Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Does US Pay Too Much For NATO And Other Issues Raised By Commenter

A commenter figuratively rolled his eyes about something  I said in post last week about Trump taking orders from Putin.  In a responding comment I pointed out that I’d qualified that statement and challenged him to be more specific about his problems with the post.

He responded with a series of issues that I couldn’t factually respond to off the top of my head.  I realized that I had an opinion on them, but that I hadn’t done any homework on them.

Normally, responses to comments should stay in the comment section.  But I spent some time looking things up (and was also diverted by gramping  duties), time passed, and I decided my response warranted its own post where more people would see it.

But I want to thank Oliver for coming back with his list.  As Justice Ginsburg said about Justice Scalia, his challenges make me better.  I'm assuming that Oliver’s questions are serious, and not just trolling to distract me from other things.  I assume  that Trump supporters could be thinking the same things.  (I didn't say 'other Trump supporters'  because I don't know if Oliver supports Trump or not.)  As I looked up the questions about NATO funding, I did find that his points mirrored Trump talking points (and in the case of NATO Bernie Sanders talking points) and there were complexities that weren't reflected that seem to make his concerns less clear if not moot.

So here's what he wrote the second time:
"Further Putin’s agenda? Let’s see, the former president sat by while the Russians allegedly hacked the election. Sat by while he gobbled up Crimea and the Ukraine. Yes, I know we did some sanctions and expelled some low level diplomats, or as it’s really know as doing nothing meaningful. Putin’s bombing campaign accomplished in a couple months what the Obama administration was unable to do in a year in Syria.
As for Trump, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for NATO members to pay their fair share, only five of the twenty eight members are paying the 2%. Even Obama ask them to up their contribution. The United States contributes between one-fifth and one-quarter of NATO’s budget. In FY2010 that contribution totaled $711.8 million. We all know what NATO did about Russian aggression over the past several years, nothing. So what is NATO for again?
I don’t think the man who says torture is ok as sick as that is has any intentions of weakening the U.S. intelligence agencies. We sell Taiwan 1.2 billion dollars in military equipment and that’s fine, Trump calls them on the phone and you have outrage from China!!! Tough.

I'm not going to respond to everything - that would be like a week's worth of posts.  I did most of my searching on the NATO points.  Here's what I found mainly at the Washington Post, Politifact, and the Congressional Research Service:   (feel free to offer other serious analyses)

NATO -   Basically they all say it’s more complicated than those numbers say:
1.  There are different NATO budgets.  One is related to NATO non-military costs and each member pays according to a formula based on its GDP.  In that area, countries are paying pretty much according to the formula.

2.  The Congressional Research Service says the US gets plenty of benefits from NATO
“DOD has noted that the United States has benefitted from NATO infrastructure support for several military operations, including the 1986 air strike on Libya, Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Deny Flight, peacekeeping activities in the Balkans, as well as military operations in Afghanistan and training in Iraq. Finally, the Pentagon notes that U.S. companies have been successful in bidding on NSIP [NATO Security Investment Program] contracts.”
3.  When it comes to military contribution, the calculations include the total military expenditures for each country.  Most of the NATO countries only have troops related to Europe and NATO.  The calculation for the US includes all military spending world wide.  It’s true that some of those forces can be brought in, if needed, to deploy in Europe.  But it’s also true that the US troops in Europe are not solely to support NATO.  They can if needed, but they also support US military missions in other places - like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.  So the calculations of those expenses, which make the US contribution look huge (less than your $700 million figure, but more than you 20% figure), are misleading because those expenses are for much, much more than defense of NATO.

Oliver, I realize this doesn't end the debate or change your opinion on NATO, but it does put the ball back on your side of the court on this one.

I don't have time to do the same tracking down of facts - and even if I did, there would still be disputes - but let me respond briefly to your comment about Syria:
"Putin’s bombing campaign accomplished in a couple months what the Obama administration was unable to do in a year in Syria."

Syria is a thorny problem.  I suspect that Obama had some options in the beginning that might have made a difference.  What would have happened if he had tried to take out Asad right away?   If he succeeded or failed, there would have been a lot of blowback.   History may or may not be able to sort that out.  There were lots of things to consider, including civilian lives and the already overextended US military that had soldiers overseas in their 3rd, 4th, and 5th rotations.  And there was an overstretched VA that would have to serve even more veterans.    And we don’t know what all has happened there behind the scenes.

I would argue that supporting the existing regime (as Putin is doing) is far easier than trying to figure out which of the rebel organizations should be supported.  Asad had a long-standing, well trained and organized army.  Supporting Asad meant Russia would get what it wanted from Syria if Asad prevailed.  The rebel outcomes were far less certain.    Russia also had no qualms about killing civilians.  Putin has no humanitarian interests in Syria (or anywhere else as far as I can tell), so was free to support the strongest party, despite its terrible record including atrocities in the prisons as this Amnesty International report describes.

