“Ultimately, NATO will have to increase its spending, it doesn’t have to do so to keep pace with its competitors for it is already ahead, at the minute. However, it is unsustainable that the United States and a minority of European countries drag other superpowers, namely Germany, along with it.”

While the United States maintains dominance of the geopolitical, military and strategic landscape at the minute – no doubt aided by its mindbogglingly large defence budget.

It is generally widely accepted that this state of affairs won’t last forever. In an earlier piece written by myself, I articulated that one of the biggest threats to American power was the combined strength of its competitors, namely Russia and China. Emboldened by their growing defence budgets, these two powers have tested America’s patience and geopolitical mettle in Ukraine, Syria, Africa and the South China Sea.

China namely has made great inroads in various developing African nations, such as Zimbabwe and Egypt – not to mention its ever-growing and ever-testing construction agenda in the South China Sea. As for Russia, well its annexation of Crimea and the entrenchment and presence in Syria are but to name a couple of examples of geopolitical flexing. Its hard to dispute, America, and NATO’s, principle adversaries are making their moves.

Adversaries are beginning to spend more

So, what does this mean for NATO? It means the United States cannot continue bankrolling it, at least not alone. President Trump made significant headlines when he told NATO to cough up. But all he did was, albeit in his own special way, was demand from NATO what both Bush and Obama also did. And with good reason. Total expenditure for NATO in fiscal year 2017 was US$946bn. And although the defence budget of China stands at around a relatively small $175bn, it has increased by 1450% in the past 18 years – a trend that shows no sign of slowing.

This presents a headache for NATO as American public opinion has slowly been trending away from increasing spending on the military, a trend that shows no sign of rearing its head within China and Russia, in fact quite the opposite is the case in these countries.

This means that, ultimately, NATO will have to increase its spending, it doesn’t have to do so to keep pace with its competitors for it is already ahead, at the minute. However, it is unsustainable that the United States and a minority of European countries drag other superpowers, namely Germany, along with it. Any increase in NATO spending is unlikely to come from the United States, such increases are beginning to be unpopular with the public and would likely not sit well with the electorate. This being said, the Trump administration has hiked defence spending massively in recent continuing resolutions.

However, long-term, it is my belief – and the belief of many commentators and analysts – that this trend will stagnate or even reverse. This is because President Trump has laid down the gauntlet to European nations – pay more, or we won’t keep paying for you. In essence, he is being rather sincere in his expectation that European nations move closer towards the 2% of GDP goal.

Now it may seem that this article intends to paint the picture that European nations, as a collective, pay very little into the NATO pot and are failing to do anything to rectify it. To redress this imbalance, I would point out that the 2% goal has a deadline, 2024, so there’s time for Germany yet. Not only this, but European nations who historically lagged behind in terms of defence spending are actually beginning to pick up the pace and are trending towards the coveted 2%. This is good news as the threats to NATO are, as I’ve mentioned earlier, ever-increasing.

The United States won’t be the world’s only dominant superpower for very long
But as I also touched on earlier, America’s status as the sole, unchallenged domineer of the geopolitical stage is waning. The emergence of African development creates a new challenge: newly developed nations that the United States has little to no sway over. In the time period spanning the 50s to the 90s the United States exerted its power of nations in Latin America such as Nicaragua, Panama, Columbia, Paraguay, Chile and so on through force and coercion. China, for the most part, has beaten America to the post in Africa – or at least dampened the States’ chances for complete geopolitical supremacy in the region. China’s economic sway and lust for resources gives them significant bargaining power with developing and resource-rich nations. Uncle Sam’s crusades in the second half of the 20th Century made them known as the ultimate neo-colonists, nowadays it is China that holds that title.

To bring this back to NATO, this creates problems because the whole backbone of NATO, what gives it its strength, is the huge reserves of soft power and sway the United States holds – due to its lonesome status as the world’s only true superpower.  If we look at history, previously to contemporary times, an international organisation that lacked the United States as a member – or a member of similar size to the United States – failed totally in its goals. (The League of Nations is the principle example of this.) However, this isn’t necessarily the case anymore. ASEAN does not count China, Russia, nor the US as a member state but yet their goals, albeit small, are being achieved.

