As every parent knows, to scold is not to abandon.
President Donald Trump said some foolish things as a candidate about the United States’ commitment to our NATO allies, but his blunt speech at NATO headquarters on Thursday, in which he said other member nations must carry more of the load, was overdue.
It would have been better if Trump had coupled that message — pay up, folks — with a more explicit expression of the United States’ commitment to the alliance. He did not make a point, as other presidents have, of endorsing Article 5 of the NATO charter, a pledge of mutual defense.
But Trump said as much, by implication, in his remarks at the unveiling of an Article 5 memorial at NATO’s Brussels headquarters. The memorial includes a remnant of the fallen World Trade Center towers because it was then — after the 9/11 attacks — that NATO first invoked Article 5 to take collective action.
“Our NATO allies responded swiftly and decisively,” Trump said, “invoking for the first time in its history the Article 5 collective defense commitments.”
As a candidate, Trump blathered on about the United States quitting NATO if other member nations did not pony up. How short-sighted that would be. But he refrained on Thursday.
Trump pointed out a simple truth, one President Obama complained about more quietly. Every NATO country is supposed to spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, but few do. The United States spends more on defense than the other 27 member countries combined.
That might have made sense in NATO’s early days, when Europe struggled to rebuild after World War II. The imbalance is less defensible now.
NATO is a cornerstone of global stability, and an essential check on Russian aggression. We are not confident Trump fully understands that. But to demand that other nations pay a fairer share of the bill is not, in and of itself, an attack on NATO or an undermining of America’s commitment to the alliance.