WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on the NATO alliance:
“Today’s hearing takes place just a few weeks from the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, known as NATO.
“There are many pressing issues facing NATO today. But for us to really assess where the alliance stands in the year 2019, we need to take a step back and look at the history of this great political and military relationship.
“The first half of the twentieth century was marked by periods of widespread suffering, instability, and fear. And at the start of both world wars, the United States stayed out of the fray—grateful that the Atlantic Ocean kept us far away from the terrors in Europe and the rest of the world.
“By putting our heads in the sand and trying to stay away from the conflicts, those wars grew into direct threats to our own economy, security, and very way of life—not to mention the immense suffering that happened while we waited on the sidelines, including the unprecedented horror of the Holocaust.
“So, after World War II, American leaders understood that it was in our strategic interest—and also a moral obligation—to band together with countries that shared our commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We joined with European democracies to form NATO, an organization built on the principle that we are stronger when we stand together.
“Now, 70 years later, NATO is widely recognized as the most successful political-military alliance in history. Its achievements include facing down Soviet communism and winning the Cold War, advancing freedom and democracy in Europe, stopping genocide and bringing peace to the Balkans, and fighting the international threat of terrorism.
“And in the United States across the decades, our transatlantic partnership has consistently won overwhelming bipartisan support. But a few years ago, things started to change.
“Since before he even came into office, President Trump has taken opportunities to denigrate our allies and undermine NATO in his personal dealings with European leaders, his policy proposals, and the rhetoric. I witnessed that personally when I attended the Munich Security Conference last month and heard from leader after European leader that America’s word—the security guarantee underpinning the trans-Atlantic alliance—is now being questioned.
“President Trump often depicts the NATO partnership as some kind of one-way street, where the United States bears inordinate costs with little benefit, and that’s just not true. Our European partners have contributed immensely to our shared missions, and they’ve come to America’s defense when we were most in need. After September 11, 2001, our allies stood with us—the only time, I might say, in NATO’s history that Article 5, the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all, has been invoked. And in recent years, European, Canadian, and American troops have fought bravely together, side by side, to defend the national security of all allies.
“One of President Trump’s most frequent criticisms is that allies habitually ‘free-ride,’ and that allies hosting American military forces don’t pay the United States enough money. Earlier this week, we learned about his latest proposal to address this concern: a so-called ‘cost plus 50’ plan. In this system, allies would pay the full cost of stationing American troops on their territory, plus an outlandish additional 50 percent.
“This whole scheme reveals just how little the President seems to understand about the way our alliances advance our own strategic interests. When we base troops in a NATO country, we aren’t just providing that nation with free security. Our presence strengthens the alliance’s position in Europe and extends America’s strategic reach. And our alliances—especially NATO—directly benefit the United States by enhancing our military power, global influence, economic might, and diplomatic leverage.
“That’s not to say I expect our allies to not provide any financial contribution at all. NATO countries have already agreed to pay two percent of their GDP on defense by the year 2024, and I agree with President Trump when he said that they should fulfill that obligation. We should hold them to that obligation. But the conversation should be more than only financial burden-sharing. Instead, we need to see the big picture of how our allies contribute to our collective goals.
“But, the President’s constant denigration of our allies presents a real threat to our foreign policy and national security objectives. And frankly, it’s just baffling. President Trump is much more critical of our European allies—societies that share our commitment to core values—than he is of brutal dictators, such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, or Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“And that’s why it’s so important that we in Congress take a leadership role on this front. I’m pleased that in this body, support for our European allies and partners continues to be bipartisan. You can see that in a resolution that the Ranking Member and I are introducing that would reaffirm the House’s support for America’s alliances and partnerships around the world.
“Simply put, NATO is one of our most precious geopolitical assets and should stay that way. It’s important that we stand together to send this message. Because the NATO alliance is needed now as much as ever before.
“We are seeing a rise in authoritarianism, continued threats from international terrorism and extremism, and aggressive attempts by Putin to invade Russia’s neighbors and attack democratic elections throughout the world. It’s by working with our NATO allies, standing side-by-side, that we can successfully face these challenges head on.
“So, it’s critical that we have a full understanding of the current state of the alliance. We need to explore the role that NATO plays in America’s foreign policy and discuss ways we can improve the organization—including efforts to make sure our allies follow through on all their obligations.
“I’m eager to hear from our witnesses about these issues.”