August 5, 2016
By Chuck Raasch
The Trump recoil continues for Republicans, and the latest evidence of that came in a defense of NATO from Rep. John Shimkus, who served as an Army officer in West Germany in the final years of the Cold War.
The veteran Republican congressman from Collinsville, who fended off a primary challenge in March, felt compelled this week to defend the U.S. involvement in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after Trump recently questioned the organization’s usefulness and said some of its members weren’t pulling their weight.
Shimkus penned a column declaring that he would “die today for” Estonia, just as he pledged as an Army officer to die for West Germany or France or England during the Cold War standoff between the west and the former Soviet Union.
Trump has recently and repeatedly hesitated to commit fully to defense of the Baltic states if Russia invaded, saying his decision would depend on whether NATO allies involved had “fulfilled their obligations.”
Shimkus said in an interview that although Trump raised a valid point in questioning some NATO members’ commitment to spending 2 percent of their economic output on defense, that suggesting a pullback from NATO alliances is not the way to go about it.
“I think that he is raising an issue that all of our allies need to do their part,” said Shimkus. “I think he did it in a very poor way, though. But the message is correct. The threat (to pull back on NATO promises) is not.”
Shimkus has experience on these issues beyond his Army service after graduating from West Point. He formed the congressional Baltic Caucus with former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. Shimkus also served as a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly from 2001 to 2014. Shimkus served on defense and security committees on that assembly, which is made up of members of NATO nation legislative bodies.
His column, released Thursday, doesn’t mention Trump, but Shimkus said he probably wouldn’t have written it had Trump not said what he said.
Shimkus pointed out that the U.S. and Estonia are among a handful of NATO nations actually spending 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense. After Trump earlier raised questions about whether he’d honor the U.S. commitment to NATO, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik tweeted that Estonia “fought, with no caveats” on behalf of the U.S. in Afghanistan.
Shimkus said Trump was not raising new objections about NATO nations’ fiscal commitment to defense. Shimkus said he frequently raised allied defense spending in NATO parliamentary proceedings.
But those questions should not raise doubts about the U.S. commitment to NATO, he said.
“As the Iron Curtain descended across Europe, trapping millions of Europeans under the rule of totalitarian regimes and displacing millions to their deaths in Siberian gulags, NATO proved itself to be a critical deterrent to Soviet aggression on the continent,” he wrote in his column. “In the decades since, a growing NATO has done more to preserve the peace and security in Europe than any other institution.”
“Today, as the free world faces threats from adversaries old and new, we would do well to call to mind President Reagan’s famous phrase: ‘Peace through strength.’ We know that Russia has invaded Georgia and Ukraine, regularly interferes with the internal affairs of its neighbors, and hates that the former captive nations look to the West for prosperity and security.”
He said that NATO “has remained steadfast in its mission to provide security for all its members, and it must continue to be that guarantee for future generations.”