PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE: TRUMP WANTS CASH FOR TROOPS

Being a US ally might soon get a lot more expensive. The Trump administration is reportedly preparing a plan that would force countries not only to pay for the full cost of hosting American troops on their territory, but also to pony up an additional 50 percent premium on that bill for the security that the US soldiers provide. Under those terms, some countries will pay as much as six times the amount they currently pay.

To put this in perspective, US troops are stationed in more than 100 countries around the world. There are 56,000 American soldiers in Japan, 35,000 in Germany, 28,500 in South Korea, 12,000 in Italy, and 9,000 in the UK.

The leak of this plan may merely be the opening bid in a series of tough negotiations, but let's take it at face value.


The Argument For

Those in Washington who favor this plan, led by Donald Trump, are asking a few simple questions:

  • World War Two ended almost 75 years ago, so why is the United States still responsible for guaranteeing the security of Germany and Japan, which are now among the richest countries on Earth?
  • Isn't it true that Germany and Japan have become prosperous in part because US protection allows them to avoid spending billions on their own defense?
  • If US troops and taxpayers must continue to accept this responsibility, shouldn't countries that benefit from the US presence pay fully for the privilege?
  • Are those who live in these countries and would be happy to see US troops leave prepared for their governments to take much more money from their paychecks while cutting their pensions and benefits to pay more for defense?

The Argument Against

Those who oppose the plan offer the following answers:

  • The US isn't simply doing other countries a favor by placing its troops on their soil – those soldiers deliver geopolitical benefits that can't be measured in dollars and cents. US bases in Japan, South Korea, Germany, and the Middle East make the US a force to be reckoned with in all key regions of the world. Chip away at that, and others will try to fill the gap.
  • Raise the cost to allies and watch how fast taxpayers in these countries push for the Americans to leave. You might not think that's in their interest, but many of them may well think otherwise.
  • The United States benefits economically, politically, and militarily from stability in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. That stability depends on the willingness of the only nation capable of projecting military power into every region to play a leadership role in keeping the peace.

If President Trump moves forward with this plan, the next important question might be equally simple: What happens if allies refuse to pay?

This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV. For perspective: Consider these two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: Your iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.

This time the field is more crowded with China's growing ambitions throwing US and Russian space dominance into question.

Europe has selected a new president of the European Commission. Last night, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen won support from a majority of members of European Parliament to lead the executive body that shapes policy for the world's largest economic bloc. The final result was a close shave, however — she won by a margin of just nine votes out of 757 — and there's something in the outcome for everyone to hate.

For many anti-EU populists, von der Leyen's appointment confirms their view that the EU is undemocratic and doesn't respect ordinary citizens. Why? Because she wasn't selected by the voters who went to the polls in the recent EU parliamentary elections — or even indirectly by the lawmakers who won those seats. She was hand-picked by leaders of the 28 EU member states, who side-stepped parliament after better-known candidates chosen by various political factions within the legislature failed to attract enough support from the national governments. Anti-EU politicians like France's Marine Le Pen will spend the next five years reminding us that von der Leyen's presidency reflects everything that's wrong with Brussels.

For Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and other European leaders who backed von der Leyen, her narrow margin of approval gives her a weak mandate as she confronts huge challenges such as the EU's fraught relations with the US and China, showdowns over Italy's budget, erosion of the rule of law in Hungary and Poland, the economic and political fallout of the UK's exit (or not) from the bloc, and the EU's drive to regulate Big Tech.

Von der Leyen herself, who is from the center-right, made significant concessions to get her nomination through with parties that are deeply suspicious of her. Those included a promise to propose a so-called "green deal" within her first 100 days in office, reform the minimum wage, and launch a push for EU-wide legislation on artificial intelligence. Von der Leyen also pledged to reform the process for selecting future candidates for Commission president and to give the EU Parliament a "stronger role in shaping and designing" the EU's future. Now that von der Leyen has secured the closest thing the EU has to a top job, she'll be spending much of her political capital trying to deliver on those promises.