It is harder with President Trump than any of his predecessors to check the veracity of his statements, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler wrote this weekend.
The Fact Checker was assessing Trump’s claim that the U.S. spends far more than any other country to keep the NATO alliance alive and how the way Trump says this makes it unclear what the president means. He wrote that he doesn’t “like to play gotcha, and few people speak extemporaneously as clearly as they would hope.”
But Trump’s “staff almost never responds to queries or bothers to provide an explanation of his remarks,” Kessler wrote, though “such exchanges are usually mutually beneficial, in that we understand exactly what the politician was trying to say and where he or she got their information.”
This is the “conundrum” Kessler faces with Trump.
What does he mean when he says, “We are getting ripped off by every country in NATO, where they pay virtually nothing?
“Is he talking about funding for the NATO organization? Is he talking about relative spending on the military by the members of NATO? It’s unclear. So we will fact-check both ways.”
Trump is not talking about the administrative expenses of NATO. These expenses are calculated on the basis of gross national income. The U.S. pays 22 percent, according to this formula, and no other country pays more than the 15 percent Germany pays – with France paying 11 percent, the U.K. 10 percent, Italy 8 percent and Canada 7 percent. The total expense is $500 million per year for the U.S., a rounding error.
Kessler said it is “wildly exaggerated” to claim that contributing 22 percent when no one else pays more than 15 percent constitutes paying a “lion’s share,” because although the U.S. pays the most, it is “not significantly more than the next country — and the formula for calculating the different shares is reasonable.”
NATO countries have pledged to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. The U.S. spends 3.7 percent, but just four other countries in the alliance spend the required amount. The median is just 1.18 percent, and 73 percent of the money spent on NATO today comes from American coffers.
“This does not mean that the United States covers 73 percent” of the operational costs of NATO’s Brussels headquarters, Kessler wrote. “But it does mean that there is an over-reliance by the Alliance as a whole on the United States for the provision of essential capabilities, including, for instance, in regard to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; air-to-air refueling; ballistic missile defense; and airborne electronic warfare.”
“Europeans pay less than their fair share,” Andrew Bacevich of Boston University told Kessler. “Are Europeans free-riders when it comes to security, counting on the U.S. to pick up the slack? Yes, without a doubt.”
Kessler awarded Trump’s statements three pinocchios – four is the maximum – because 22 percent (when no one else pays more than 15 and most pay far less) is “hardly the ‘lion’s share’” and because the U.S. is a world power and thus has to spend more on the military anyway.
“Trump is simply wrong on direct funding and is imprecise and possibly out of date on indirect funding.”
He opted for three because Trump “shouldn’t make such statements if his campaign is not prepared to explain them.”