In the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 70th anniversary year was marked by a bipartisan vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to protect Nato, but the adversary in mind was not a foreign actor – it was the President of the United States.
It is no secret why the House took this unprecedented step toward barring the president from unilaterally withdrawing from Nato. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the Alliance and its members since his campaign days. Yet, even as China and Russia increasingly look to bolster each other against the West, it is likely that the President will continue to defy his own National Security Strategy and threaten to go it alone.
Fortunately, the U.S. government is not a monolithic entity controlled by one man. The U.S. Congress, which includes the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and Republican-controlled Senate, is a separate but co-equal branch of the U.S. government. This separation of powers, which the Constitution’s framers deliberately designed, will help preserve Nato’s rightful place as a key body in the U.S. security apparatus.
In order to understand where the United States stands, European leaders should take a closer look at what congressional members across both parties and chambers are saying and doing on Nato. They may be surprised to find that since President Trump took office, Congress has regularly backed Nato through clear, indisputable actions. In 2017 and 2018, Congress took more votes in support of the United States’ enduring commitment to Article 5 and Nato than at any other time since the last major Nato anniversary in 2009, and perhaps, going back even further to the fall of the Soviet Union.
As referenced earlier, the House voted to restrict the President from withdrawing from Nato in the first month of 2019. Wary of a long-standing debate on presidential authorities (or lack thereof) on treaties, the Senate, too, has armed itself with similar bipartisan proposals. While no bills have been signed into law, they can move at any point, including in the yearlong period that, according to the Nato Founding Treaty, must precede the actual withdrawal of a member.
Congress has demonstrated its support for Nato by participating actively in the Nato Parliamentary Assembly and by reviving the bipartisan Senate Nato Observer Group, after sitting dormant for over two decades. This year’s Nato 70th anniversary celebrations, coupled with another expected enlargement round, will invigorate and rally Members of Congress to, once again, travel to Europe and Canada and discuss efforts to strengthen Nato. In fact, pending budget discussions in the United States, this year’s Munich Security Conference is expected to host a record number of congressional members.
And perhaps, most importantly, Congress reflects views of U.S. voters who overwhelmingly support Nato. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has recorded a steady increase in Nato favorability across generations of Americans. Even millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996 and now, the largest voting bloc in the United States, value alliances, and 72 percent back Nato. Boosted by these numbers, Congress will continue to allocate significant levels of funding to help Europe deter threats emanating from Nato’s eastern and southern flanks – already, having provided 6.5 billion Dollar in the last year alone.
In many ways, the debate on Nato in the United States is barely a debate at all. Most members of President Trump’s own administration are staunch advocates of the Alliance and work with Congress to further Nato objectives and initiatives. Therefore, European leaders should incorporate Congress’ reassuring actions into their assessments of the future of Nato, and not simply focus on the President’s divisive – and widely unpopular – declarations.
Despite President Trump’s criticism of the Alliance, Nato nations understand the growing threats facing the transatlantic community. Like Congress, they have stepped up to meet these challenges. Allies have halted defense spending cuts and increased investments in Nato by 41 billion Dollar. This increase is expected to reach 100 billion Dollar in 2020. In addition, critical new Nato commands are forming in Germany and the United States, and capabilities to counter hybrid threats and terrorism are rapidly developing.
We stand with you
While it would certainly be preferable for President Trump to tout these successes, a Nato leader’s rhetoric does not outweigh the importance of concrete and consistent action. Allies must now continue to encourage one another to commit funding where needed, build readiness, resilience and adaptability across their militaries, and promote the Alliance to domestic audiences, whenever possible.
Beyond making the right investments, Nato countries should continue to embrace Nato as an alliance of values that, according to the North Atlantic Treaty, is „founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law“. As such, members must look within and halt the creeping influences of authoritarianism, corruption, and weak and inefficient governance structures that plague some of even the most ardent allies.
By remaining focused on strengthening the Alliance, Europe can best prepare Nato against real, long-term threats like those emanating from China, the Kremlin and terrorist organizations. President Trump’s rhetoric, in comparison, is only as threatening as European leaders allow it to be. It is certainly not reflective of the entire U.S. government, or even American public sentiment on their unyielding commitment to Nato and the collective security of its members.
So, Europe, please don’t let late-night tweets or sweeping proclamations distract you. We stand with you.
Read the German version here.