WASHINGTON — Arguing America’s allies need to pull their own weight, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee has proposed a bill to restart Pentagon reporting to Congress on countries’ annual military spending.
“NATO and other mutual defense agreements have a purpose, but until we no longer bear the greatest brunt of the financial burden, we cannot and should not consider expanding these commitments,” Lee said in a statement Thursday to announce the bill known as the Allied Burden Sharing Report Act of 2018.
The proposal is the latest in a flurry of bills related to NATO that have come around U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Brussels for the alliance’s summit this week. Lee’s would require the Department of Defense to send Congress an annual report on the common defense contributions of NATO countries and other allies, including Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
In Brussels, Trump sparked fears he would fracture NATO when he confronted allies for not meeting a defense spending goal of 2 percent of their gross domestic product, criticized Germany for its gas pipeline deal with Russia and proposing the alliance double the target to 4 percent.
Later this week, Trump is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he said might be the easiest meeting of his four-country European tour.
On a bipartisan basis, lawmakers back in Washington have largely been supportive of Trump’s strong message on burden-sharing and the alliance itself — while Republicans, with some exceptions, have credited Trump for getting results.
“I absolutely support the notion that all NATO countries, especially Germany, need to meet the 2 percent requirement for spending on defense and increase their capabilities. At the same time, a weakening of the alliance is not in U.S. interests,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., one of the GOP’s more vocal critics of the president.
Corker’s panel overwhelmingly passed a resolution expressing support for NATO, reaffirming U.S. policy supporting Ukraine and condemning Russia for its efforts to annex Crimea.
Separately, the House approved a bipartisan, nonbinding resolution by voice vote Wednesday that supports NATO and its mutual self-defense clause, as well as America’s Eastern and Central European allies. That resolution also condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and reaffirms support for related sanctions.
When the Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a measure that was similar in spirit, Lee and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., were the only “no” votes.
“We can’t constantly be the world’s policeman. We’ve got to make sure we’re not fighting everyone else’s wars or agreeing preemptively to do that,” Lee told the Fox Business Network on Wednesday. “There’s no reason we should have to be forever bound by this alliance.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.