I don't know Trump's intentions.  The idea that Putin has leverage over Trump is not nearly as far-fetched as Trump's long standing campaign about Obama being a Kenyan, which so many Trump supporters had no problem embracing.  There's far more circumstantial evidence that Trump's financially entangled with Russian interests and his serious of Russian friendly moves raises serious questions, even among congressional Republicans.  Seeing Obama's birth certificate, as Trump demanded for years, was far less consequential than seeing Trump's tax returns.  Yet Trump refuses to make them public, something all the recent presidential candidates have done.  And which would likely confirm his financial links to Russia one way or the other.  (And possibly open up new questions.)

So there are a few possibilities that Trump is weakening the US security agencies:
  • He is being pressured by Putin.
  • He is hurting US Security unintentionally - His lashing out at anyone who criticizes him leads him to attack the CIA and others and take actions that hurt them - as in replacing the chair of the Joint Chief of Staff and the head of national intelligence with Stephen Bannon on the National Security Council - which is being reported now, that he didn't realize he was doing when he signed the order.  

Oliver, I do appreciate your making me sharpen my facts.  I think we should be talking respectfully about the issues that some would rather have divide the nation for their own interests.  Your serious comments also help me understand how intelligent folks could see Trump as a reasonable option.  I do get the opposition to Clinton, but not when Trump is the alternative.  Now, if you still want to address the other issues - the Russian hacking and the Ukraine - I'll let you spell out your facts that demonstrate Obama could have done something different that would have worked.  

Perhaps the best thing that could come out of this is a shake-up of both parties, more serious talk across party lines,  and improvements in how we elect presidents.  But I think the issue goes beyond the parties to the corporations that have inordinate influence over congress and the presidency.


  1. I'm 72, retired from the Army in 1995 after 28 years of service, including multiple tours in Vietnam as well as service on the Joint Staff and National Security Council staff.

    We get more than our money's worth from NATO and other alliances.

    The fundamental problem with Trump's view of the world is that he -- and the people around him -- view foreign affairs as a zero-sum game -- one wins, one loses.

    Alliances, treaties, trade agreements -- none of these are zero-sum. By joining together, everyone is made stronger and everyone wins. Yes, in alliances, we compromise . . . as does every other member of the alliance. But we give up a little to get a lot.

    People who claim other NATO members don't pay their fare share clearly know nothing about the workings of war and military operations short of war. The advantages we get from NATO and other alliances far outweigh what we pay -- for example:

    FORWARD BASING. With NATO, we get to pre-position supplies and equipment close to conflict areas. Can you imagine what it would cost to supply land-locked Afghanistan directly from the States? Right now we are moving a tank brigade into Poland -- that move takes months -- try doing it under fire -- much better to have them there when you need them than have to marshal your forces from the other side of the globe. Forward basing allows us to respond quickly with a variety of force and force multipliers.

    OVERFLIGHT RIGHTS. Alliances give us pre-cleared overflight rights. By being able to overfly our alliance partners' airspace, we save vast amounts of time and fuel.

    COALITION WARFARE. In Vietnam, I fought alongside South Korean, Taiwanese, Australian, Brazilian, and Thai troops to name just a few. In Afghanistan and Iraq, our NATO partners are in there with us.

  2. Steve, I am NOT a Trump supporter, I think he is a lunatic who once and a while might have a good idea. I am not one of those people who subscribe to the notion that he is so horrible we have to vote for Clinton. I found her just a distasteful maybe a little saner but still distasteful in her own way. Did you notice the Clinton Global Initiative closed up shop? So much for charity. I voted for Jill Stein. Mom use to say two wrongs don’t make a right.

    If you taught in the School of Business and you had 28 faculty members and only 3 or 4 were doing a full load and the other had to make up for it you might get a little concerned. You can run the NATO numbers a bazillion ways, dollars, percent of GDP or total defense spending the U.S. pays more than I think it should. One response noted the benefit we get from having the bases but hosting tens if not hundreds of thousands of soldiers and support staff generate huge dollars for local economies and are a cash cow for many counties. NATO needs to look at not as being relevant or not but on the basis that everyone needs to contribute equally.

