All of the accolades, speeches, concerts and fireworks are put to rest, at least until the Fourth of July celebration, as once again we have thanked our neighbors, friends and relatives who fought during World War II for the freedom of the world — the ones Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” I fear that it is just a matter of time before we have to do the ultimate fight once again.
The U.S. is part of a 28-nation coalition called NATO — but the U.S. is carrying the bulk of the financial load. While members are “expected” to spend 2 percent of their GDP, only four of the members pay close to their share: The U.S., the United Kingdom, Greece and Estonia. We provide more than 70 percent of NATO’s spending on defense, while the other three spend about 2 percent of their GDP — and they are even cutting back on that.
NATO nations help support a civil budget (that addresses headquarters operating costs), the actual military budget and a Security Investment Program (that addresses the military capabilities of that country). Members support a defined activity, and it is subject to consensus among them. No NATO country acts alone.
Some of the countries that are reducing spending are Spain, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia and our neighbor to the north — Canada.
With the re-election of David Cameron, prime minister of Great Britain, NATO funding is taking a licking — with the U.K. army shrinking and the Royal Navy with zero aircraft carriers (however, two are being built). Cameron says that more military spending is unpopular.
Fareed Zakaria, who writes a foreign-affairs column for the Washington Post, wrote: “After an extraordinary 300-year run, Britain has essentially resigned as a global power.”
Zakaria also stated how serious he thinks Britain’s decision is to cut back on military spending: “The country is suspicious of a robust foreign policy of any kind — including serious sanctions against Russia, getting tough in trade talks with China, the use of force in the Middle East and an engaged relationship with the rest of Europe.”
The U.K. isn’t the only major European country demobilizing troops — Germany and France are doing the same thing.
I see history repeating itself. When Hitler was marching across Europe, the U.K. didn’t want to spend its money on defense then, either. It waited until it was almost too late to do anything — and with that prospect — and some other events — the U.S. took on the brunt of the war, with our troops and finances, and saved Europe. We have been paying ever since.
This is a serious decision at a time when Russia is increasingly belligerent, when there is so much tension and political instability in the Middle East, when China is building up its military, when there is a loose cannon in North Korea, and when the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Al-Qaida, Boko Haram and other factions are willing to do anything and kill anyone — in any manner of bizarre ghastly ways to advance their political agendas. ISIL and Al-Qaida are even promising to bring the holy war to the streets of the U.K.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board recently published an editorial (May 12) on Russian provocation and how Russian leaders are hinting at using nuclear weapons. Indeed, Russia routinely invades European waters and airspace. The Russian Embassy in the United Arab Emirates even mockingly tweeted a picture showing plastic toy tanks invading Ukraine as a taunt to NATO.
According to a Brookings Institution study, Russia’s Putin has increased military spending 79 percent in the past decade — all the while Europe prefers to stick its head in the sand. I suppose it will expect us (again) to do the heavy lifting when the proverbial manure hits the fan.
I think our NATO allies — all well within striking distance of a powerful Russia — should think twice about lowering their military spending, and instead increase their capabilities.
President Obama does not advocate troops on the ground or more military involvement. I think he expects those closest to the fight to carry their own weight. The U.S. has done enough. It is time for the Europeans to fight and pay for their own survival.
Darlene Thyen lives in Paynesville, Minn.