Are NATO Members Carrying Their Weight? Only 5 of 28 Countries Pay ‘Fair Share’

from – The Daily Signal – by Josh Siegel

President Donald Trump alarmed European allies during the campaign when he suggested he might not defend NATO nations if they don’t fulfill their financial obligations, but he is not the first U.S. leader to express concerns that member countries don’t spend enough on their militaries.

Currently, only five of NATO’s 28 members—the U.S., Greece, Britain, Estonia, and Poland—meet the alliance’s target of spending at least 2 percent of their own gross domestic product on defense, a fact that is especially concerning, experts say, because of Russia’s aggressive behavior.

Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday warned NATO members that if they do not boost their defense spending, the U.S. may “moderate” its commitment to the alliance.

“I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” Mattis said during a meeting in Brussels with defense ministers from other NATO countries. “America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defense. No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defense of Western values.”

While the alliance increased overall defense spending in 2015 for the first time in two decades, the U.S. continues to be overwhelmingly the largest contributor, committing 3.61 percent of its GDP. The U.S. spends nearly three times as much as all European members of NATO combined.

The second-highest military spender based on a share of its GDP is Greece, at 2.38 percent.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, better known as NATO, is a political-military alliance founded in 1949 comprised of the U.S. and mostly European countries.

Originally designed to protect the territorial integrity of its neighbors and defend Western Europe from the Soviet Union, the alliance has more recently played an important role assisting in the fight against terrorism.

In an interview published just days before he was sworn into office, Trump told the German newspaper Bild and The Times of London that NATO is “obsolete” and “very unfair to the United States.” He said that most nations don’t meet their spending commitments, before adding, “with that being said, NATO is very important to me.”

During the campaign, Trump said he would first look at countries’ contributions to the alliance before deciding whether to automatically defend NATO members if they are attacked—putting into question his commitment to the alliance’s founding treaty, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all members.

That promise has been invoked only once, in response to the 9/11 attacks.

“This has been a demand from the U.S. for a long time, except now there is a new sheriff in town and his using of words is just different,” said Andras Simonyi, a former Hungarian ambassador to both the U.S. and NATO, in an interview with The Daily Signal. “The choice of words may not be good, but if the Europeans think they can continue to live in a dream world where the U.S. is the ultimate protector, and Europe isn’t really doing as much as it should or could to defend itself, there will come a point where the U.S. says enough is enough.”

Daniel Kochis, a policy analyst in European affairs at The Heritage Foundation, says Trump would be unwise to condition the U.S. defense of its allies and said there are other ways to encourage NATO countries to spend more.

Kochis recommends that the Trump administration push member countries to embed a commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense into their own legislation, to make governments more accountable to reach the benchmark.

He also said the U.S. should encourage the creation of a special session for finance ministers at NATO summits, where countries’ financial leaders could meet and come to appreciate “why defense spending is important.”

“Trying to find innovative ways to get folks in Europe to spend more on defense is fine, but the president should not go as far to say we won’t be there for our allies,” Kochis told The Daily Signal. “We need to be clear the U.S. is still committed to NATO.”

In his confirmation hearing before the Senate last month, Mattis sought to reassure NATO allies about the U.S. commitment to collective defense.

He warned that Russia is out to “break the North Atlantic alliance” and that U.S. and European countries must strengthen their ties.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a territory of Ukraine, in 2014, many NATO members are worried about protecting their territory from Russian expansion and influence, especially the small Baltic states that are among the more recent entrants to the alliance: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

This threat perception has inspired members to spend more on defense. Former President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, had long called on their NATO allies to pay their “fair share.”

In 2014, NATO leaders came to an agreement that members who spend under that 2 percent benchmark are to work toward reaching that goal within a decade.

Michael O’Hanlon, a defense and foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution, says that while there is “certainly a free rider problem” within NATO, the alliance combined to contribute about half the world’s military spending.

He said several countries, especially in southern Europe, do not see Russia as much of a threat like those located closer to the Kremlin do, and that many of these nations, like Spain and Italy, are still recovering from the 2008 financial crisis and can’t afford to spend more on defense.

But as countries begin to increase their spending, O’Hanlon says the Trump administration should harness that momentum and encourage allies to continue to move in that direction, rather than hedge on the U.S. commitment to NATO.

