The debate over burden sharing within NATO is about as old as the alliance itself.

This article was written by John Cappello, a former B-1B pilot, served as the Air Force Attaché to the U.S. Embassies in Belgrade and Tel Aviv, and is currently a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

However, rarely has the debate spilled into public discourse as acrimoniously as it did at the most recent NATO summit in Brussels. President Trump, like his predecessors, is right to make a case for more defence spending in Europe, but the real issue is not the amount of money being spent but rather how the money is being spent. NATO should measure its members’ contributions regarding the capabilities and readiness they provide, not their aggregate cost.

Since its founding, U.S. presidents have pressed their European allies to increase defence spending in support of the shared NATO mission. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson each faced the challenge of burden sharing within the alliance.

More recently, both the Obama and Bush administrations have pressed allies to increase their investments to support NATO operations. Bush made his plea in 2006 at the Bucharest Summit, while Obama called allies to abide by the commitment they made in 2014, where they pledged to spend 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence, and 20% of defence spending on equipment.

Unsurprisingly, President Trump’s confrontational negotiating style quickly took centre stage at this month’s summit in Brussels, as he castigated allies for taking advantage of the United States by not paying enough for NATOs collective defence.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, however, noted how all allies have halted cuts to their defence budgets and have begun implementing plans to increase their defence budgets to two percent of their respective GDPs, with a majority planning to reach that goal by 2024. While Stoltenberg credited President Trump with delivering a “clear message” on burden sharing, this debate misses an important point. Simply spending more does not equate with actual burden sharing.

According to NATO’s Strategic Concept, collective defence, crisis management, and collective security are the alliance’s core tasks. These missions require capable, mobile, and interoperable forces. Real burden sharing would require every ally to contribute forces ready to deploy for such missions.

Defence expenditure alone fails to measure real military capability, let alone its use on the alliance’s behalf. Take the cases of Denmark and Greece. In 2017, Greece spent 2.32 percent of its GDP on defence, while Denmark spent only 1.17 percent. Using the 2 percent goal as a benchmark, one would, therefore, conclude that Greece is a model NATO partner while Denmark is a free rider ‘taking advantage of the United States’. These numbers, however, do not accurately illustrate how these two nations actually share the burden.

From Mali to Libya and Afghanistan to Iraq, the Danish military is actively deployed in support of NATO’s out-of-area missions. Although it spends more than 2 percent of its GDP on defence, Greece contributed none of its 21,500 deployable troops to NATO missions (according to 2014 European Defence Agency data).

The Danish and Greek militaries are not outliers—additional data shows similar discrepancies among other nations as well. The point is, NATO’s needs are not met by spending 2 percent of GDP alone. Members’ contributions to NATO missions of capable, ready, and deployable forces are what actually matter.

This was made clear once again, when three Czech soldiers serving with NATO’s Resolute Support mission were killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber. The Czech Republic had recently approved a plan to deploy 390 soldiers in Afghanistan through 2020, up from the current 230. While the Czech Republic has not yet met the two percent of GDP spending goal, it does participate in NATO missions fighting, dying and sharing the risk alongside their deployed counterparts.

While allies should meet their two percent of GDP commitment, they should also spend that money more wisely, focusing on concrete investments to eliminate capability shortfalls. For example, meeting the related pledge to spend 20 percent of defence budgets on equipment (as opposed to salaries or operations) will facilitate the development of cutting-edge weapon systems that are capable, deployable and interoperable.

Read the full article at RealClearDefense.

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maurice10
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maurice10

The so-called European Defence force or whatever it’s called, seems to have gone walkies for now? If in any way it actually gets created where then for NATO? The EU and other states can’t afford to make considerable contributions to both. If the establishment of such a force becomes a reality, what real difference will it make if the contributions are as chaotic as the current Alliance?

