On March 25, The Wall Street Journal published a piece by Bard College professor of foreign affairs and Hudson Institute fellow, Walter Russell Mead. His piece was titled, NATO Is Dying, but Don’t Blame Trump. The first paragraph read, “Is NATO dying? The idea was once unthinkable, but after the German cabinet decided to keep defense spending as low as 1.25% of gross domestic product for the next five years it has become unavoidable. This decision is not driven by any fiscal urgency. Germany is projected to have a balanced budget after last year’s surplus of €11.2 billion, its fifth annual surplus in a row.”
After reading Mead’s assessment, I wanted to check in with the foreign policy scholar I have often referred to as The Most Important man In America You May Never Have Heard Of. Chris Preble, the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, kindly responded when I asked him for his thoughts on the first paragraph of Mead’s piece.
RCY: Chris, what is your take on the first paragraph of the article?
Chris Preble: I think it is accurate, though I disagree with Mead a bit further in the article. He says that Germany is thumbing its nose at the US. It might be more accurate to say that Germany assesses its threat environment, and is concluding, appropriately, to dedicate far less to military spending than the US does. In other words, perhaps it is the US that has its priorities out of whack? Perhaps its “crazy” to spend $700 billion on the military, as Pres. Trump tweeted, before submitting a budget that proposed to spend $750 bn.
Also, if I were a German politician, or any other European leader for that matter, and I had Americans telling me for decades that we cared about their security so much that all they had to do was pitch in a little, and Uncle Sam would do the heavy lifting, I’d do precisely what they have been doing – spend less. Indeed, that was a primary object of NATO, to ensure Europe’s dependence upon the United States for its security and thus disinclined to develop a capability of their own. We are reaping what we sowed.
You can read more of the ongoing back and forth between Chris and I in another brief Q&A I posted in March, titled Keep America Safe, Fire Pompeo and Bolton.