Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign town hall at Ocean Center, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Say what you will about Donald Trump’s White House bid, but one thing is for sure: after 2016, Americans will no longer tolerate being fleeced in “bad deals”. Be it disingenuous trade deals or freeloading US allies, the rules of the game have changed. Throughout his campaign, Trump has had no qualms about attacking institutions and agreements he feels are cheating America.
Take NATO for example, which Trump has threatened to abandon if its members don’t make greater contributions. In response, NATO members have been actively rooting against his candidacy, fearing that a Trump presidency would force them to boost defense spending. Despite the backlash, Trump’s criticisms have merit. The US has for long covered the bulk of NATO’s costs, contributing a whopping 72.2 percent of the alliance’s military expenditures in 2015. NATO members are supposed to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense. And yet last year, only five of the 28 NATO countries – Estonia, Greece, Poland, the US and the UK – met that requirement. NATO’s European countries spent only a combined 1.43 percent. It’s not as if Europe doesn’t have the means to fairly contribute, let alone defend itself. Collectively, both Europe’s economic output and population are greater than that of the US. Compared to Russia – Europe’s main state adversary – Europe’s advantages are even more pronounced. Europe’s economy is about ten times as large as Russia’s and its population about three and a half times. Even current defense spending among European NATO members is nearly double that of Russia’s.
NATO isn’t the only international institution to find itself in Trump’s crosshairs during this campaign. Trump has been highly critical of the UN as well, blasting it for its “utter weakness and incompetence” and calling out other countries for not paying enough. And he is not alone in his skepticism. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 43 percent of Republicans hold favorable views of the UN. A 2015 survey by Gallup found that 57 percent of Americans think the UN is doing a poor job at addressing global challenges.
Given the array of problems facing the UN, it is not surprising that people are displeased. Take, for example, a recent report by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, which criticizes US taxpayer contributions to the World Health Organization that go to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), of which the US is not even a member. As of July 2016, according to the report, 142 of the FCTC’s 180 member states had failed to pay all of their dues to the organization, leaving the FCTC with an 81 percent funding gap.
And for all the money it gets from the US, what has the FCTC done? As a number of reports show, the organization has been busy advancing an agenda that has put the lives of American taxpayers at risk. Through a deeply opaque process (its meetings are held in secret), the organization has been trying to persuade member states to ban e-cigarettes – despite their scientifically proven track record in helping smokers quit. The FCTC’s next meeting, slated to take place in November in New Delhi, India will debate whether vaping should be treated and regulated like regular cigarettes, despite not containing any tobacco. Joining hands with the FCTC, Director-General of the WHO Margaret Chan stated last year that “all governments should ban e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems.”
A recent documentary aptly called “A Billion Lives” shows that even if a full one billion people stand to die from smoking by the end of the century, public health officials have teamed up with Big Pharma and are consciously spreading disinformation about the risks of e-cigarettes. Senators Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, some of the most vocal Democrats attacking e-cigarettes, have received millions in donations from drug industry groups.
Regardless, the UN’s flaws go well beyond the FCTC. As with NATO, the US pays an unfair share, covering 22 percent of the UN’s regular budget and 28.5 percent of its peacekeeping budget, as well as billions of additional dollars per annum to various UN agencies. Shockingly, the US contributes more to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets than 185 other countries combined. Compared to the US’s contribution of over $3 billion, the 20 lowest-paying countries give a mere $37,000 each, on average. In 2015, over half of UN member states paid less than $1 million. Moreover, American fiscal obligations to the UN are greater than that of the other four permanent Security Council members combined.
Although it is unlikely that Trump will win the election, his foreign policy pronouncements have touched a nerve. With a reduced public appetite for foreign aid, UN funding, etc., the US may decide not to continue shouldering the fiscal burden while other countries neglect their commitments. Considering that the national debt stands at $19.7 trillion, that would not be unwise. Large swathes of the US public are tired of international engagements, meaning the next president could well have less room to engage in interventionism. Ultimately, no matter who takes office in January, the message to America’s allies is clear: don’t expect the US to continue coddling you to its own detriment. Pay your fair share, or prepare to bear the consequences.