Home / General / The Dangers of Trump’s Approach to Burden Sharing

The Dangers of Trump’s Approach to Burden Sharing

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It seems a bit anti-climatic after today’s Presidential performance, but I have a piece (co-authored with Abe Newman) at Vox’s “The Big Idea” section on burden-sharing. The title is somewhat misleading: the crux of our argument is that the benefits of burden-sharing are overblown, the context in which the Trump Administration is pushing for it are dangerous—especially in Europe, and the US derives important benefits from the asymmetry in capabilities it enjoys with its security partners.

The argument for “burden sharing” — that American allies, who are much richer in both absolute and relative terms than when the United States established the current global security architecture, should pay a larger share for their own defense — is far from new. During the primaries, Bernie Sanders called for American allies to do more, and Hilary Clinton pledged to work with NATO partners to get them to meet the 2 percent of GDP spending targets affirmed at a 2014 NATO summit in Wales. (In fact, there is considerable variation on how much NATO members spend on defense. Some, including Greece, Estonia, and Poland, easily meet the target. Others — such as Hungary, Canada, or Slovenia — spend closer to 1 percent of GDP.)

But the Trump administration’s statements and dispositions seem to go further than previous calls for burden sharing. Many allies — especially those on the front line with Russia, like the Baltic States and Poland — are extremely worried that Trump intends to in effect abandon long-standing commitments.

Go read, if so inclined.

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  • Murc

    Good to see you posting here more, Dan.

    • dnexon

      Thanks. There’s a reason I didn’t join as a “masthead” blogger, but I’m hoping to carve out more time.

      • Murc

        You already have more 2017 posts than Brockington!

  • McAllen

    Hooray, more ways Trump is ruining the US!

  • ochospantalones

    But since Trump says he wants to increase defense spending regardless of how his bid for burden sharing plays out, it’s even unclear what economic benefit the United States will derive from pressuring its allies.

    This is what I find to be so strange about the Trump administration’s focus on this issue. They’re not planning to realize any savings to the U.S. from it even if they succeed in making other countries pay more. The ordinary theory of this is that as our allies start to pay more, we can pay less. But Trump is committed to a substantial build up of American military spending regardless of what anyone else is doing. So what is the goal meant to be?

    • McAllen

      So what is the goal meant to be?

      Winning the dick-waving competition Trump imagines international politics to be.

      • CP

        Precisely.

      • NoMoreAltCenter

        “Winning the dick-waving competition Trump imagines international politics to be.”

        It is. Previous administrations were just infinitely less vulgar about it.

    • Hogan

      I once took a class on economic analysis of public policy, and we did the “dollar auction” exercise. One guy very quickly bid two dollars. His explanation was “I just like to win.”

      • wjts

        This attitude explains why I have a kitchen cabinet and dresser drawer full of beer glasses and t-shirts I don’t want from various bar trivia contests.

        • Hogan

          WHAT ARE YOU DOING LIVING IN MY HOUSE

          • wjts

            Pinched your keys when we met in Philadelphia. YOU FOOL!

            • Hogan

              Arrgh! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

    • Redwood Rhiadra

      The goal is to provide an excuse for standing by and letting his buddy Putin conquer Europe. This was obvious from the very first time he started this shit during the campaign.

      (ETA: And leftist shits like Dilan below will support him.)

  • JBC31187

    You can tell Trump is a great businessman in how he chases away our allies.

  • Nick never Nick

    NO FEAR, AMERICA, CANADA’S UPPING ITS DEFENSE BUDGET EVEN AS WE SPEAK

  • Dilan Esper

    We should abandon our commitments to Russia’s neighbors. Those commitments never should have been made in the first place, as they improperly attempt to constrain Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence, and increase our risk of conflict with Russia.

    I don’t want one American to die to preserve the supposed right of Estonians not to have to maintain a good relationship with Russia.

    The reality is that NATO is a bluff anyway. If Russia did do something, we would never go to war over those small countries.

    • McAllen

      the supposed right of Estonians not to have to maintain a good relationship with Russia.

      Kind of like how Bush just wanted to make sure America and Iraq were good chums.

      • wjts

        It’s not imperialism when not-America does it. If you played poker you’d understand.