“Trump is half right that they do rely on the U.S. and are a bit spoiled by the fact we have their backs,” O’Hanlon told The Daily Signal in an interview. “But we don’t want to talk down our commitment to NATO because there really is fair amount of capability. We may not be getting what we want, but NATO is still the most valuable security relationship that the U.S. has in the world.”

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18 Comments on "Are NATO Members Carrying Their Weight? Only 5 of 28 Countries Pay ‘Fair Share’"

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Good article that explains the issue for the average person. All Trump has been saying for the last year and a half is that we cannot continue to carry the financial costs for all the other countries who choose NOT to contribute what they are contractually obligated to do under the NATO charter, The fact that those countries NOT paying their lawful obligations to NATO choose not to do so, so they can instead divert that money to their increasingly failing social welfare state models, shouldn’t be our problem to shoulder. Why should the American taxpayer have to make up the difference for countries, who in many cases publicly deride us, yet expect us to, at this point, provide roughly 70 percent of the military capability of NATO. There is a difference between being a good, loyal, respected and valued partner and someone who is simply viewed as the fool… Read more »

I agree with your comments, it’s nice to be the sheriff for the world when you can afford it. Unfortunately, our financial planning has not been for the best. I would appreciate a similar discussion on the rest of the world’s support of the United Nations. For better or worse, I believe the ship’s motto (one of the destroyers that I served on), “If you want peace, be prepared for war.”

The UN is like the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Excellently said!

Since a portion of my tax dollars are making up the shortfall for these underpaying socialist countries, my vacation dollars will be spent in the USA, and not Spain, Italy, France, Germany, etc. The payment list is helpful, thanks.

While I believe NATO is important. I do not understand why we pay more than our 2%. A deal is a deal. Just because they can’t or won’t pay their part should not mean we make up the difference!

Insanity is doing the same thing time & again, but expecting different results. It’s time for a different approach to motivate our European “allies” to take their defense needs seriously.

They know that nobody is going to attack them, so why should they strain themselves?

They are already being taken over by Muslims. They do not have to be directly attacked, there are economic and cyber ways to bring them down.

The same reasoning can be applied to the UN members. Also, many Ambassadors and their staff from other countries abuse our legal system while here, claiming “diplomatic privilege” to escape all sorts of violation punishment.

The progressives are always touting the Euro Countries as progressive models when they would be nothing without the US doing the brunt of the protection.

I agree with Trump. We cannot be paying for other nations to enjoy security at taxpayer expense.

It is ridiculous that a wealthy nation like Germany is putting only 1.19 percent of its GDP toward defense. If our NATO partners aren’t willing to pay their share, we should pull out and let them fend for themselves.

The US spends 4% of its GDP to protect FOREIGNERS while they pay less than 1% of their GDP. The heck with that! Pull out and put the money towards a social security fix.

The elites have us involved in foreign conflicts for their own gains- “Rich Man’s Trick”

I have a question that I wish some knowledgeable macro economist could answer. I understand that the US GDP includes medical type production and countries who have socialized medicine do not include those expenditures/production in their GDP. Since medical expenses/production are an extremely huge factor in the US economy, doesn’t that inflate the GDP on which we base our payment to NATO? In other words, our contribution is inflated by comparing apples and oranges GDPs if this is true. Also, no distinction or compensation has been made for those countries who maintain a huge military that is able to back up UN allies – some of whom have very little military capability or expenditure. If a country is spending huge amounts on their private military which is able to back up NATO countries, then it has a far greater expenditure than countries who rely heavily on NATO and NATO allies… Read more »

As I read it, the NATO commitment is supposed to be a commitment to the military (defense) of 2% GDP. Doesn’t have to be a standing military, but, then what? Does a ‘monetary contribution seems crass?

JanH, GDP, being a hodgepodge of data using estimates, statistics,production,spending,etc. is a formulary originated at the United Nations to reflect each country’s wellbeing. But there are gaps in what is considered and shown with no assurance of exactness and accuracy–a benchmark, if you will, an estimate or a best guess.
Having said that, government spending does enter the calculation, so that socialized medicine (a part of government spending) should be included in each nation’s reported GDP.