July 11, 2018
Trump is already succeeding in his goal to divide the EU
Donald Trump has descended on Brussels for what is going to be an interesting Nato summit today. We spare you our thoughts on his latest tweets, but would like instead to focus on the substantive point of his accusation - that Germany is not spending enough money on defence. What strikes us as particular interesting is that German commentators, who normally get very upset when other countries miss their targets, seem to be rather oblivious to the Nato defence spending commitment. Nobody, not even Trump, says Germany should be spending 2% of GDP now. The target is for 2024. But Germany’s commitment is moving from a very low level, 1.22% in 2017, towards an even lower percentage by 2021. If Germany took its target seriously, it would need to raise defence spending to at least 1.5% of GDP by the end of this coalition, and make another quantum leap afterwards. This is also what Ursula von der Leyen, defence minister, is asking for. The truth is that Angela Merkel does not want to sacrifice her coalition and the SPD is implacably opposed to the target. Fudging the target, and depleting the Bundeswehr’s capacity, has been the easier option politically. Until Trump came.
We agree that one should not reduce the debate to a single number. We have seen in the eurozone that the focus on singular targets can often produce undesirable side-effects. And the latest defence report from the Munich Security Conference suggests that the gap between US and non-US spending in Nato has undergone large fluctuations, as this graph shows. But it also shows that the US vastly outspends the other Nato members on defence.
What can Trump do today? He cannot pull out of Nato. He would need two-thirds majorities in the House and the Senate to get out of an international treaty. But he is in a position to damage Nato simply by casting doubt on the Article 5 commitment.
Ulrich Speck (@ulrichspeck) makes a number of good points in a tweet storm about the shifts in the transatlantic relationship. The old deal was that the US was providing a safe space in which Germany could develop its own economy and its own social contract. It bought stability in Europe. Germany is now totally stunned by Trump. Merkel’s strategy to engage with Trump has failed. There are now three alternative courses: the left wants to break with the US and re-position Germany closer to Russia; the right wants to emulate Trump - Germany first. And the least likely of all is a European solution. Speck argues that Trump’s strategy to divide the Europeans is already succeeding.