Callum
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Callum

Very interesting question. The optimistic answer is that the EU would elect to align it’s unified defence policy with NATO, and thus NATO gets a large, coordinated European force in place of dozens of individual national forces deployed piecemeal. The less optimistic answer is that it just adds another layer of bureaucracy to the defence of NATO’s eastern flank, and worse case scenario is the EU decides to pursue it’s own defence policy separate to NATO in an attempt to grab more power for Brussels. In that situation, NATO as we know it would likely cease to exist. Personally, I’m… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

“The optimistic answer is that the EU would elect to align it’s unified defence policy with NATO” This European defence initiative/force was made to get away from the beurocracy and lack of quick decisions from the 28 bloc EU and the 29 bloc NATO. The EU has members that don’t want to do fuck all and NATO is under overall US command, a country that’s not even in Europe. That’s why this EDF has only 9 members, because it’s the 9 members that want to react to situations for the benefit of European security. I think you both are getting… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

What good was NATO during the refugee crisis?

The European defence force letter of intent was signed by 9 European states including us and it’s separate from other EU defence agreements, and it was only signed at the end of June.

It’s to have a coordinated response to stuff like natural disasters, intervention in a crisis or evacuation of nationals.

It’s something Europe is sadly lacking, the response to the refugee crisis in particular was pathetic.

I can’t how this is a problem.

Lee1
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Lee1

And the EDF operations would need the sign off of each nation (I assume, otherwise the a nations forces to theoretically be used against its own interests…) So how would Italy vote with regard to refugees?

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

“So how would Italy vote with regard to refugees?”

Vote for what? What would the action be?

An example needs a bit more detail than that Lee for a proper answer.

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

I can’t see how this is a problem**

Frank62
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Frank62

I think you’re right maurice10. An EU defence force will be an unwelcome distraction from European NATO, which is already under-resourced & our own “2%” is just an accounting con. It’s probably just an expression of the EUs delusions of its own granduer rather than a genuine reflection of the needs & aspirations of member nations. But before we start criticising other European NATO members for not meeting the 2% minumum, we should push our own spending so we’re meeting at least 2% by anyones standards, rather than by a slight of hand. HMG is always talking big whilst cutting… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

What distraction caused NATO to not react to the refugee crisis a few years ago that has cost the continent billions?

Helions
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Helions

Put on your tinfoil caps – we might really need bigger militaries if this little prediction comes to pass….

I prefer Reynolds Heavy Duty Foil for mine…. 😀

https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/1002422/Apocalypse-2040-MIT-computer-model-civilisation-world-end-Club-of-Rome

Cheers!

Jonathan
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Jonathan

To be honest there is a lot of hard science that backs up the fact it’s going to get really nasty for the the human race over the next 100 years, it’s less foil hat and more foil blinkers for the most part. It generally looks like the UK and Northern Europe will be alright Jack (we will no longer need to sod off to the med thankyou) the US is going to need sun screen, industrial aircon and a great big road/water pipeline to Canada, Canada’s going to actually not be arse freezingly cold all the time and make… Read more »

Chris
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Chris

(Chris H) I think NATO needs to accept that the EU has become a political and fiscal force in itself and that it has its own aspirations for the defence and foreign policy objectives of what it calls ‘Europe’. The real question is now ‘So why have NATO’ given it was created in very different times when Germany was split in two and what Churchill had called the Iron Curtain had fallen. The Uk is leaving the shackles of the EU in March 2019 and IMHO we should propose the dissolution of NATO and just concentrate on ‘5 Eyes’ and… Read more »

Helions
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Helions

As I’ve argued here several times before Chris, I truly believe an Anglosphere alliance with some outriders such as Japan and Singapore would far better suit our mutual defense needs now and in the future than the current arrangements… Not cutting all ties by any means but concentrating on our unique interests and national goals.

Cheers!

Sean
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Sean

An expansion of 5 Eyes to a full NATO style alliance seems to be the best approach to take. Preferably in place before the EU’s superpower aspirations undermine NATO completely.