The fact that the US is trending towards not holding the complete monopoly on dominance is further proof that the USA is slowly but surely becoming just one big fish in a sea of big fish, rather than the only big fish. This may cause problems in the future as NATO, as an alliance, may find itself outweighed and outmatched by other alliances such as the BRICS nations, should they decide to switch their alliance’s focus from economic to geopolitical or militaristic.

It is strategic necessity to more evenly spread the cost of NATO across more countries

The logical and strategic conclusion from all this is that it cannot be left to one superpower to give greater contributions to the organisation than some others, if it is to remain competitive against emerging future superpowers. NATO counts among its members several European countries that will unquestionably find themselves at least close to superpower status in terms of their economic size and potential diplomatic clout. At the moment they aren’t exercising enough if their potential into maintaining a strong NATO geopolitical stance.

The surrender of Syria to Russia shows just how fragile NATO’s ability to maintain its strong presence is. If it is to remain strong enough to effectively counter the rising tide of emerging competitors, other superpowers will have to wade in to lift the organisation from the future mud sty it may find itself in the future – where it might be much more difficult to maintain stability in dominance in current affairs.

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They prefer to put their money into PESCO…..

…. As do the Tories


Yep, because Corbyn is such a war hero and I imagine will instantly transform our forces into a superpower…


Also the UK is not signed up to PESCO as such it is signed up to a co-operation with it as a third party state. PESCO also does not negate the need to spend money on defence as it is only as effective as its members.


A little more spent on flying time and training might be helpful…



Steve M

At least the mail got the image right, the report I saw (I forget where) pictured a Luftwaffe Typhoon.


My expat Eastender friend Keith calls it “The Daily Chav”… Yet he seems to know so many of these folks….


Alex T

“… drag other superpowers, namely Germany, along with it. ”

Really? Germany a superpower with only 4 out of its 128 Typhoons combat ready, and a large part of its Leopard II tanks unserviceable?


It more a reference to its economic power not its military power.


Still wrong though Lee

Joe Waters

I justify my reference of Germany as an economic superpower with it being the 2nd largest economy in NATO and the largest economy in Europe. It is one of the fastest growing large economies in the world as well as one of the most modern. I personally believe that Germany is one of the world’s true economic heavyweights and, as such, an economic superpower. You’re entirely right about its military – it probably as a country has one of the largest disparities between economic and military strength in the world, something I argue needs to change in my article.


“this article intends to paint the picture that European nations, as a collective, pay very little into the NATO pot and are failing to do anything to rectify it. To redress this imbalance, I would point out that the 2% goal has a deadline, 2024, so there’s time for Germany yet” There is no NATO pot. NATO is an alliance and members are urged to spend a certain percentage of GDP on defence. But this idea that America is spending money to protect Europe is not true. America chooses to spend 3.6% of GDP on defence. Other’s don’t, but even… Read more »


You are totally mistaken. The US may have only a small percentage of its troops stationed in Europe but it maintains vast ground, naval, and air assets whose primary purpose is the defense of Europe. To move those forces into Europe the US maintains a logistics capability second to none. When the US Defense Department prepares its strategic plans and budgets it has to procure and maintain sufficient forces to quickly respond to an outbreak of hostilities on the European continent. To say that the US would not spend as much on defense if it did not have to defend… Read more »


I appreciate you taking the time to write this but what utter nonsense. Do you honestly believe European countries want to increase their defence spending so they can be a pawn in US geopolitics? You write this like NATO is united in foreign policy when it clearly isn’t, look at the Iran deal, 28 members of NATO want to keep it yet because the US doesn’t it’s going down the pan, and you want Europe to spend more to help the US? Well they’re not going the right way about it are they. And I thought NATO was a collective… Read more »


And proper analysis would examine the countries that are spending below the 2% target, look at their economies, their current immediate security threat, their domestic politics, who is in charge, what are the opposition saying, and even more importantly what are the public saying about defence spending. But no, just bypass all that and bring up US geopolitical struggles in Africa, yeah this is going to be a game change mate ? Miss out all that proper analysis and talk about increasing defence spending like it’s as easy as shelling peas. And you also conveniently left out that NATO members… Read more »


After Trump’s recent visit to NATO HQ I got the impression that many delinquent members nodded and smiled a lot in his direction, but had no intention of rerouting vital civilian budgets to defence? Now, that could be a bit skeptical on my part, however, once Trump exists his presidency and walks back to Tumpyland, won’t they all fall back on past habits, and assume the US will always come to Europe’s aide if the circumstances become too grave?


