On February 15, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis spelled it out to NATO Defense Ministers that America will meet is responsibilities but it’s time to pay up. Although the purpose of NATO was to create a defense alliance, members tend to rely upon the United States for it’s needs financially and militarily. A disproportionate imbalance at best.
By all these measures, NATO is not currently a coherent alliance. It is instead a collection of states disproportionately dependent on the US for security guarantees. This arrangement is significantly less valuable to the US than an alliance.
The current instability in the world suggests problems will arise but that the US is still the only global power, but it is not all-powerful. The US must have the support of its allies to meet challenges such as Russia and China, as well as in the ongoing war with radical Islamism. Other NATO members also must have the support of the US.
NATO military capabilities are not adequate to meet all the challenges facing NATO members. This lack of capability can be attributed to three factors: the disproportionate level of NATO members’ defense spending, the decline in NATO members’ defense spending over the last seven years, and the unequal sharing of the alliance’s burdens relative to individual members’ resources.
NATO Decline in Defense Spending
Defense expenditures as a percentage of each individual ally’s GDP (including the US) have been decreasing steadily. Some claim this decline only began after the 2008 financial crisis. This is not true.
Only eight countries increased spending as a percent of GDP from 2005 to 2008.
In 2014, some NATO countries reaffirmed their commitment to increase spending to requisite levels by 2024. But NATO member states had already agreed to those spending levels in 2006. And 18 years is an unreasonable amount of time.
The US cannot fight wars and defend NATO’s varied interests with promises unconditionally. We have limits and the US faces a broad array of challenges in different parts of the world, and this makes having dependable allies a crucial part of US strategy. Only the United Kingdom spends a proportionate share on defense based on its share of overall GDP and population. All others spend less.
The US is telling Europe to increase its defense spending. Therefore, there will either be a change in NATO member states’ behavior, or there will be a change in US support for NATO. If the second scenario takes shape, NATO will be replaced or the United States will be self supporting leaving NATO behind.
The US has asked for help and hasn’t gotten it. What the US wants is an equal partnership in spending and military support when required without hesitation.