    As for Syria I hate to say it but John McCain was right. The U.S. or NATO should have established a no fly zone at the very beginning and I really think Syria would not be the mess it is today.
    Both parties need a shakeup, the Democrats need to realize that the collation of immigrants, Black Lives Matter folks and Muslims (look at the speakers the three days at the convention) are not going to win them elections, maybe in the cities, but not in most of the country. The Republicans need to take back the party from the extreme right.
    Remember when China hacked the Office of Personnel Management and stole the names of everyone who worked for the federal government? Or response was?? We did nothing, perhaps a strong response would have made the Russian hackers think twice. And let’s face facts it was ridiculously simple to hack the Democrats. Sending you login and passwords in an email and using you name with few special characters as you password.
    When the Republicans loose an election they focus on winning the next one, the Democrats throw a hissy fit. I use to read the Huffington Post daily, I quit. On day I counted 24 stories about Trump on the front page. I think we should all take the advice of Joe Hill before he was executed who said; ‘don’t mourn organize’.
    oliver optic

  3. Part 1: Oliver, I vaguely recalled you weren't a Trump supporter, but wasn't sure. Voting for Stein in Alaska was a safe alternative since it made no difference in this red state. But if many Californians voted for Stein using the safe blue state logic, then the ~3 million vote edge she got over Trump would have been much closer. That margin offers lots of moral support for the Trump opposition and belies his mandate claims.

    As to NATO, you give us more generalizations, but not numbers. I found numbers from reputable sources that say the opposite - though not without some gaps. If you want to argue here about the gaps, you need to fill them in with more than opinion. Old Redneck (thanks guy, I appreciate your contribution) supplied an assessment based on his experience. If you want to convince me, you need to give harder evidence.

    The analogy to the faculty is loose. All the faculty were selected based on qualifications and are paid a salary to do their work. If the workload isn’t fair, they can pick up and go somewhere else. Portugal or Germany can't physically move away.

    A public school class is a better analogy. Kids come in with a wide variety of backgrounds, preparation, home values, and abilities. A kid with 5 older siblings may have good interpersonal skills. Another has good athletic skills, another is artistic, and the next autistic. There’s an immigrant with no English, another’s parents taught her to read at age three. But in kindergarten, they are all evaluated by essentially two criteria - cooperation/obedience and cognitive skills/reading. If they don't cut it in those areas they begin being labeled failure. European nations all have different cultures, languages, traditions, foods, and world views. They are physically rooted where they are. They can't move to South America.. But they are now all evaluated by the Northern European tradition of capitalism which only looks at whether their economic system is in line with the cultural values that came originally from the Protestant Reformation out of Germany. Hard work, no play, the individual is responsible. Family, the community, and enjoying life are all impediments to GNP. It's like grading all the kindergarten kids by behavior and cognitive skills. It rewards some kids and hurts, even damages others. That's why different countries have different formulas for their fair share. They are in this together, they can't move away, and so they negotiation something that keeps them united for mutual benefit.

  4. Part 2: In the beginning NATO gave the US huge military and economic advantages. The Soviet Union was better contained and an economically viable Europe provided a market for the US excess capacity.
    Is it time to rethink things? Maybe. But not in Trump’s simplistic way. It's far more complicated. It's like me trying to tinker with my daughter's Prius engine. I have no friggin clue what I'm doing.
    But that is how populists gain power. There's a kernel of truth to what they say. Coal miners in West Virginia think Trump will save the coal industry and get them good jobs again. But coal is on the decline, their jobs were always awful - dangerous and unhealthy - and automation and climate change mean those jobs aren't coming back. But they believed Trump. Saying NATO isn't paying its fair share appeals to people who want to cut the budget and their idea of ‘fair’, but it ignores the fact that Russia is nibbling at the Ukraine and salivating over the rest of Eastern Europe. It's not clear how Obama could have done better than the sanctions or that Trump can do better. Are Afghans and Iraqis, not to mention Americans, better off because of our interventions? Some are, but many, maybe most, are not. The only promises I see Trump keeping are to racists and white nationalists, so far.
    You talk about how the Democratic coalition of diverse Americans isn't going to win the next election because they just demonstrate. If the Tea Party only demonstrated without the help of the Kochs and others, the Republicans wouldn’t have won either. You say the coasts can’t beat the center. That’s an electoral college issue. It's a political imperfection that gives smaller states power against the larger states, though without all the complexities of the various NATO countries. Why aren't you railing about that inequity the way you are about NATO? Fixing the electoral college, a system that negates the US value of one person one vote - is much easier that fixing any inequities among NATO nations. That's a rhetorical question, but it gets to the idea of how we decide what has top priority. Much of that, I'm afraid, is related to the media, and how much air time different ideas get. As much as we like to think we're immune to such biases, we all - including me - get caught up in focusing on the wrong issues all the time.
    The one thing I feel is a great benefit from the Trump administration is that unlike past administrations, he doesn't hide what he's really thinking. I don't think the others were all that different, but they were much better at disguising their prejudices and greed.
    And yes, Democrats need to focus on winning the next round. And lots of groups are doing that. The marches bring the same kind of hope and inspiration that you get rooting for your favorite football team. You see that you aren't alone, that others are on your side. And that spirit needs to be translated into action - and there are a lot of groups doing that which are not being highlighted by the media. Try checking out, for instance, Indivisible and what they are doing.
    Thanks for making me think harder about what I'm saying.


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