    • Little Chak

      “I don’t want one _____ to die to preserve the supposed right of Mexicans or Canadians not to have to maintain a good relationship with the United States.”

      They are within our “legitimate sphere of influence”, after all — at least if we susbscribe to the Putin/Trump view of international relations.

      Three cheers for “might makes right” foreign policy! Hip, hop, hoo-ray!

    • Vance Maverick

      Bethink thee that we too might have an interest in Estonia not being overrun.

    • Hallen

      I’ve never been super-stoked about allowing the Baltics into NATO; for one thing, there was their commitment to quasi-apartheid, but the big problem is that Russia is a nuclear power.

      I’m okay with one American dying to preserve Estonia. I’m probably “okay” with 100,000 Americans dying to preserve Estonia. But I’m not okay with a million Americans–or a hundred million Americans–dying to preserve Estonia.

      On the other hand, they foisted a madman upon us. So I guess the real question is, can we still destroy most of their second-strike capability with a surprise attack?

    • Brownian

      I don’t want one American to die to preserve the supposed right of Estonians not to have to maintain a good relationship with Russia.

      I can think of a few off the top of my head I’d happily toss in front of a Russian tank. To preserve something something Estonians? Sure, why not?

    • Ronan

      Dilan’s either a troll or an idiot on this topic. Either way, this nonsense probably shouldnt be encouraged. (imo)

      • Murc

        And when Ronan and I are on the same side when it comes to European politics, you gotta ask yourself, how far from the pack HAVE you strayed?

        • Ronan

          It’s the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of European politics threads.

        • LeeEsq

          I’m joining in as a third. Letting Russia do as it will is not a pro-peace policy.

          • NoMoreAltCenter

            The best way to secure peace is to keep our foot on their neck for the rest of time apparently

            • Murc

              We in no way have our foot on Russia’s neck.

            • Captain C

              Because not allowing Russia to invade their neighbors at will is putting a foot on their neck?

            • Ronan

              I think there’s a decent argument somewhere here that the US should have been more accommodationist to post Soviet Russia, that some parts of NATO expansion were counterproductive, and that the US has undermined its position internationally, particularly among other major powers, by intervening excessively, militarily since the end of the cold war.
              But dilan never makes these arguments. Your rhetoric about foots on necks doesn’t either. If dilan would make even a minimal good faith argument rather than just boilerplate about “spheres of influence” then.we might get somewhere.

      • Redwood Rhiadra

        He’s a standard leftist moron who thinks any form of American involvement with the rest of the world, whether through trade or through defense treaties, is “imperialism”.

    • NoMoreAltCenter

      “The reality is that NATO is a bluff anyway. If Russia did do something, we would never go to war over those small countries.”

      This probably won’t remain a thought experiment for very long

    • wengler

      If I listen closely, I can faintly hear the vast majority of the people in the Baltic republics telling you to go fuck yourself.

    • Murc

      Those commitments never should have been made in the first place, as they improperly attempt to constrain Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence,

      No, they don’t. At all. Russia is just as capable of exercising legitimate influence among countries it borders as it was before some of those countries joined NATO.

      All NATO does is constrain Russia’s illegitimate attempts to exercise influence. NATO is a defensive alliance. We’re under no obligation to do jack shit if a NATO member decides to unilaterally invade or attack Russia; our obligations and responsibilities only work the other way around.

      I don’t want one American to die to preserve the supposed right of Estonians not to have to maintain a good relationship with Russia.

      What about the right of the Estonians not to be invaded for no better reason than “we wants it,” which is Russia’s traditional conception of what their relationship with the Baltic states should be?

      • NoMoreAltCenter

        “What about the right of the Estonians not to be invaded for no better reason than “we wants it,” which is Russia’s traditional conception of what their relationship with the Baltic states should be?”

        Nobody who cares about the lives of American soldiers should want to go to war to defend the Baltic states, period.

        We get involved in overweening adventurism by imagining the whole world is a moral play that we have to act in. The 20th century shat on Russia hard enough without us having to do it too.

        • McAllen

          Where’s the line for when we should get involved? Poland? Germany? France?

          • NoMoreAltCenter

            I think…astonishingly…Germany and France and Poland would be more than capable of handling such a situation themselves.

            Russia ain’t the USSR man. Stop treating the world like a RISK board you can force woke values on to.