I think most actually do want to increase defence spending, but gradually at their own pace.


Here you assume economic and population trends are static (they aren’t). China has debt levels both corporate and governmental in excess of US levels and rising. Their economy has been slowing and to top it all off China has to spend almost as much money on interior security as it does the PLA. The PLAN has built a lot of new ships, but have you ever been on a ship made in China? Some of them are barely held together and the welds look like a death trap if you kicked them to hard. Beyond that when you see the… Read more »


Elliot China has already passed the US in PPP and is pulling away, PPP is arguably a better indication of how strong an economy is. Population trend is redundant in China’s and India’s case as the population is already there, over a billion in each. China overtook the US in manufacturing output a decade ago and is still pulling away, exports are a third larger and it’s the worlds largest trading nation. Chinese debt is 240% of GDP where as American is over 300%. Quite a lot of economists argue that the way in which China operates with a politics… Read more »


Also in your examples of Russia having “moved” closer. All of those prove my point at no point has Russia and Western Europe entered into a sustained amicable relationship. Napoleon’s Army that invaded Russia included troops from half of Europe not just France. So Russia was by then acting in self-preservation. In WWI the Western allies used the Russian Imperial Army as a bullet stop. Then took credit for the victories, despite if it hadn’t been for actions such as the Brusilov Offensive. The Somme would have gone from strategic and tactical mistake to unmitigated disaster, as the Reichswher had… Read more »


But western Europe itself has only been united since the end of the war, no two major powers had sustained relationships before, but Russia certainly had times of closeness with a number of states before the 20th century. We became allies with Russia before WW1 started, the triple entente, they were allies with Germany before that for a while, Russia was another European power with a monarchy, it has had more or less the same up and down European relationship as Britain, France and Germany/Prussia had, one decade it was friends with a country, the next it was at war.… Read more »

M Jich

The disrespect is mutual. As a septic tank, i can tell you, we have some domestic problems that I believe we would rather take care of then meddle in the European/Middle Eastern theatre. I am not advocating a full withdraw, but I can certainly see a changing sentiment in the heartland of America towards further integration into NATO affairs. Please, i apololigize for the US press. I returned from a tour of London, Cech Rep, Austria and Germany, and must confess, the yank news readers are a horrible bunch. I also must confess, I feel the news the Europeans are… Read more »


Not to mention the incredible disappearing workforce they have due to aging and social engineering…




Hi Helions Don’t think i’m having a bash at the US as that was not my intention in my comments, i’m very much pro US as a country and certainly people as you probably know through our previous chats, I just don’t always agree with US foreign policy (mainly the middle east). My comments on China was more of a realization that as the world changes things will not be the same as they are now, in a few regions around the world, and i think it’s a futile to try preserve the current world order when it’s bound to… Read more »


Absolutely not Sole, good healthy discussion and differing points of view is what sorts things out and then brings them together. We will need much more of it at the national levels of our respective countries and allies in the future.
It will only get harder from here IMO.



Sole The Chinese debt ratio is considered higher and more worrisome by the IMF, OECD, and the People’s Bank of China for several reasons: 1. China is still a middle income country with a GDP adjusted purchasing power parity of 15,400 less than a quarter of the US. 2. It was racked up very quick and China is continuing to rack it up geometrically. 3. In China a large part of the debt was taken out by corporations. However that is worse than it appears at a glance. As almost every company in China is in someway affiliated with the… Read more »


It depends on what source you use, they all use different methods to calculate a countries debt, Gross US debt was 400% in 2009, it is still over 300%, Chines total debt is 350% currently, again different organisations give different numbers. I’m not an economist but i read a lot, and have seen western economists predict China’s ruin for 25 years, and it hasn’t come. Here is an article from the financial times which explains it a lot better than I ever could Are rising debt-to-gross domestic product ratios around the world a sign that another financial crisis is looming?… Read more »

