My favorite line in President Trump’s remarks at NATO’s fancy digs in Brussels today came toward the end, “And I never asked once what the new NATO Headquarters cost.” I wish he had. Here’s what Joseph Harriss reported in our pages six years ago (April 2011) in his cover story, “NATO Reconsidered”:
With policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic slashing public spending and searching for ways to reduce military budgets, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has just begun construction of a splendiferous new $1.38 billion headquarters on a 100-acre site in Brussels. Designed by Chicago architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, renowned for luxurious commercial buildings including the tallest in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the futuristic new NATO offices will feature eight sweeping wings covering 2.7 million square feet. Glass-walled elevators overlooking cavernous atriums showering natural light. Ecologically correct grass growing on the roof. Seventeen conference rooms. A range of amenities from cafeterias, restaurants, and banks, to shopping, sport, and leisure facilities. Pentagon staffers, eat your hearts out.
The architects wax rhapsodic, comparing its weird configuration to “fingers interlaced in a symbolic clasp of unity and mutual interdependence.” As one SOM design director glowingly describes the sprawling steel and glass structure, “We wanted to break the norm of what is perceived as a government service, bunker-like building. We made it look very classy, giving the illusion that it was a world-class, floor-to-ceiling-type glass building, very inviting. We also paid attention to how these grand spaces look.”
For an organization that’s been a perfect illustration of Parkinson’s Law (bureaucracies expand over time, regardless of workload) since it lost its original raison d’être when the Soviet Union collapsed, it seems a normal entitlement. “A modern NATO needs a modern building,” NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen insisted at the groundbreaking ceremony last December 16 . Maybe. But does it have to be this extravagant, this grand, this pricey?
Alas, despite his dig today at the extravagant cost of NATO’s new HQ, Trump did add: “But it is beautiful.” Maybe his haters will now worry he’ll be tempted to splash his name onto the edifice.