The NATO alliance has been a cornerstone of American national security strategy, promoting stability in Europe and the advancement of our shared value. The United States and eleven other countries established the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 to counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union.
Since its creation, the alliance has expanded to include 29 member countries. Today, long after the fall of the Soviet Union, the alliance still exists to deter mutual security threats ranging from Russian expansion to global terrorism. The principal agreement in the treaty is Article 5, a commitment by each country to the collective defense of the other member countries. In other words, an attack on one is an attack on all. The members invoked Article 5—for the first and only time to date—to come to the aid of the U.S. in the wake of the September 11th attacks, joining military operations in Afghanistan.
The U.S. partnership with the E.U. has also been critical to the stability of the rules-based international order. The E.U. is a critical trading partner – the E.U. imported $277 billion worth of U.S. goods in 2019. The U.S.-Europe economic relationship is the largest in the world, accounting for $4 billion of trade and investment activity every day. As the United States contemplates how to posture itself to oppose China, leveraging our economic ties to the E.U. will be critical.
During the last administration, President Trump routinely criticized the U.S.’ participation in NATO. His repeated complaints about NATO’s cost to the U.S. and comments about the alliance being “obsolete,” severely damaged the U.S.’ relationship with NATO allies. Contrary to Trump’s claims, the U.S. pays 22% of NATO expenses, a proportion which, based on the NATO cost-sharing formula, is in line with the relative size of the American economy. Other member countries also fulfill their assigned responsibilities for direct NATO costs. In 2014, NATO member countries pledged to increase their respective defense spending to 2% of GDP over the next ten years. The goal was to strengthen European defense capabilities due to reductions in the post-Cold War U.S. security footprint in Europe. However, many scholars have noted that the 2% metric is “barely useful” because it can only measure input without any accountability for positive results.
On June 9, 2017, President Trump finally endorsed NATO’s Article 5, a month after he notably failed to do so in a speech at NATO headquarters. Later that year, in an attempt to solidify our allies’ faith in U.S. commitments, the House passed Rep. Paul Ryan’s H.R.397, which expressed the House’s commitment to Article 5.
In mid-January 2019, it was reported that President Trump had repeatedly spoken about his desire to withdraw from NATO to the concern of many in the national security community. President Trump later refuted this claim with a statement that the U.S. was “gonna be with NATO 100 percent”, but said the NATO allies needed to “step up” and “pay.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addressed a joint session of Congress in April 2019, on the 70th Anniversary of the Alliance. During his speech, he strongly defended the alliance and urged NATO allies to stand up to Russia. This was the first time a NATO Secretary General was invited to address Congress.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 has made clear how vital a strong Atlantic Alliance is to Since taking office, President Biden has taken steps to reverse the of Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, the Biden-Harris administration has adamantly voiced its commitment to historical partnerships and allies. In an address at the annual Munich Security Conference in February 2021, President Biden declared, “America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back,” reiterating the U.S.’ commitment to NATO and its member countries.
In March 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken took his first trip to Brussels for a two-day summit during which he met with his European counterparts and reaffirmed the U.S.’ commitment to NATO. Speaking at the summit, Blinken stated, “You have our unshakeable vow: America is fully committed to NATO, including Article 5.” Blinken’s speech not only reiterated President Biden’s commitment to allies and global partnerships but also outlined steps that will be taken to reaffirm and revitalize the U.S.’ alliances. Faced with a series of new international crises, including military threats from China and Russia, disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks, and the global crisis of COVID-19, Blinken stressed that alliances and global cooperation are needed now more than ever.
“I’m sending a clear message to the world: America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back.”— President Joe Biden
In mid-April 2021, following weeks of aggressive military build-up by Russia along Ukraine’s borders, both Secretary Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took trips to NATO headquarters in Belgium to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and other European counterparts. Meetings also coincided with the start of renewed diplomatic talks between parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in Vienna, Austria over U.S.-Iran re-compliance of the nuclear deal, as well as U.S. preparations for a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Following Biden’s announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from Afghanistan, NATO followed with a unanimous decision to do the same.
Secretary Lloyd Austin met with government and military officials to discuss international defense relationships, burden sharing, and enduring trans-Atlantic security. Secretary Blinken and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg discussed a coordinated effort to withdraw U.S and NATO troops from Afghanistan and reiterated the importance of continuing to deliver NATO support to Ukraine in response to heightened Russian aggression. Shortly thereafter, in early May, Secretary Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv to reaffirm U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine. Zelenskyy has been vocal about Ukraine’s interest in joining both NATO and the European Union, and the pair discussed the prospects of increased partnership and security assistance.
The Biden-Harris administration has also sought to strengthen NATO cooperation in the Arctic, where rapidly warming temperatures due to climate change are introducing new opportunities for trade and commercial enterprise, as well as the prospects of military confrontation with Russia. The Arctic Council – made up of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States – convened in Iceland in late May, where the U.S. and NATO allies expressed concern over Russian military and commercial activity in the Arctic. The 8-nation bloc also expressed optimism for cooperation. In his address to the Council, Secretary Blinken stated, “We’re committed to advancing a peaceful Arctic region where cooperation prevails on climate, the environment, science and safety, and where sustainable economic development benefits the people of the region themselves.”
During the NATO Summit in Brussels in June 2021, President Biden reiterated America’s commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance as unshakeable and stated that the U.S. regards Article 5 of the NATO as “a sacred commitment.” He noted that “the democratic values that undergird our alliance are under increasing pressure both internally and externally. Russia and China are both seeking to drive a wedge in our trans-Atlantic solidarity, and we’re seeing an increase in malicious cyber activity.” NATO leaders called on China to uphold its international commitments and to act responsibly in the international system, including in space, cyber and maritime domains, in keeping with its role as a major power. President Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin where, although they expressed the desire to ease tensions between our two nations, it was clear we remain profoundly divided on issues ranging from cyberattacks to human rights.
By casting doubt on U.S. commitments to the transatlantic alliance, President Trump led U.S. allies to question American reliability and consider developing independent European defense capabilities. Faced with new international threats to democracy and human rights, President Biden’s reiteration of our commitment to our NATO allies should be backed by Congress. We’re asking Members of Congress to affirm our Article 5 commitment to our European allies and partners, and take steps to strengthen the NATO alliance.
Call your Representative and Senators at 202-224-3121 and ask that they support the U.S. commitment to our allies. Be sure to mention that: