NATO is celebrating its 70th anniversary, yet it is an odd birthday, as the person currently occupying the position of natural figurehead of this international family – as presidents of the United States have essentially shaped it and raised it over the decades – appears to be questioning whether it still has a raison d’etre.
Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed his annoyance at the behavior of other member-states, going so far as to challenge the alliance itself in tacit or overt actions and words. He is the first American president to believe – and say so publicly – that NATO is of more service to Europe than it is to the United States.
However, the often-unpredictable Trump is not alone, as the American people are also starting to show the first signs of skepticism about the alliance. The Republican and Democratic leaderships may believe in its necessity, but the public seems to be divided. Sure, 77 percent of Americans may continue to think of NATO as good for the United States – as indicated by a recent Pew survey – but 34 percent believe it is more important for other members of the alliance and just 15 percent that it is more important for America. Less than half – 42 percent – see it as equally important for all its members.
The Americans are not rejecting NATO, obviously. However, partly as a result of Trump’s influence, they are showing unprecedented signs of concern, which may over time grow into doubt if not objection.
Twenty years ago to the day, NATO celebrated its 50th anniversary with a leaders’ summit in Washington. I remember the mood in the Ronald Reagan Building being upbeat, celebratory, with the leaders of its member-states hailing the alliance’s attributes. NATO has expanded and carried out various operations since then, but at no time was it questioned as strongly as it is being questioned today by some in the US.
As for Greece, the particular regional factors it has to contend with represent a powerful motivation for it to acknowledge NATO’s benefits, while it is also one of the few members who meet their obligations. Even though it has not participated to the extent that the Americans and others would have liked in operations such as that in Afghanistan, no one doubts Greece’s contribution and role in a volatile region that contains risks for the West.
Greece comes second only to the US in the ratio of its defense expenditure, spending 2.2 percent of GDP in 2018 compared to the US’s 3.4 percent. Few other NATO members spent more than the 2 percent target last year.
Greece is investing in NATO as it relies on the support and potentially the intervention of its allies in the unfortunate event that it finds itself in serious trouble. In this respect, it should be concerned by how some in the US seem to question NATO's usefulness. In the meantime, it must continue strengthening its bilateral and multilateral relationships with a number of countries.