This is no NATO for dead­beats

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN Wes­ley Pruden is edi­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

The Euro­peans wrote the book on how to be suc­cess­ful dead­beats. We got an­other demon­stra­tion of that at the NATO sum­mit this week in Brus­sels. Some of the chief prac­ti­tion­ers of the art of welsh­ing on a debt take a ful­some pride in their dead­beat pedi­gree.

Don­ald Trump, with his usual barn dance through the china closet, re­buked the easy rid­ers with plain-spo­ken tweets even be­fore he ar­rived in Brus­sels, warn­ing that the sum­mit might not be the usual tea with crum­pets on the side, as fa­vored by diplo­mats of del­i­cate dis­po­si­tion.

“Get­ting ready to leave for Europe,” he tweeted en route. “First meet­ing — NATO. The U.S. is spend­ing many times more than any other coun­try in or­der to pro­tect them. Not fair to the U.S. tax­payer.” Nor, he was too po­lite to say, is it fair to the mem­ory of sev­eral hun­dred thou­sand Amer­i­cans who left their blood and bones in Europe twice in the pre­vi­ous cen­tury, all to make the con­ti­nent a safe place to stuff crois­sants, fet­tucine and sausages down the gul­lets of the de­serv­ing and the un­de­serv­ing alike. A kind and for­giv­ing folk, the Amer­i­cans, gen­er­ous of­ten to a fault, and al­ways too mod­est and po­lite to say so. That ob­vi­ously doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily in­clude the Don­ald.

Amer­ica can’t ac­tu­ally ex­pect much from the

NATO na­tions.

Ev­ery one of the

29 mem­bers of the North At­lantic

Treaty Or­ga­ni­za­tion promised on join­ing to de­vote a min­i­mum of 2 per­cent of their Gross Na­tional Prod­uct to pay for mu­tual de­fense. Given the past per­for­mance of the United States, that’s a sweet­heart deal. Only five of the 29 have paid up, and some who haven’t in­clude the wealth­i­est na­tions of the treaty. This means you, Frau Merkel. Push your­self away from the ta­ble and all those sausages and pay up.

The very idea of pay­ing a fair share sets tem­pers alight across the con­ti­nent. There was lit­tle if any Con­ti­nen­tal shame at be­ing called out, as if the fi­nance com­pany had called to warn that the BMW in the garage would be seized if a check was not dropped in the mailbox at once. Abun­dant Con­ti­nen­tal pride, how­ever, was def­i­nitely affronted. Some of the most af­flu­ent lead­ers were most con­cerned about the prospect of be­ing shamed into pay­ing up at once.

Mr. Trump had fright­ened them with a sug­ges­tion that the dues might even­tu­ally be raised to 4 per­cent of GDP. This would re­quire even more sac­ri­fice from the Amer­i­cans, who are pay­ing 3.4 per­cent now.

No, no, said Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron of France, the mem­bers of NATO had said they would catch up on their dues of 2 per­cent by the year 2024. No­body said nothin’ about no stinkin’ 4 per­cent. “A com­mu­nique was is­sued [Wed­nes­day],” said M. Macron. “This com­mu­nique is clear. It reaf­firms the 2 per­cent by 2024 com­mit­ments. That is all.”

He got a swift sec­ond on that from Guiseppe Conte, the prime min­is­ter of Italy. “Italy in­her­ited spend­ing com­mit­ments to NATO, com­mit­ments that we did not change, so no in­crease in spend­ing. As far as we’re con­cerned, to­day we did not de­cide to of­fer ex­tra con­tri­bu­tions with re­spect to what was de­cided some time ago.”

Frau Merkel, the rich­est Euro­pean of all (and some might say with the most to make up for), said Ger­many would “con­sider” more spend­ing, but noth­ing about mak­ing any new com­mit­ments, and be­sides, noth­ing Ger­many might do about re­con­sid­er­ing its de­fense bud­get has noth­ing to do with pres­sure from Mr. Trump and the Amer­i­cans.”

But noth­ing fright­ened the easy rid­ers like the ru­mor that Mr. Trump might pull Amer­ica out of NATO. He had said that if the other coun­tries did not pay up, Amer­ica “would go it alone.”

This was in­flated by the ru­mor to sug­gest pull-out. The ru­mor story smelled from the be­gin­ning like some­thing the re­porters in Brus­sels could have dreamed up for a story. Pres­i­dent Macron was ea­ger to shoot the ru­mor down.

“Gen­er­ally I do not com­ment on what goes on be­hind the scenes,” he said. “But at no mo­ment did Pres­i­dent Trump, ei­ther bi­lat­er­ally or mul­ti­lat­er­ally, say that he was in­tend­ing to leave NATO.” Mr. Trump, as any­one who has been pay­ing at­ten­tion over the past months knows, some­times says things that sur­prise him­self, but he al­ways clears up the wa­ter he mud­dies. Then, like Dr. Pan­gloss, he finds ev­ery­thing ac­tu­ally get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter in ev­ery way ev­ery day.

“The United States com­mit­ment to NATO is very strong, re­mains very strong,” he said at the end of an im­per­fect day. “I be­lieve in NATO.” And who says there were an­gry words? “There’s a great, very col­le­gial spirit in that room. Very uni­fied, very strong, no prob­lem.” Of course not. No prob­lem at all.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Macron

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