Joe Waters

Hi SoleSurvivor, in the interests of healthy discussion, I will try my best to respond to as many of your points as I can but as you made quite a lot of separate ones, forgive me if I miss some out. “Do you honestly believe European countries want to increase their defence spending so they can be a pawn in US geopolitics?” No, it is my belief that some European countries don’t want to increase their defence spending at all, at least not enough to be significant. Their consistent resistance to administration after administration when they ask European countries to… Read more »


Can I say all three of you make some very good and spot on points. I enjoyed reading all three posts. Can I add that China – while inevitably rising to a full peer of the U.S. has many of its own challenges – almost all internal – that must be addressed if the country’s “Sino Manifest Destiny” is to realized. The Chinese leadership is less concerned by the outside world than it is afraid of its citizens. My father served there in the USMC in 1948-49 and he often told me that the Chinese were the world’s greatest merchants… Read more »


I read that article the other day and was intrigued by it, it’s interesting to think of China’s future, and does the population have the strength and unity to start an uprising, knowing what the response would be.

I think only through severe economic hardship or foreign intervention can dictators fall, I just cannot see it in China without those factors. And so will those factors come into play, i just can’t see it in the foreseeable future.

That region has an unpredictable future and the west needs to be ready when the s**t hits the fan.

M Jich

“In 2007, total Chinese lending surpassed total American lending. It then tripled in the next 18 months because of the financial crisis… Now we have this thing called shadow financing… You guys all remember the Obama stimulus package? $800 billion, 3% of GDP over two years. There was a lot of concern among economists that the U.S. couldn’t metabolize that much money that quickly without a lot of fraud, a reasonable concern. [China does] an Obama stimulus package every 17 days now. Will you get growth that way? Sure. But it is not healthy or sustainable.” And to the other… Read more »


Evening Joe, thanks for replying, and well done you are now officially part of the 1% of authors who have the decency to reply and respond to a reply/criticism of their article. And it’s a fair reply, you have cleared up some of my initial criticism and i understand your narrative a bit clearer although I do have issues with some part of it still. “In my article I mainly highlight the examples of China in the SCS and Russia in Syria as a means to demonstrate that NATO’s adversaries are challenging the geopolitical supremacy that the Western alliances have… Read more »

Joe Waters

Forgive me for having to cherry pick some of your arguments to respond to, I’m currently working on three different articles for three different websites so I’m a bit pressed for time! Also, as a disclaimer, forgive me for misguided or a lack of sophisticated understanding. For a bit of context, I’m not even an undergraduate yet – I’m currently 18 and awaiting my A Level Results and I’m constantly learning. While I agree that NATO isn’t unified in locking tusks with China in the SCS, and the opposition to China comes primarily from the US with the help of… Read more »


Pretty good for an 18 year old Joe! If only a fraction of pols many decades your senior had half as much of a grasp on geostrategic reality as you display.

Very good!



Well first I echo Helions sentiment, fantastic writing and knowledge of geopolitics & strategy at 18. I’m fairly young (in my 20’s) but the big 30 is just round the corner and all i cared about at 18 was where my next pint was coming from, so excellent stuff Joe. In regards to the SCS and global issues in general, I think we can agree that sometimes the west will want to intervene, defend and promote their own interests in a specific region, sometimes i disagree (Libya) sometimes i agree (SCS). You’re proposal to help this issue is for countries… Read more »

Joe Waters

Hi Sole, I think we’ve pretty much cleared up and found a middle ground on most of our points. Your suggestion of adding Australia, Singapore, Japan etc into NATO is an interesting one. However, if adding Estonia, Akbania, Montenegro etc antagonised Russia (the eastern expansion you yourself identified) then it would probably tick off a great deal many more to add people such as Japan – especially considering how volatile neighbours such as N Korea and China can be. I think Japan as Major non-NATO ally status may as well be protected under Article 5 anyway, as would Australia etc.… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

“We need to have mass in our air land and sea forces”

Who is he kidding?!!! Certainly not NATO or the US.

We have no mass whatsoever.


It’s very interesting how many commentators still look at growth, wealth and population levels as an indicator of future military power and influence. In some cases history shows it has been, but It’s far more complex than that and is generally about infrastructure, will and ability to focus power. On paper William had no hope, The American revolution should have been nothing more than a side show, the economic super power India should have laughed off Britain as a slight tickle, a tiny island creating the largest empire ever known in history, like that would happen. Germany (a defeated economic… Read more »