The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is a bit like the National Health Service. It is a sacred cow to whom the nations of the Western world must irrevocably commit, and like the NHS any threat to or reduction in the effectiveness of NATO is met with almost condemnation.
Recently Mr Trump pointed out the disparity between defence spending by various NATO members. NATO guidelines call on nations who are members to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product (their gross incomes) on defence. The USA actually spends 3.61% on defence; poor and impoverished Greece spends 2.38%; the UK manages to spend 2.21% followed by Estonia’s 2.15%. Poland spends its 2%.
However NATO protects more than these nations. The remaining members all spend less than 2%; in the cases of Germany, well protected by NATO, it only spends 1.19% and Turkey 1.56% whereas Italy spends 1.1% and Canada, Slovenia, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg each do not quite spend 1%.
Now the basis of NATO is that an attack on one member is an attack on all members, but the figures show that it is perfectly clear that many very prosperous nations like Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg do not spend their club membership dues but benefit from the expenditure of other, often poorer nations.
“No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defence of Western values, Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do,” Mr Mattis, the US Defence Secretary told NATO Defence ministers. He is right. There is no reason why Greece should spend more per capita on defence than Germany where both nations expect to be protected by the NATO defence umbrella. It is noteworthy that the members of NATO that are also of the members of the European Union would vehemently oppose any member of the EU seeking to pay less than the applicable fees. Germany would not allow any other member of the EU club to pay less than it owed, yet is quite happy to be in a club to which it does not pay the whole club subscription yet gets all the benefits. Inside Germany, it does not allow universal access to its health service unless a person has paid up all the insurance fees.
All this avoids a more important question – where does the threat to NATO come from? Certainly, in my view not the Russian Federation, even though it is fashionable to decry Russia in view of its annexation of the Crimea but Ukraine is not a member of NATO and is not entitled to protection. I doubt that there is any threat from the other major nations of the world including China, India and the like. The only possible potential threat of armed conflict seems to come from North Korea, and although terrorism is a real threat it cannot be countered by NATO. Perhaps in these circumstances we should do some hard thinking about the need to maintain NATO in its present format.