Chris
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Chris

(Chri sH) helions – If I might make a light-hearted comment? In 5 eyes 4 are close family and one is a close if sometimes obstinate cousin. Our shared relationship (despite a small disagreement in 1812 involving 3 of us) has been mutually beneficial because we share the same values despite covering the globe. Sadly the relationship with Europe has been dangerous, costly in blood and treasure and politically damaging to the UK. Being 1/28th of a Socialist political ideology isn’t what the UK’s future should be and certainly not playing 2nd fiddle to a German and French axis We… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

Chris the EU does not have a “socialist political ideology” it is very much capitalist.

Just because some political parties have the word “socialism” in them does not mean they are socialist, I thought that lesson was learned with the NAZI party.

Chris
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Chris

(Chris H) -Solesurvivor – I used the term ‘Socialist’ very carefully as it reflects the ideology of centralised power sucking money and decision making to that central body. Add in the fact that the central body (the Commission) is unelected by popular vote you have a perfect ‘socialist’ creation. Maybe I should have used the word ‘communist’? To suggest the EU is a proponent of capitalism made me laugh. You do not create an inward looking protectionist market that penalises external competition with an External Tariff and steep non-Tariff barriers if you are in any way ‘capitalist’. And capitalists do… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

“I used the term ‘Socialist’ very carefully as it reflects the ideology of centralised power sucking money and decision making to that central body. ” That is not a socialist ideology Chris lol That is civilization whether socialist or capitalist, you have just described every single government in the world. The UK government takes all taxes and does all decision making in the UK, but it’s never been described as “sucking money and decision making to that central power” “Add in the fact that the central body (the Commission) is unelected by popular vote you have a perfect ‘socialist’ creation”… Read more »

Jonathan
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Jonathan

Chris, this one did give me a giggle, the EU is one of the most Neo Liberal polical entities out there, it’s been one of the biggest drivers of Neo librialism ( an ideology that was close to thatchers heart. socialist it is not, Why do you think Corbin hates the EU so much and did his level best to knife the remain campaign in the back.

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

What makes me giggle is thinking a socialist political ideology, like free healthcare, free education and welfare is somehow a bad thing.

The Nordic model, which is socialism in a capitalist framework, has made the Scandinavian countries consistently come top of surveys of the happiest places to live on the entire planet.

Clearly the ultimate success is a balance between socialism and capitalism, that is yet to be tried or tested.

Chris
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Chris

(Chris H) Jonathan – Can you unravel for me the clear dichotomy of a fiercely protectionist, habitually regulatory and inward looking organisation being in any way ‘Liberal’. Let alone ‘neo liberal’?

Possibly you use a different dictionary …?

Helions
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Helions

Chris, in the same vein, I live in the rural American South, and one of the axioms to live by here – as it has been for centuries – “when you’re in a dust-up with different sides and you don’t know who to support- always pick kin”(sic). Very heavy Scotch – Irish ancestry here among those of European descent… Common sense to me!

Cheers!

Anthony D
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Anthony D

I know the EU is not a very popular organisation on this forum but we must recognise how it serves our national interest for such a blood stained continent to be locked into peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Our various European alliances over the centuries have been key to Britain staying safe and free. To turn out back on them is foolish and self defeating. The main thing that will keep the UK safe is a large, stable buffer zone between us as Putin. We must also bear in mind that trumpist America may not be as reliable a partner as… Read more »

Steve
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Steve

I suspect there is a bigger question that will need answering in the coming years. The question is whether the interests of the UK are still aligned with those of the US. Historically its been there, mainly because the west was the economic power house and the US focus was towards Europe. Now the Europe has declined on the world scene trade wise and US focus is moving more towards the east and looking at China, and as it stands spiraling towards a cold war with them or worse. My question is whether it is in the economic or security… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

NATO is a cold war alliance in a new age of great power rivalry, it was built and constructed to counter a threat that no longer exists, in any other walk of life it would reform or get dissolved. A bloc of countries 29 strong in the military intervention game just will not work, when the countries are spread from North America to eastern Europe, they have different geopolitical ambitions and not every member will want to commit resources to all interventions. Where was NATO in the worst crisis Europe has faced since the Second world war? they/we started the… Read more »

