States?
The search for answers need not be difficult if the alliance embraces common-sense solutions.