Home Nonmilitary action NATO’s 2% spending target is an unnecessary burden

NATO’s 2% spending target is an unnecessary burden

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It’s like clockwork: like the NATO summit at the end of June in Madrid approachesthe allies debate spending too little on defense gets stronger. NATO Defense Ministers promised in 2006 to devote at least 2% of their country’s gross domestic product to their defense each year. Today, it has become a totem for the alliance, especially for Americans who insist that others spend too little. There is some truth in that, but there are far more pressing concerns for NATO than tracking that number. Leaders should ask tougher questions about how the money is spent and how the security burden can be shared, without obsessing over who is giving their fair share.

The commitment was reaffirmed in 2014 at the NATO summit in Wales by alliance leaders, as NATO states collectively failed to meet the 2006 commitment, thanks to decades of chronic underinvestment by European states in their armed forces, which, unsurprisingly, has led to significant capability gaps in their ability to carry out military operations. This, in turn, meant that the United States, which spends more than 3% per year, absorbed the lion’s share of the costs associated with securing Europe. As the argument went in 2014, the United States would be much more docile to continue investing in transatlantic security if NATO countries spent at least 2% of their GDP on defence.

Getting all NATO heads of state to agree to the 2% minimum target was a laudable achievement – ​​and one that might not have happened if Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine more early that year. But the 2% target has proven both operationally insufficient and strategically counterproductive. Ultimately, without some serious adjustments to the strategic debates, focusing on the 2% minimum target only seriously damages NATO’s relevance and public support for the alliance.

It’s like clockwork: like the NATO summit at the end of June in Madrid approachesthe allies debate spending too little on defense gets stronger. NATO Defense Ministers promised in 2006 to devote at least 2% of their country’s gross domestic product to their defense each year. Today, it has become a totem for the alliance, especially for Americans who insist that others spend too little. There is some truth in that, but there are far more pressing concerns for NATO than tracking that number. Leaders should ask tougher questions about how the money is spent and how the security burden can be shared, without obsessing over who is giving their fair share.

The commitment was reaffirmed in 2014 at the NATO summit in Wales by alliance leaders, as NATO states collectively failed to meet the 2006 commitment, thanks to decades of chronic underinvestment by European states in their armed forces, which, unsurprisingly, has led to significant capability gaps in their ability to carry out military operations. This, in turn, meant that the United States, which spends more than 3% per year, absorbed the lion’s share of the costs associated with securing Europe. As the argument went in 2014, the United States would be much more docile to continue investing in transatlantic security if NATO countries spent at least 2% of their GDP on defence.

Getting all NATO heads of state to agree to the 2% minimum target was a laudable achievement – ​​and one that might not have happened if Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine more early that year. But the 2% target has proven both operationally insufficient and strategically counterproductive. Ultimately, without some serious adjustments to the strategic debates, focusing on the 2% minimum target only seriously damages NATO’s relevance and public support for the alliance.

The 2% minimum target was largely designed as a political mechanism, for example to help defense ministries counter budget cuts imposed by finance ministers. But 2% is an input rather than an output metric. In other words, how that 2% is spent is considerably more important than whether countries are spending enough. Although there is heated debate about how much of Russia’s clumsy approach to its war on Ukraine is due to technological weakness versus Russian strategic incompetence, there is no doubt that some Defense investments must be rethought, including those needed for stronger territorial defence. including sea and air defense – of a soon-to-be-expanded northeastern NATO border.

With further Russian aggression likely and Afghanistan in the rearview mirror, there will be a new emphasis on territorial defense and deterrence. It’s more humane than expeditionary operations, and as any controller will tell you, people are surprisingly expensive. Yes, a number of European countries—including Germany— have decided to increase their defense spending in the wake of Ukraine, but how will these funds be used?

At the strategic level, the 2% minimum target has become even more problematic. Alliances are frameworks for communication and cooperation between states that go much deeper and wider than just security and defence; The benefits of NATO for the United States go far beyond military cooperation. Unfortunately, the 2% minimum goal reframes the conversation about sharing the security burden into a conversation about sharing the transactional costs. But the value of alliances is not measured in dollars and euros.

The danger of over-emphasizing a minimum figure that European partners might not be comfortable reaching is that it helps to make the United States look somehow cheated. Is it any wonder that after years of pounding Europe over the 2% minimum target, the former US president decided his country was benefiting from an unfair deal and nearly withdrew the US United of NATO? Support for NATO may be strong within the traditional foreign policy establishment, but in an era of rapidly changing US domestic politics, it is also potentially fragile.

The 2% minimum also ignores the non-military dimensions of contemporary security needs. Economic and political dynamics are critically important to a country’s security and, from the perspective of the public of NATO states, are perhaps even more important than military capabilities. European states have been at the forefront of dealing with challenges such as disinformation and cyber warfare – capabilities and experience that are vital but not fully reflected in military budgets.

This is undoubtedly the raison d’être of Article 2 of NATO: to emphasize that economic and political policies must reinforce the commitments of the military alliance. As a Chinese tech giant Huawei’s investments in NATO countries demonstrate, failure to take into account the security dimensions of commercial investments can have a negative impact on the alliance. The burden-sharing conversation needs to better consider the broader trade-offs and risks associated with choosing alliance security over commercial profitability. These costs of NATO’s engagement in Europe are rarely visible in discussions in Washington.

When NATO governments meet in Madrid, they will approve an updated “strategic concept”, a vision document on how the alliance views – and should prepare for – the current and emerging strategic environment. . Yet, in order to turn this concept into a meaningful and enduring political reality, the alliance must then have a difficult but necessary conversation about how to recalibrate burden sharing and embed this new understanding into any implementation guidance that she develops for the Strategic Concept.

Strategic and operational lessons learned from the war in Ukraine must inform the conversation about sharing security responsibilities – and allies may discover in the process that 2% is a necessary minimum but not a sufficient overall allocation of resources to respond. to the demands of tomorrow’s war. . But at the end of the day, if the 2% minimum rhetorical drumbeat continues, NATO is in very real danger of cutting off its nose despite its face.

This is not a theoretical question; the current high levels of public support for NATO may wane as the war in Ukraine continues and the political will of public opinion in NATO states begins to diverge. Russia will remain a threat to the alliance’s easternmost neighbors regardless of when the war in Ukraine is resolved, not to mention the myriad other security issues that NATO is tasked with. to raise. To deter Russia and defend Europe, NATO needs to have real strategic discussions about how to operate and modernize. Focusing solely on levels of dollars and euros spent misses the most important objective. No NATO country, especially the United States, can afford that to happen.