Steve
Guest
Steve

i think it’s more complex. Agreed on the indecision within EU and NATO being US controlled but the reason we haven’t gone into Libya isn’t money, it’s a lack of will to fight at dirty war in front of the camera. We lost in iraq/Afghan, because there was no definition of what success would look like and we didn’t have the political motivation to take casualties and so didn’t put the numbers needed on the ground and couldn’t fight the same was as the opposition due to higher moral standards. Going into Libya and taking the coast region would be… Read more »

Steve
Guest
Steve

not to mention that suez was an end of an era where the British empire was held together by ruthless and nasty tactics, used to suppress the locals and would never have existed if we used modern military tactics or be accepted by modern British society.

Anthony D
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Anthony D

We got out of Suez because the USA threatened to call in its loans to the British economy. Our economic weakness and lack of thought for the reaction of our key ally did for a dubious and under handed endeavour. But executed with great military skill nonetheless.

SoleSurvivor
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SoleSurvivor

“lack of thought for the reaction of our key ally did for a dubious and under handed endeavour.” Well hang on a sec, President Nixon said that Eisenhower told him that not backing Britain in the Suez crisis was his biggest foreign policy mistake. We should not regret Suez, it was the US who broke the golden rule of foreign policy that’s been the same since antiquity “reward your friends and punish your enemies” The Americans did it because the Egyptian leader was playing Eisenhower for a fool, he got played big time, promising that they would be on the… Read more »

Anthony D
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Anthony D

Solesurvivor…a threat that no longer exists? Georgia, crimera, Ukraine? Russian bombers probing European airspace, hybrid and cyber warfare, election tampering. Russo-belorussian divisions exercises on the borders of the baltics and intermediate rane nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad. The threat NATO was created for is re-emerging.

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

The current and potential future Russian threat will probably never be as bigger threat to Europe than the Soviet Union, who at the time was one of the only two superpowers in the world. Russia’s economy is stagnating, it’s been in and out of recession, it has a declining population of nearly a million a year, and it’s economy is smaller than Italy’s. If Russia entered a protracted conflict the economy would tank. Only about a quarter of Russian ground forces are fully staffed, well-trained professional troops, the rest are conscripts who receive very poor training, most of their hardware… Read more »

Anthony D
Guest
Anthony D

Tell those figures to a Georgian or Ukrainian. Their experience of aggression is real rather than hypothetical. Also Russia has waged long term conflictions in Chechnya and Syria, while withstanding prolonged western sanctions. Not to mention that it’s forward deployed nuclear weapons. An irrational , proud and paranoid declining power, without democratic inteeneal checks, facing a fragmenting NATO alliance. What could possibly go wrong…

Chris H
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Chris H

(Chris H) Solesurvivor – while we earlier wandered off into semantics about ‘socialism’ every part of your comment here reflects the same point I was trying (possibly badly) to make earlier in that comment. Our leaving the EU is a trigger point for NATO because as I said (and you made the point) NATO was built for a different threat in different times before even the EEC existed. And as I said while half of Germany and all Eastern Europe was Communist ruled. The EU (socialist or no) has created itself as a political, supra national and fiscal power. It… Read more »

SoleSurvivor
Guest
SoleSurvivor

Just read this comment Chris after i posted my reply above. Fair enough I do think you got mixed up a bit in Socialism and the EU etc, I hope my answer explains it a bit. Yeah I have to agree, i do not want us any part of an EU army, you can see that that’s what the EU is aiming for, leave them to it is what i say like you. As the reasons i gave above it will still be useless to react to some situations that all nations are not agreed on, and we know the… Read more »

David Steeper
Guest

Interesting article and comments but I think it’s missing the human dimension. Imagine your the PM of almost any western European state. You may accept that Russia is a threat but there are plenty of states between yours and them. You also know that the US and to a lesser extent the UK have at least since 1945 considered it a vital national security question to keep Russia out of your country. Domestically there are always demands to spend more on everything and reduce taxes on everything with your political opponents promising at least one of them. Why would you… Read more »