Saturday, February 18, 2017

NATO 2% Myth Busting

Lots of stories this week about NATO and the 2% thing this week, thanks to Mattis threatening the rest of NATO.

This has led to a lot of folks on my twitter feed repeating all kinds of myths about this.  So, let's bust some myths.
  1. No, there is nothing in the NATO charter about 2%.  Nil, nada, zip.  Good luck finding it.  The NATO treaty has no language that sets a particular expectation.
  2. To be clear, since Trump gets this confused, the 2% expectation is about each country spending on its own defense, not giving back to the US for its defense spending.
  3. At the Wales Summit (I may be confusing summits), NATO countries agreed to aspire to reach 2%.  Yes, that is a dodge, but one the members agreed to.  Why? Because more than a few knew it would be politically impossible to get to 2% any time in the near future.  Canada would have to double what it spends on defense, for example.  So, again, there is no requirement to spend two percent.
  4. There is an expectation that countries stop cutting their defense budgets and start spending more.  And this is mostly happening (well, except for Canada).  
  5. Spending two percent of GDP on defence is only one metric and not a perfect one.  Greece is always among the countries that spends more than two percent.  Partly because it has a lousy economy, partly because it spends much to keep up with Turkey which it sees as its most significant threat (and Turkey is a NATO member, oops).  Greece rarely shows up when NATO does anything difficult.  In Afghanistan, for much of the mission, Greece had around 15-20 soldiers--the lowest % of troops they deployed/troops they have in the alliance.  Canada spends more $ than most allies, but because it has one of the largest economies in the alliance (really!), % of GDP does not look so good.  Oh, one could measure burden sharing in blood--where the Estonians, Danes and Canadians would lead, based on troops they lost in Afghanistan as percentage of population.  Hmmm.
  6. Burden-sharing is always a problem in alliances, as countries have different domestic political dynamics and different levels of interest.  That the US spends more has a lot more to do with its global role than what it is dedicating to NATO.  
  7. Oh, and as a reminder, the defense of Europe is not American charity, but in the US national interest.  Peace and prosperity in Europe is good for the US--something we recognized after joining two bloody wars in progress.


Paul said...

Can you suggest an alternative metric? Is an objective measure for burden sharing in an alliance like Nato even possible?

Steve Saideman said...

That is a good question. I guess I would prefer an index that combines $, % GDP on defence, % of military committed to NATO effort in recent operations.

But I have no magic number, and I don't think we need one. I think we can urge each ally to spend more without presenting threats, and we can reward allies who do heavy lifting that is recognizable.