Would Donald Trump Defend Croatia As NATO Member?

By 28 May 2017

For Croatia to reach the 2% GDP target, it would have to increase defence spending by additional 3 billion kunas a year.

The first appearance of new US President Donald Trump at the NATO summit in Brussels a few days ago was supposed to serve as an opportunity to strengthen the unity of the military alliance, but it seemed that NATO was more divided than ever before, reports Večernji List on May 28, 2017.

The most important message NATO expected from Trump was to reiterate US willingness to defend Europe. But, Trump did not say it. Instead, he criticised allies who, in his words, owe massive amounts of money to the alliance.

What was the outcome of the NATO summit for Croatia?

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović claims that Croatia will have a detailed plan by the end of the year on how to reach the target of 2 percent GDP defence spending by 2024. However, the decision on defence spending is not made by the President, but by the Ministry of Defence and the government. If there are early parliamentary elections later this year, it is quite possible that the adoption of such a plan would be delayed.

Even if the government manages to survive, nobody from the government has so far given any serious explanation where they would find additional 3 billion kunas a year (this year, the Defence Ministry’s budget is 4.4 billion kunas, which is 1.23% of GDP; in order to reach the NATO-set target of 2 percent of GDP, the Ministry of Defence would need 7.2 billion kunas a year). While pursuing the goal of reduction of the deficit and public debt, no finance minister can easily solve this problem.

Some NATO countries do not intend to invest 2 percent of GDP in defence, even after Trump’s latest statement. Their argument is that the conclusions of the NATO summit held in Wales in 2014 do not say that all allies have to reach the 2 percent target. And that is true: the conclusions say allies who are not at 2% target must first “stop the decline of defence spending,” then “strive to increase defence spending,” and only then “try to get closer to two percent.” For example, Slovenia says it will do the first and the second, but not necessarily the third. And Croatia can already say that it has implemented the first and the second conclusion since this year’s defence budget is larger than last year’s.

The fact that Trump did not explicitly confirm his intention to accept Article 5 on mutual defence is also important to Croatia. During the process of accession to NATO, one of the key arguments is favour was that Croatia would never be a victim of aggression if it were part of NATO in 1991-1995. That has also often been mentioned by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in her speeches as well, not surprisingly since she was a high-ranking NATO official before becoming the President.

However, after Trump’s recent statements, a fair question is: would he actually defend Croatia in an unlikely event of an attack?