President Trump is already drawing headlines for his gaffes at this week’s NATO conference. But perhaps worse is his bold—but more mainstream—demand that NATO countries meet an arbitrary military spending goal. The president wants NATO countries to spend 4% of their GDP on their militaries.
In fairness, Trump didn’t dream up this daffy idea himself: Spending at least 2% of a country’s GDP on its military has been an official NATO goal since 2006, and Trump’s not the first to suggest doubling that amount. The U.S. currently funds its military to the tune of about 3.5% of its GDP, compared to only 2.3% for the next highest country by this measure: Greece.
But the idea that our military budget should be tied to the size of our economy is goosey: It’s saying that we need more soldiers to protect more dollars, as if our troops must physically surround an ever-expanding pile of gold bars, instead of a nation with fixed square mileage.
The president has fully embraced this arbitrary and senseless part of the plan without any intention of following through on the underlying rationale: to spread the burden of security so that no country is left holding the bag alone.
If U.S. interests are truly Trump’s concern, the real reason to want European NATO members to pay more for their militaries would be so that the U.S. could pay less, thereby leaving more resources for other things. Trump even seems to grasp this logic, at least in part.
But spending less on the military is the furthest thing from the president’s mind. He requested, and got, an $80 billion increase for the military, and his budget projections keep the military humming along at this historically high spending level through at least 2023.