            • ajay

              So the argument is that the US shouldn’t go to war to defend Poland because Poland can manage fine by itself, and it shouldn’t go to war to defend Estonia because some Americans might get hurt.

              But, presumably, every time your own military lets your own country get attacked, you will continue to scream and howl for your allies to protect you, and to gibber incoherent abuse at the ones who fail to respond with anything but full commitment?

              (Per head of population, by the way, Estonia has lost more soldiers fighting your War on Terror than you have. YOU’RE WELCOME.)

              Just checking.

        • IM

          “Mourir pour Dantzig”, eh?

          You people never change.

        • Cheerfull

          The 20th Century shat on Russia? The poo was being flung both ways.

    • LeeEsq

      A big problem I have with people who think American should pursue a less interventionist foreign policy is that many of them seem to think that letting Russian run rampart or having other countries spill blood among themselves is somehow more keeping in the spirit of peace than American intervention.

      • Linnaeus

        I dunno, I think that while there are folks like these, they’re relatively few in number and they don’t exercise much influence. The folks closer to the other end, however…

    • Captain C

      improperly attempt to constrain Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence

      So imperialism is ok, maybe even ginger-peachy, as long as it’s Russian (or at least not American)?

  • Davebo

    You might want to take a look at the go read link.

    • dnexon

      Taken care of. Thanks.

  • Linnaeus

    I liked the piece, and I think it’s a serious argument against Trump’s recklessness under the guise of “burden sharing”, not to mention that he plans to increase military spending anyway.

    That said, I do have some discomfort with US military supremacy, one reason for that being that while it means that potential rivals are dependent on the US, it also means that there are fewer restraints on US abuses of that power. Which is not to say that China or Russia would be any better (they wouldn’t), but that the US hasn’t always acted as a benign force. That means that if the US is going to carry a disproportionate burden of ensuring security worldwide, then there is a commensurate responsibility to exercise proper restraint.

    • JBC31187

      I do have some discomfort with US military supremacy, one reason for that being that while it means that potential rivals are dependent on the US, it also means that there are fewer restraints on US abuses of that power.

      Yeah, right now I would love if Europe was able to match America military-wise.

      • dnexon

        I want more US restraint.

        I’m also very worried about security dilemmas that would follow from European decoupling from the US.

        But a major reason we wrote this was to highlight how Trump’s dispositions are self-defeating on *their own terms*. That is, he’s about American strength and greatness, but he seems incapable of understanding how that’s generated in ways other than having a big economy.

        • JBC31187

          Absolutely. Sometimes I despair that the Republicans have such shit values. Then I weep over how dumb they are. The village bullies are shitting in the communal well that they drink out of.

  • jam

    The final link, with text “Go read, if so inclined.” is broken.

    • dnexon

      Indeed. Fixed. Thanks!

  • NoMoreAltCenter

    Trump isn’t smart enough to realize that Europe and Japan being militarily weak is a feature and not a bug from the perspective of US imperialism

  • Linnaeus

    This would probably as good a time as any to re-read my Chalmers Johnson Blowback “trilogy”.

  • Davebo

    If NATO were truly a combined defense or Europe group I would hope they would coordinate defense assets to make the most of the dollars spent.

    Sweden makes some fine tactical aircraft. Germany could certainly produce some fantastic armored vehicles.

    Placing a 2% per GDP spending expectation may be wrong. Maybe we should be trying to do a more specific force allocation and let each country contribute in ways best suited to their abilities.

    • ajay

      If NATO were truly a combined defense or Europe group I would hope they would coordinate defense assets to make the most of the dollars spent.

      Sweden makes some fine tactical aircraft.

      I will regard this suggestion with the level of respect I normally deliver to people who hold forth about NATO without knowing that Sweden isn’t in it.

      • Cheerfull

        At this point though, perhaps they are reconsidering.

      • Ahuitzotl

        you aren’t aware of the super double-secret NATO codicil that unilaterally drafts Sweden, Switzerland and Swaziland?

        • Matt_L

          Is that the same super double secret codicil that drafts Yugoslavia, Freedonia, and the Duchy of Grand Fenwick as members of the Warsaw Pact in exchange for Allen Iverson and two first round NFL draft picks to be named later?

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