NATO Has Issues

by Dish Staff

As the NATO summit gets underway in Wales, David Francis highlights the alliance’s major challenges, chief among which is getting members to pay their fair share of collective defense spending:

[E]ven with open combat in a country bordering several NATO members, the summit is likely to be dominated by dollars and cents. For years, top officials in the Bush and Obama administrations have angrily called on Europe to spend more on defense so Washington wouldn’t be responsible for the lion’s share of the alliance’s funding. Taken as a whole, the defense budgets of NATO members are down some 20 percent in the last five years. Only three European NATO members — the United Kingdom, Greece, and Estonia — meet the alliance’s threshold of spending 2 percent or more of their GDP on defense. … In 2011, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the alliance faced “collective military irrelevance” without an increase in European defense spending. In June, as the Ukraine crisis raged on, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that Europe had to stop playing lip service to defense spending and upgrade out-of-date equipment.

Yet Gordon Adams argues that NATO’s weaknesses can’t be papered over with more euros:

What is at issue in Europe is capability. If the Europeans ever actually reached the 2 percent defense spending threshold across the Alliance, they would still produce an excess of the kind of defense capability that is not needed (heavy ground combat units or very small air forces) that do not work together well), and militaries that duplicate, rather than complement each other. They spend enough to create up-to-date, deployable forces, but the ones too many of them build are nationally based and static. And they do not build them to a common, trans-European, integrated plan.

And Robin Wright observes that despite having a combined troop strength of over 3.3 million and accounting for well over half the world’s defense spending, “NATO seems to have less nerve and energy than it once did”:

It has focussed more on preventing or containing new fires than on putting out existing blazes raging in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Its recent stats aren’t encouraging, either. Since 2001, NATO has spread its wings beyond the European theatre (its original mandate), into the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The first of these deployments was in Afghanistan, after the September 11th attacks, when NATO invoked Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. (“An attack on one is an attack on all,” as Obama put it in a speech in Tallinn this morning.) In 2004, NATO formed a training mission for Iraqi security forces. And in 2011 it authorized warplanes to intervene in Libya. That air campaign was pivotal in ousting Muammar Qaddafi. But today Afghanistan teeters. Iraq and its military are in a shambles. Libya is a virtual failed state.