At some point, hopefully sooner rather than later, NATO’s political leaders will have to determine whether the benefits of accepting more member states into the club is worth the cost of adding more anger and suspicion into an already poor NATO-Russia relationship. And in Washington specifically, political leaders must seriously analyze whether they are willing to deploy America’s men and women in uniform into active combat for the sake of protecting small countries with very little geopolitical significance.
3. How can NATO hold its members accountable ?
NATO offers plenty of advantages to its members, the most important being that any attack on one member state is considered an attack on the alliance as a whole. But there are also glaring deficiencies in the NATO founding treaty, the most prevalent being the complete lack of accountability within the group. Currently, the alliance has very little power to discipline a member that is failing to uphold its military spending commitments. The best punitive tool is undiplomatic public statements in an effort to name-and-shame a country that is either breaking the rules or not making progress towards its obligations.
By the end of this year, only eight of NATO’s twenty-nine members will have reached the defense spending benchmark of 2% GDP. By 2024, it is estimated that only half of the alliance’s membership will meet this target. While it is true that 2% is an arbitrary number, it is nevertheless a concrete commitment every NATO member made during the 2014 summit in Wales. Besides, alliances mean nothing if the states that form those treaties refuse to maintain them.
Unbelievably, there are no means for countries that have aligned their defense budgets to NATO standards to reprimand those nations that do not. No respectable sports or social club would allow a member to retain the privileges and status of membership if he or she violates the club's rules or consistently fails to pay the annual dues on time. The world’s biggest military alliance should be no different. NATO members should at least discuss a punitive mechanism, one which holds all members accountable to the same expectations and punishes or reprimands those which do not live up to their promises.
None of these topics will be easy or pleasant for NATO to talk about. Indeed, each one goes to the core of what NATO represents. There will be heated political disagreements among the family, some of which could very well create animus within the alliance. But just because a conversation is emotionally difficult does not excuse NATO military and political leadership from having it. It is beyond time for the world’s oldest and most successful military collective to stop avoiding the hard issues. And there is no more appropriate venue for turning the corner than the annual summit at NATO headquarters.
Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He is also a contributor to multiple publications, including CNN, The Diplomat, The American Conservative, and many others.
Image: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference ahead of a summit that will gather leaders of the 29 alliance members in Brussels, Belgium, July 10 2018. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause