NATO and U.S. Debt

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 12.46.04 PMU.S. President Donald Trump insists that German Chancellor Angela Merkel “deposit money” and bear more of the costs of the NATO alliance.

 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), or North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance between 28 North American and European countries that was formed in 1949 in response to World War II. According to the NATO website, the alliance has goals of deterring Soviet expansionism; forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent; and encouraging European political integration (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). For NATO to work, members must make sure their armed forces are financially stable. To do that, NATO partners agreed on an official budgetary goal or standard that determines how much each country should contribute. That standard was, and still is, 2% of each country’s gross domestic product or GDP (Kottasova). Presently, however, the United States and its NATO allies are debating whether all members are shouldering their fair share of the cost burden.

Historically, the United States has provided the biggest share of military power to NATO. Over the decades, debates over whether or not this arrangement is fair have ebbed and flowed. For example, in a 2011 editorial in the New York Times, entitled “Talking Truth to NATO,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates implied that the United States can no longer “afford to do a disproportionate share of NATO’s fighting and pay a disproportionate share of its bills, while Europe slashes its defense budgets, and free-rides on the collective security benefits” (Talking Truth To NATO). Donald Trump, the current United States President, is particularly concerned about this issue. Since his election, Trump has repeatedly and publicly complained that NATO allies are not paying their fair share financially. He contends that they are “free riders,” reaping the benefits of peace and security provided by the United States military (The Hill).

NATO was formed to protect the North Atlantic Alliance from military attacks from other countries. In order to be a part of NATO, countries must meet certain requirements. The (candidate) members must first have a secure and stable democratic system of government. Additionally, they must have good relationships with their neighbors and show a commitment to the rule of law and to human rights. Finally, the (candidate) members must contribute their military to the collective defense, and the country has to bring their budgetary legislation in line with NATO’s standards (Tomuic).

Illustrated by Dana Summers, the contemporary cartoon featured in this blog post first appeared on the US News website as their daily cartoon on May 31, 2017. The cartoon depicts Donald Trump confronting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels to discuss NATO and the amount of money Germany is (or is not) contributing to NATO. The cartoon represents the meeting Donald Trump had with NATO allies to discuss each country’s total contribution to the collective defense (Applebaum). That meeting occurred on May 25 in Brussels and focused on the “new security environment, including the Alliance’s role in the fight against terrorism, and the importance of increased defense spending and fairer burden-sharing” (Kottasova). Therefore, the cartoon illustrated by Dana Summers, came from the meeting Trump had with the allied countries regarding NATO and the expenses the U.S. has already paid.

In a New York Timesarticle, entitled “Trump Says NATO Allies Don’t Pay Their Share. Is That True?”, which was published a day after the meeting in Brussels, President Trump complained that “NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations, for 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for their defense” (Baker). The quote reflects Trump’s frustration with NATO partners who, in his perspective, have not held up their end of the deal. He believes the United States has been loyal to the financial agreement it made as a NATO member. In return, he believes the other NATO allies should be contributing more of their GDP to NATO.

Summers’ cartoon depicts Trump’s demand that other countries pay more as part of their commitment to NATO. In the cartoon, Trump looks frustrated, as though he has been waiting for the money he believes he is owed. In the illustration, the hat on the ground serves as if it is a collection plate, into which Angela Merkel is expected to “deposit money” for NATO. In this political cartoon, Merkel also symbolizes other European allies with whom Trump is frustrated. Merkel’s facial expression in the cartoon appears as though she too is upset—with the fact that President Trump is asking for money and because she does not think Germany and other European allies owe that money to NATO. In short, Summer’s cartoon captures the mutual dissatisfaction and consternation among allies over matters of fairness and free-riding.

Because NATO does not have legislative power, its members cannot be punished for not putting in as much money as the United States. However, as Summers’ political cartoon illustrates, Trump expects them to keep their word and pay more, in case one of the European allied countries goes to war or needs protection. Basically, having an alliance with these countries means believing that they will do what they agree to do. In Trump’s view, the other countries are not fully living up to their agreements vis-a-vis NATO. That is, they are not making financial contributions reflective of their GDPs. Trump is frustrated and feels that the United States cannot trust its NATO allies. This defeats the purpose of an alliance. Of the 28 countries that belong to NATO, the United States pays the most according to our country’s GDP, along with providing the most protection (Kottasova). Other NATO countries should accept the same degree of responsibility and loyalty that the United States has displayed.

President Trump feels as though the financial responsibility for NATO has not been reciprocated by other member countries. This “free rider” problem was further aggravated by the 2008 Great Recession, which significantly added to the United States’ debt. By the end of 2017, the United States’ national debt totaled approximately $19.84 trillion. To put this in perspective, this is equal to each citizen of the United States having to pay $60,890 to cover the national debt (Patton). Debt correlates to stress and worry. It is not something most Americans want to deal with in their personal lives, so it is no mystery that debt causes concern in many people regarding our country and its future (Foster).

The United States government operates on an annual budget each year. The budget provides a guide that helps determine where and how to spend the money generated through taxes. If the government only spends as much as it makes, then the United States stays on budget. When the government spends more than it takes in through taxes, it is forced to borrow money either from domestic and foreign investors or from other governments. The result is a budget deficit and indebtedness to other groups. The total national debt equals the sum of all budget deficits over the years, and for most of the last 60 years, the United States federal government has had an issue with spending more than it takes in, causing a massive national debt (Patton).

AnotherNew York Times article,“As Debt Fear Fades, Risks Remain,” warns Americans not to get too comfortable with the growing amount of national debt (Applebaum). One of the downsides of debt is that interest has to be paid for the amount of money that is borrowed. Interest is the money charged for borrowing a sum over an amount of time and is essentially a fee that must continue to be paid every year until the amount of money borrowed is completely paid off (“Interest”). Theaforementioned article estimates that the United States could be paying a total of $6 trillion in interest over the next decade. This $6 trillion is in addition to what was previously borrowed, and will only continue to grow until the loans are paid off (Applebaum).

National debt is not a new problem. It is as old as the United States itself. Concern about the prospect of American insolvency has been going on for years. The United States is not the only country that struggles with national debt. Many countries have national debt, especially after the worldwide financial meltdown of 2008 and protracted Great Recession.

The United States also experienced significant war debt after World War I. At that time, Great Britain and France owed the United States money that had been borrowed and loaned between the Allies during WWI (Potter). In 1931, a Dallas Morning News cartoonist named John Knott published a comic referring to that debt. Knott’s cartoon, “Better Than Nothing,” shows Uncle Sam, who represents the United States, standing off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico asking Great Britain and France to make good on the war debts they owed but were unable to repay. The representations of these countries look quite unfazed as they share a smoke together. The Knott cartoon is an example of how concern over debt in the United States has been a pattern in the context of the United States’ relationships with its allies. Similarly, debt is aggravating Trump’s concern over insufficient funding by NATO allies. Since the United States currently has significant debt, that increases the need for other NATO members to contribute their fair shares financially. For them not to pay their fair shares would be a continuance of allies not matching what the United States is contributing financially.

Both Knott’s and Summers’ political cartoons show representations of the United States insisting that its European allies either pay back debt from or pay more money to the costs of collective defense. These cartoons focus attention on the fact that other countries enjoy security provided by the United States, arguably without paying a sufficient amount to cover the costs of that security. Both cartoons suggest that the United States should be more fairly compensated for the significant contributions that it brings to allied defense.

Both historically and currently under Republican leadership, military and defense spending has been a high priority in America. This priority has continued under President Trump, increasing the financial pressure on the United States and making NATO contributions even more important. Chancellor Merkel may feel that her country’s spending for NATO is enough due to its non-monetary contributions (e.g., providing in-country military bases) and based on what she believes is important for German national priorities. However, President Trump feels that the United States is owed more money from Germany, and from other NATO allies, because of the expensive security umbrella that the US provides and that covers other countries in the North Atlantic Alliance. He insists that NATO allies are not paying their fair share financially and that the United States should be more fairly compensated for the significant contributions America makes to NATO.

 

 

 

 

References

 

Appelbaum, Binyamin. “As Debt Fear Fades, Risks Remain.” New York Times, 5 Oct. 2017, p. B1(L). Opposing Viewpoints In Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A508069774/OVIC?u=txshracd2598&sid=OVIC&xid=2818e965.

 

Baker, Peter. “Trump Says NATO Allies Don’t Pay Their Share. Is That True?” New York Times, 26 May 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/world/europe/nato-trump-spending.html.

 

Foster, Michael. “Federal Debt Is Reaching $20 Trillion and That’s Not A Bad Thing.” Forbes, 27 Dec. 1931, p. 1, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelfoster/2017/11/08/federal-debt-is-reaching-20-trillion-and-i-dont-care/#6e68494832ba.

 

”Interest.” Investopedia, www.investopedia.com/terms/i/interest.asp.

 

Kottasova, Ivana. “How NATO Is Funded and Who Pays What.” CNN, 20 Mar. 2017, money.cnn.com/2017/03/20/news/nato-funding-explained/index.html.

 

“North Atlantic Treaty Organization.” NATO Otan, www.nato.int/cps/ie/natohq/declassified_139339.htm

 

Patton, Mike. “National Debt Tops $18 Trillion: Guess How Much You Owe?” Forbes, 24 Apr. 2015,

https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2015/…/national-debt-tops-18-trillion…/2.

 

Potter, Edmund D. “World War I debts.” The 1930s in America, edited by Thomas Tandy Lewis, Salem, 2011. Salem Online.

 

“Talking Truth To NATO.” New York Times, 10 June 2011, www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/opinion/11sat1.html.

 

Tomuic, Eugen. “NATO: What Does It Take To Join?” RadioFree Europe, 7 Mar. 2002, www.rferl.org/a/1099020.html.

 

“Trump confronts NATO’s free riders.” Chicago tribune, 17 Feb. 2015, www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-nato-trump-russia-edit-20170217-story.html#.

 

Roman Hero

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Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is depicted humorously in the Palazzo Massimo in a political cartoon by Paresh Nath, contrasted with prominent historical works of art: Augustus of Primaporta and The Lancellotti Discobolus.

In this political cartoon by Khaleej Times cartoonist Paresh Nath, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is illustrated alongside famous Roman sculptures of Augustus Caesar Octavianus and The Discobolus. The cartoon is an ironic depiction of the corrupt Italian politician juxtaposed against great figures in Italian historical culture, and references a larger historical context. In addition to the contrasts Nath attributes between the celebrated connotations of these prominent masterpieces and Silvio Berlusconi’s nefarious political career, wider connections can also be drawn among Berlusconi and another leader from Italy’s past: Benito Mussolini. Though far from identical leaders in practice, their respective rise and fall in political power share notable similarities. The egotistical demeanor with which both men governed Italy would indeed lead many to satirically label them as self-proclaimed Roman heroes.

The figures in Paresh Nath’s cartoon are depicted in the Palazzo Massimo, one of four parts of the National Roman Museum in Italy. This particular building holds “one of the world’s largest collections of ancient art” (National Roman Museum), featuring prominent Roman paintings, mosaics, and sculptures. The Discobolus, translated simply as “The Discus-thrower,” was originally produced by the 5th century Greek artist Myron (Sculpture of the Classical Period, 411). The Roman Empire adopted this masterpiece and reproduced countless copies, which were dispersed throughout villas as a symbol of cultured taste. “One of the most famous sculptures from ancient times” (Butler, 1), the Discus-thrower represents the perfect image of beauty, youth, athleticism, and balance, according to ancient Greek ideals. The specific Discobolus that is located in the National Museum of Rome today is the Lancellotti (or Palombara) Discobolus, which was “notoriously sold to Adolf Hitler in 1938 as a trophy of the Aryan race” (Butler, 1). The importance of this transaction will be revisited later in the analysis.

Even more intriguing is the inclusion of Augustus Caesar Octavian in the cartoon, wherein Berlusconi’s pose is notably identical to Octavian’s. This statue of the Roman Emperor is named Augustus of Primaporta, sans the small angel that accompanies him at his feet. There exist many different sculptures of the man, although this is certainly the most famed version. The decision to include this particular version is significant, because it was sculpted as an idealization after his death (Ford, 1). Throughout his life – and especially during his political career – Octavian only wanted himself depicted by others as humble and modest; thus, it is the only sculpture of him in military attire and with an allusion to the divine (although the angel is absent in Nath’s cartoon).

Successor to his great-uncle Julius Caesar, Octavian faced many adversaries at the inception of his rule, including those who murdered his great-uncle (“Augustus, Caesar Octavianus”, 88-89). The Battle of Actium concluded in his favor when his last rival, Marcus Antonius, was defeated (“Augustus Caesar Octavianus, 88-89). The sole remaining ruler of the Roman Empire, Octavian stabilized, expanded, colonized, and reformed the civilization, bringing about a golden age and a Pax Romana. During this time, Roman culture and commerce flourished under his reign and even well after his death (Augustus, Caesar Octavianus”, 89-90).

Over two millennia later, Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power began with his entry into the real estate market during the post-war development boom of the 1960s (Silvio Berlusconi, 48). He followed this success by building a media empire throughout the 1970s and 1980s, developing of a massive private network television market (Silvio Berlusconi, 48). His status as a prominent media mogul would eventually propel him to the seat of government power in 1994. Berlusconi utilized his expansive media holdings to campaign for the office of the Italian Prime Minister, and won the position on the promise that he would clear out the corruption that plagued the Italian government. Despite convictions of financial crimes and allegations of further corruption that temporarily forced him from the seat, he remained in Parliament as the opposition party leader until his re-election to premiership in 2001 (Silvio Berlusconi, 49-50).

By 2004, Berlusconi had been Prime Minister of the longest-lasting Italian government in the history of the country, gaining the respect of many Italians for years to come. In what was perhaps Berlusconi’s most dictatorial maneuver of his premiership, after his re-election in 2008 he prioritized his government’s legislation to pass a law that granted the Prime Minister immunity to prosecution (Hooper). Of course, this law was swiftly dismantled by Italy’s constitutional court.  Unfortunately for his image, by 2011, years of corruption and scandal finally caught up to the unethical politician. Berlusconi resigned from the position amidst allegations of abuse of office, child sexual abuse, and tax fraud (Giuffrida). After being convicted of the tax fraud charges in 2013, he was forcefully removed from Parliament as well and banned from office. However, he would remain the iconographical leader of the Forza Italia party, which would renew his political strength in only five years.

In Nath’s illustration, Berlusconi is facetiously being placed on the same degree as Octavian. By drawing Berlusconi imitating Octavian’s pose, Nath is humorizing Berlusconi’s consistent practice of idealizing himself as a great man and an experienced politician. Even though both rulers promoted economic growth under their authority, Octavian actively sought to root out corruption in his government, while Berlusconi only claimed to do so (Encyclopedia of World Biography). In fact, most of the moral degradation of Berlusconi’s government derived from his own premiership. Despite this, Berlusconi has repeatedly upheld that he is “the best political leader in Europe and in the world” (BBC News). This egotistical attitude is contrasted with irony in Nath’s cartoon. His pants, labeled “Morality,” are drawn at his ankles, and his heart-spotted underwear is a clear innuendo to the 2011 child sexual abuse case he was involved in with the underage prostitute, “Ruby the Heart Stealer” (Squires). The crowd surrounding him represents the massive publicity that his numerous scandals provoked.

Furthermore, Berlusconi is also contrasted with the Discus-thrower. The cartoonist Nath even characterized them with the same body type, a simple action that degrades The Discobolus from its status as one of the most prominent historical works of art. Again, Nath is utilizing irony to spuriously situate Berlusconi at the same level of prominence as a historical masterpiece; however, one subject is famous, while the other is infamous. As discussed previously, The Discobolus was crafted out of the ancient Greek notion of physical perfection and ideal form. It is now regarded as one of the greatest works of art ever created, which gives more power to Nath’s juxtaposition of the piece against the public humiliation and shame that riddled Berlusconi’s late political career.

