After 18 months of Donald Trump’s “America First” presidency, European leaders meeting with him next week fear the United States may change its traditional course and begin to bring American troops home from the continent.

It comes as nations, especially in Eastern Europe, are lobbying the United States to increase the number of troops on the continent as they worry about combating an increasingly aggressive Russia.

Trump has talked about bringing U.S. troops home from around the globe since he was on the campaign trail espousing a strategy he dubbed “America First” but he has yet to act.

All that could have been – and perhaps still can be – prevented if the European allies actually pulled their weight with defence spending and responsibilities instead of freeloading and freeriding off America. This has been going on for decades but has reached critical proportions since the end of the Cold War. It’s likely that the continental NATO members could not at this point in time defend themselves out of a wet paper bag. They are like welfare queens whose government cheques have stopped coming – and they could have become welfare queens in the first place only because the United States took care of the warfare. Europe’s social democracies were built under the American security umbrella.

I can well understand why the United States is reluctant to keep subsidising and defending the Europeans, most of whom are whinging, ungrateful and anti-American; allies in name only, who prove completely useless, if not counter-productive, when the US needs help. But I can also understand the concern about the possible American pull-back, particularly amongst the small Eastern European states, which, to turn on its head the famous quip about Mexico, are so far from the United States and so close to the devil.

Still, the ball is in Europe’s court on this one – which, sadly, doesn’t inspire me with a lot of confidence. Perhaps the best solution for Trump, which consists of both carrots and sticks, is to reward with increased presence those allies who are actually spending money on defence, such as Poland and Estonia, while downgrading those who are incapable of putting their money where their mouth is.