The Skeptics

NATO's Real Alliance Dilemma

The anemic defense budgets are just one sign of an unserious commitment to defense. Several NATO countries use even those limited funds to create glorified jobs programs for otherwise unemployed youth. One key sign of that misplaced is the low percentage of total military spending going to weaponry and other equipment. NATO’s target is 20 percent. Although the situation has improved modestly over the past three years, only nine members currently attain that goal. Moreover, several countries have actually reduced the percentage they devote to such expenditures. Among them are frontline states such as Estonia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic—as well as Germany. It was no surprise that Merkel’s government reacted angrily to President Trump’s demand that it spend more on defense. Indeed, the Germans seem to think they are making a Herculean effort if they reach the two percent threshold by 2024.

Such efforts are woefully insufficient to build the robust forces needed for a porcupine strategy. That suggests that policymakers in those countries have reached one of two conclusions. Either they don’t really consider the Russian threat all that serious, despite their rhetoric to the contrary, or they are counting totally on the United States to protect them. Either possibility is infuriating, but the latter is especially so. It is one thing to believe that Americans should care about Europe’s security. It is quite another to believe that Americans should care more about Europe’s security than the Europeans do. Washington’s NATO partners need to fund serious efforts to deter the alleged Russian threat, or they need to stop wailing about the dire nature of that threat.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of ten books, the contributing editor of ten books and the author of more than 650 articles on international affairs. His works include five books on NATO.

Image: Immediate Response 2012 training event in Slunj, Croatia​. Flickr/Department of Defense