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How Trump’s Call for More Military Spending by NATO Countries Benefits U.S. Weapons Manufacturers

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As President Donald Trump pushes for more defense spending from NATO countries, we speak with Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, about how Trump’s foreign policy benefits weapons manufacturers. During an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump demanded Germany and other NATO countries increase their military spending from 2 to 4% of GDP. But Cirincione says NATO’s biggest problem is not insufficient funding. “The biggest problem NATO faces is the president of the United States, who keeps putting in doubt U.S. commitment to the alliance, who keeps putting in doubt whether the U.S. will come to the aid of NATO allies if they’re attacked,” he says. Cirincione also calls national security adviser John Bolton a “serial arms control killer.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to look at how the Trump administration is pushing NATO countries to increase military spending, often to the benefit of weapons manufacturers like Boeing. During an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, President Trump falsely claimed his father was born in Germany—Trump, again, falsely claimed his own father was born in Germany—he was born in the Bronx—and once again demanded Germany and other NATO countries increase their military spending from 2 to 4% of GDP.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have worked together on getting some of our allies to pay their fair share. It’s called burden sharing. And as you know, when I came, it wasn’t so good, and now it’s—they’re catching up. We have seven of the 28 countries are currently current, and the rest are trying to catch up, and they will catch up. And some of them have no problems, because they haven’t been paying and they’re very rich. But we’re looking at the 2% of GDP level. And at some point, I think it’s going to have to go higher than that. I think probably it should be higher.

AMY GOODMAN: The next day, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg addressed a joint session of Congress in an event marking the 70th anniversary of NATO.

SECRETARY GENERAL JENS STOLTENBERG: NATO allies must spend more on defense. This has been the clear message from President Trump. And this message is having a real impact. Of the years of reducing defense budgets, all allies have stopped the cuts, and all allies have increased their defense spending.

AMY GOODMAN: The push for military spending comes as Acting Pentagon Chief Patrick Shanahan is under investigation for improperly advocating on behalf of Boeing, where he worked for 30 years. Meanwhile, the Pentagon blocked delivery of F-35 fighter jets to NATO member country Turkey, because it refused to back down on buying an anti-aircraft system from Russia. The U.S. Air Force has suspended deliveries of Boeing’s KC-46 Pegasus tanker over safety concerns.

For more, we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by Joe Cirincione. He is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Joe.

JOE CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: As you can see, we’ve spent the hour talking about Boeing—in one case, the first American wrongful death lawsuit against Boeing and the FAA. And now we’re looking at a larger picture around the U.S. relationship with NATO and what Trump is trying to do with NATO countries, under the guise of increasing national security, which is pushing them to buy not only more weapons, but more U.S. weapons. Can you comment on this? And do you think that’s the motivation for President Trump’s criticism of NATO?

JOE CIRINCIONE: The debate on NATO is dominated by this obsession over the 2% solution, that somehow what we need to do is get all the European countries to spend 2% of their economic output on defense, as if this is going to—as if this is needed or is going to fix our problems. But this is out of touch with reality. The European countries, by themselves, spend about $240 billion every year on military weapons and forces. They outspend Russia four to one. Russia spends about $66 billion each year. So they are spending plenty on defense.

This idea that we have to get them to spend more weakens NATO, not strengthens it, because it diverts resources from things like, for example, settlement of migrations—of migrants, one of the issues that has been roiling Europe over the last few years, or the basic health and welfare and education of their population, another economic dislocation issue that does more to undermine NATO than any military threat.

And why is this happening, you ask? Well, I think it is a push from the defense contractors. Boeing is one of the top five defense contractors in the United Staes, in the world, and it benefits from increases in defense spending. So we should be questioning whether we need to spend more money at all on this, and what we’re spending. Do we have shortfalls in NATO? Yes, we do. But we can fix those by spending more wisely, not by spending more.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this in terms of nuclear weapons?

JOE CIRINCIONE: Yes. The United States still keeps about 150 hydrogen bombs stationed in Europe. These are vestiges of the Cold War. We used to have thousands. The Republican administration under George W. Bush actually pulled out hundreds, but the Obama administration was afraid to pull out the remaining 150.

So, what are we doing with those weapons? Well, it turns out we’re spending $10 billion to modernize these weapons, to put new tail kits on them, make them more accurate for use. Who is benefiting from that contract? Boeing. Boeing makes the tail kits for these B-61s. So we’re giving Boeing billions of dollars to modernize an obsolete weapon that we will never use, that we do not need.

This is the kind of wasteful spending that’s going on in NATO, and that the focus is distorting what we really need to do to build up a NATO, to solidify the alliance. It’s not about money. The biggest problem NATO faces is the president of the United States, who keeps putting in doubt U.S. commitment to the alliance, who keeps putting in doubt whether the U.S. will come to the aid of NATO allies if they’re attacked. This is the biggest issue, not how much we spend.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about President Trump continually talking about NATO members paying their fair share.

JOE CIRINCIONE: Yeah. Well, this is a bipartisan obsession, this 2% solution. I think the president is using this as a stick to hit the NATO allies. President Trump is the first president since World War II who does not see himself as a leader of the Western alliance, does not see himself as a leader of NATO. He looks at our European allies as economic rivals. So he wants to use this issue to hit them over the head, because, in essence, and this is his—if there’s such a thing as a Trump policy or Trump doctrine, it’s this. He doesn’t believe in alliances. He doesn’t want the European countries to be united. He would prefer the United States deal with each country individually, because he believes we have a greater advantage.

So, the fear in NATO—and this is what the secretary general was trying to assuage in his visit here this week—is not that the Europeans aren’t spending enough on defense. It’s that the U.S. is pulling back, that the U.S., who founded NATO, is reneging on its commitments. And President Trump, every day, every time he talks about NATO, does something to increase those fears.

AMY GOODMAN: The role of John Bolton, Joe Cirincione?

JOE CIRINCIONE: John Bolton is a serial arms control killer. He has never believed in arms control, negotiated solutions to weapons. So he’s the hidden hand behind President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, the treaty that Ronald Reagan negotiated to pull out, to get rid of nuclear weapons that we were stationing in Europe, what they called intermediate-range nuclear weapons. He never liked the treaty, when it was negotiated. He’s in favor of more weapons, not less. And because we’re killing the treaty, the U.S.—guess what—is now set to build a new ground-launched cruise missile that could be placed in Europe. The nuclear arms race is back in Europe, largely because of John Bolton.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Cirincione, we’re going to ask you to stay with us. We’re going to do a web exclusive with you at democracynow.org. Joe Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, global security foundation, author of Nuclear Nightmares. I’m Amy Goodman. This is Democracy Now! Thanks so much for joining us.

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