The 1930’s era political cartoon, “Telling the World” by John Knott depicts the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during his 1932 address to the citizens of Turin, Italy. Its accompanying editorial in the Dallas Morning News, “Mussolini and the Crisis,” provides more universal context referencing the content of the speech. A strong connection exists between the John Knott’s “Telling the World” and Paresh Nath’s “Roman Hero”. Mussolini’s Turin speech took place during the tenth anniversary of the Fascist Party’s political takeover of Italy. In an effort to legitimize his party’s political scheme as well as his dictatorship in the eyes of the citizens of Italy, Mussolini utilized ancient Roman architecture and art – such as the statues in Nath’s cartoon – heavily in his fascist propaganda (Brangers, 125). His goals were to cast the Fascist party as unifiers under a new Rome and to associate himself with the great Emperor Augustus Caesar Octavianus (Brangers, 125). “The State before the individual” was a belief that both the ancient Romans and the Fascists seemed to share. Mussolini promoted the construction of works of art glorifying the united Roman Empire under Octavian throughout Italy as part of his propaganda machine. He even initiated major archeological projects to uncover four ancient Roman buildings that he hoped would epitomize the magnificence of ancient Rome and of his own ruling. These projects also had a practical purpose other than ideological propaganda, however. The plans to clear old buildings and roads in order to uncover the ancient buildings also included arrangements to build wider roads and piazzas to better accommodate the rapidly growing population in the city of Rome (Brangers, 125). The demolition and construction of these locations also granted jobs to many laborers that were desperate for employment in a deteriorating economy.

In addition to this, the famous Lancellotti (or Palombara) Discobolus – as mentioned previously – was sold to Adolf Hitler in 1938 for five million lira (Italy’s currency at that time) by the struggling Italian Lancellotti family (Sooke, 1). It was placed in the Glyptothek museum in Munich for all Germans to view, however it was returned to Italy in 1948 after World War II’s conclusion. The Nazi leader had taken large interest in the marble sculpture as supremely representative of Germany’s then-visual ideology of the “master race” (Sooke, 1) due to its portrayal as a beautiful, ideal white male body in athletic form. Personally, Hitler wanted to be associated with the era that the original piece was built during: 5th Century BC, the golden age of Classical Greece (Sooke, 1). He also desired to bring with the sculpture the values it embodied: balance, athleticism, and of course, male beauty. Similarly to how Mussolini utilized archeological projects and ancient Roman architecture for fascist propaganda purposes, Hitler used this statue to propagandize the Nazis’ idealization of the perfect physical Aryan form.

Finally, direct ties can even be drawn between Silvio Berlusconi and Benito Mussolini. When initially forming his Forza Italia political party, Berlusconi allied himself with the leader of a disbanded neo-fascist group (Silvio Berlusconi, 49). This disrupted his 1992 campaign briefly when the leader of the group praised Mussolini as “the century’s finest statesman” (Silvio Berlusconi, 49). Berlusconi managed to overcome criticisms as a result of this comment and emerged as Italy’s Prime Minister; however, his charismatic influence could not shield him from scathing backlash when he himself praised Mussolini as a good leader on Holocaust Memorial Day in 2013 (BBC News).

Although enough differences exist between the two men to reject characterizing Berlusconi as a repetition of Mussolini, there are similarities between their efforts to gain initial political standing. The Italian public’s discontent with established institutions and the country’s poor economic standing offered both men the opportunity to gain power through promises of change and rectification. They utilized the media to establish political footing and to “cultivate a direct bond with Italians” (Ben-Ghiat), a bond that was severed when each was disgracefully forced from their respective positions of power.

Despite certain fundamental disparities between the two leaders – Mussolini was a socialist at his core, Berlusconi a self-made capitalist – they were both severely corrupt in their own ways. It’s no coincidence that the mockumentary film, “I’m Back”, which  portrays the late Italian dictator staging a modern comeback through a darkly humorous gradient, was released in the midst of Italy’s 2018 Parliamentary elections (Poggioli). The film firmly alludes to Silvio Berlusconi’s own surprising political resurgence through his Forza Italia party in the elections. This was highlighted by the film’s Mussolini opposing the 600,000 African immigrants seeking asylum in Italy, “…you won’t find it so funny when an African steals your job” (Poggioli). The comment bears marked resemblance to the intense anti-immigration rhetoric and policy proposals imposed by Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition during the Parliamentary elections.

Unlike the statues in the Palazzo Massimo, the legacies of Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi as leaders are permeated with dishonor and public reproach. Far from Roman heroes, their deeds and convictions are in stark contrast to the accomplishments of Octavian and the philosophies of Myron. Paresh Nath’s political cartoon focuses on the convoluted morality of one of Italy’s longest running leaders, while addressing the dilemmas of the country’s past that have resurfaced in the present.

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