Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Two Percent Means What?

I had hoped that Afghanistan would have shifted the burden-sharing debate in NATO from spending to doing, but that hasn't happened yet.  Instead, we see the two percent obligation being bandied about as we approach the Wales Summit later this week (yes, this post is a part of my barrage of NATO summit stuff, including much non-social media #humblebrag #readourNATObook). 

The first thing to realize is that the agreement for NATO countries to spend 2% of their gross domestic product is not a treaty obligation but a pie crust promise--easily made, easily broken (thanks, Mary Poppins).  The second thing to realize, in the Canadian case, as Phil Lagassé points out, it would lead to a near-doubling of the Canadian defence budget.  Which no party could possibly promise.
The third thing to realize is that only the US, UK, Estonia and Greece are at or above the 2% goal.  Estonia?  It actually committed pretty seriously in Afghanistan, paying the highest price in blood per capita.  It now directly faces an existential threat.  So, not that surprising.  US and UK--they have other concerns besides Europe so some/most of their defence/defense spending is not on NATO stuff.  Greece?  Funny.  Greece spends a lot and contributes little, including having only fifteen troops in Afghanistan for much of the mission.

This speaks to the big issue--spending does not equal capability and does not equal output that helps NATO.  Phil had an epic series of tweets on this yesterday.  One would have thought that the differential burden-sharing in Afghanistan, with some doing more and paying a higher price in killed in action, might have made a dent here:

I forget when I created this, so the figures are not quite up to date but do reflect the unvenness (no Greece since it had zero casualties and a very small footprint).
In the skies over Libya, less than one third of the alliance dropped bombs (eight out of twenty-eight). 

So, pardon me if I don't get exercised that Canada is not doing its full share of GDP spending. I do think Canada should spend more so as not to hollow out the force as it is pressured to spend on new equipment. But again more spending is not more doing.

This relates to the Rapid Reaction Force being discussed ahead of Wales.  Who is going to give their troops to this force?  If the RRP is truly going to be rapid, it must have troops from those countries that are less likely to impose caveats and other restrictions.  The countries that fit in this category tend to be those with Presidents or with majority governments in Parliament (see the book)... and Denmark which is a consistent outlier among countries with coalition governments.  So, US, UK (until recently and perhaps again), Canada, and France should be the providers of troops.  And are likely to be the providers of units to any kinetic effort in the future, whether they spend two percent of GDP or not.

Given Canadian efforts in Afghanistan, Libya and the reassurance effort in the east, Canada is well-armed (sorry) to deal with any arguments about burden-sharing. 

Having said that, the proper signal to Russia and the proper reaction to events is for all NATO countries to stop cutting their defence budgets.  That does not mean that they should double their spending (what 2% means to Canada), but stop the bleeding and prepare for the long run of Russia as non-strategic partner.

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